This past Shabbat, my wife, son and I visited another shul. For the record, we went to this shul not because we were unhappy with our current one, but because there was a guest speaking and friends had invited us to join them. It was during
that our 2.5-year-old son began to do what he does best: explore.
Amit loves the Torah service, he loves the regal aspect of the Torah being passed around the room and giving it a kiss and delighting in the traditions that keep us going. You may see where this is going. Amit took finding the Torah into his own hands. He promptly walked on the bimah (podium) and made a beeline for the ark. He pulled back the curtain just enough so he could see the Torah scroll and then stood on his toes to touch and kiss.
As parents divided by the mechitzah (the divider between the men’s and women’s sections of an Orthodox synagogue) and stuck in our tracks as we stood for Kedusha, my wife stood at the front waiting for a moment to get his attention. I, his father, stood near the back and was torn by emotions. Should I move throughout the shul anticipating disaster? Or should I just let my son do what he does best and then handle it if something goes awry? I’ll admit, though I’m not a nervous person, I did schvitz a little; it was a new shul and there weren’t many other children in the sanctuary. I moved closer when I could, and did a double take–Amit was the only child in the sanctuary! He was doing what he should: exploring shul and finding the beauty in Judaism.
I just took in the sight. A few men stopped me and suggested that I should let him be as well, after all, I’m sure we have all been there. One gentleman said, “He wants to explore behind the curtain, let him be.” When Amit was done exploring, at least for a moment, the rabbi offered him a lollipop. He had a sweet reward for his quest and his curiosity. The alternative to this experience could have been a playroom of toys, playful, but not Torah centered.
When I saw Amit’s head of curls dodging behind the curtain, I couldn’t help but take pride in knowing that my son has no fear of playing and experimenting. While he was in the ark, I looked above him and read the inscription: Da lifnei mi ata omed, “Know before whom you stand.” The verse alludes to God, but this Shabbat it reminded me that I stood before my son. At times, I am a role model for him, and other times he leads me through play. There is a time and place for everything, but I think our children need to drive our environments so they can take ownership of our traditions. To this, I say let us follow the lead of our children to play and explore the rich world around us together.