Back to Basics 

Hylton I Lightman, MD, DCH(SA), FAAP

The Jewish holiday marathon for this season has concluded.  Children are back in school.  Sukkahs and decorations are coming down and packed away.  There’s no reason to discuss the weight gain:  we know what we have to do.  There’s now time and room (despite the weight gain) to breathe and reflect on what matters to us.

The Instagram contest sponsored by a talented event planning firm was discussed numerous times over Yom Tov:  Who would win the opportunity for this firm to decorate their sukkah?  People’s remarks as to why they should win were clever.  The pictures were magnificent.  The creativity of color, materials and display were captivatingly delightful.  Some lucky family won.  No, the Lightman family didn’t win:  You have to enter to win!

Yet what a beautiful Yom Tov we enjoyed.  Over the years, we have stored away our children’s selected Sukkos and other school projects.  We’d love to keep everything but that’s not a possibility.  Other projects have worn out after years of use.  Each project is labelled with the name of its creator and the year created.  We experience joy each year as we go through our treasure troves to decorate our sukkah.  Baruch HaShem, our grandchildren have begun contributing their talents.

The venerable Morah Rechel Dina Pollock (nee Soffer) was our son’s Morah when he was in nursery at Yeshiva Darchei Torah.  When teaching her lively students about Pesach, Morah Rechel Dina requested each child bring in a father’s Shabbos style white button shirt (it didn’t have to be new).  What came home defied our imagination.  Our son had his first “kittel” and on the back was stenciled and painted Pesach, Matza and Marror, together with a picture for each.  He proudly wore it for years to the sedorim.  My wife has washed and packed it away, telling him that we will give it to his firstborn son to wear.

One of the first grade homework assignments for our daughters at Torah Academy for Girls was to complete a sheet with our Hebrew names, their grandparents’ Hebrew names, the name of our Rav, etc.  They created a link chain from construction paper.  The top link opens with the first Mishnah in Pirkei Avos:  Moshe received the Torah from Sinai.  Moshe transmitted the Torah to Yehoshua, which is the next link.  And so forth until the last links include the grandparents, family Rav and the parents.

This handcrafted visual project says it all.  A true “receiving” requires complete giving on the part of the giver and that the giving must be premeditated.  It’s also rooted in a Mesorah that has continued unbroken since Har Sinai despite vicissitudes.  The parents should ideally always be the primary givers, planning the messages they wish to instill in their children.  It should not happen in a vacuum.

Yes, there’s nothing like doing it yourself.  Our teenagers feign embarrassment when they see their juvenile makings from their preschool and elementary school years, yet our married children take delight.  They get it.  Their own children are now learning by doing.  Maaseh or action is basic to forming one’s weltanschauung.

I have no problems with Hiddur Mitzvah of beautifying a mitzvah.  If one chooses to engage professional services for it, then so be it.  But let’s make it a means to an end, not the goal itself.  The objective should be engaging our progeny in the greatest story ever – The inimitable, proud story of the Jewish people. 

As our children return to school this week, effect a return to “basics.”  Here are a few suggestions:

>Read out loud with your children 

>Ask them to read to you 

>Plan for meaningful conversation at the Shabbos table  

>Thank G-d for the Parsha questions and answers

>Here is an article from Aish on “Table Talk” read aloud at the table and create a lively conversation.

>Or how about a board game, there’s a plethora of educational and fun board games from which to choose


I welcome learning from you, my readers:  What has worked for you at your Shabbos table?

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