I don't usually brag about my children. In fact, I'm usually too busy concentrating on their negative behaviors to find something to brag about. But a few weeks ago, my five year-old daughter taught me a very important lesson.
It was Friday night, the candles were lit and we were sitting calmly in the living room, reading books, awaiting our guests, and anticipating the delicious dinner to come. The aroma of the Shabbos meal seemed to fill the room.
As homey as that sounds, I began to get concerned. The smell of the food doesn't usually get stronger when you turn off the oven. I ran to the kitchen to check and discovered that I had left the oven on.
As you may or may not know, observant Jews are not allowed to turn their ovens off once Shabbos has begun. I haven't made that mistake in years (others, yes, but this one, no).
Some of that aggravation must have showed on my face...
Disturbed by the vision of dried out food, and a spoiled dinner after a lot of hard work, I went outside to see if I could find someone to assist me. Perhaps someone hadn't lit candles yet. Perhaps there was a non-Jew around who wasn't required to observe Shabbos. No one in sight. I was stuck.
The practical solution seemed the best. I took the food out of the oven to retard the drying-out process. I returned to my place on the couch, slightly less calm than earlier. As I sat there I contemplated the fact that now the food was all going to be cold. Some of that aggravation must have showed on my face because my daughter looked at me and with a very serious tone to her small squeaky voice said, "Gam zu letova -- this too is for the good."
This is a fundamental Jewish concept. From the relatively trivial (as in this case) to the larger arenas, we seek to recognize that everything that occurs does so for a reason. Since God loves us, everything is for the good.
This is frequently a difficult idea for hardened adults to assimilate. But ... out of the mouths of babes ...
How did she know what I was feeling? How was she able to put all the pieces together? Where did she get such clarity?
We can learn a lot from our children if we are receptive. Their perspective is clear and pure, unclouded by "experience" and cynicism. They haven't learned to be self-conscious and they wear their hearts and their selves on their sleeves. We're touched by their vulnerability and we can learn from their simplicity.
We've grown accustomed to speaking scornfully of people who are "childish." To be childish means to be immature, unwilling to accept responsibility. But what about the other side? Haven't we paid a great price for our worldly sophistication? Have we lost some things too precious to sacrifice?
A child wants to stop and touch every flower (make that every petal) along the way.
Have you ever gone for a walk with a three year-old? They want to stop and look at and touch and discuss every flower (make that every petal) along the way. And we get impatient. "Hurry up." Where are we rushing to? When's the last time we experienced the pleasure and awe available in every flower?
My daughter gave me a wake-up call -- a wake-up call in its most pleasant and gentle form. If an adult had said to me "You're overreacting and losing perspective" I would have been defensive and resentful. If a peer had said to me gam zu letova, I would have chastised them for their glib platitudes. But when an innocent child recognizes truth and states it with such clarity, what can you say? I can't wallow in my self-defeating emotion any longer. I bow my head in shame and awe.
Children have so much to teach us about beauty and joy in the world. They have a pure, simple faith that "book-learnin'" has yet to muddy. They have an appreciation and excitement that we seem to have discarded along with our jump ropes and marbles.
I know that I've been given a special little gift, when in moments of difficulty and struggle, I hear a tiny, precious little voice, whispering in my ear "This too is for the good."
And since she's right about that one, I think I'm also going to spend more time examining each petal...