Embracing Each of Our Four Sons: A Conversation with Ruchi Koval
During the Passover seders, families and friends sit around their tables and recount the story of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt. We sing songs and eat delicious food, but the Haggadah, our guidebook, reminds us that the main goal of the night is to “teach our children.” How can we make the seder fun and exciting for our children? How can we encourage questions? How can we make each child feel loved and treasured?
In this interview, JWRP Trip Leader Ruchi Koval delves into the Jewish value of teaching our children, sharing tips for creating a welcoming Jewish home, cultivating great individuals, and of course, making the seder memorable for the next generation.
Why is “teaching our children” a Jewish value?
In the Shema prayer, the Jewish people are instructed to bring their values into the world, and within the same breath, to pass those values to the next generation. The only way we can perpetuate Jewish values is if we feel the responsibility to transmit them to our children.
Why does Judaism place great value on encouraging our children to ask questions?
During the seders, the youngest child is encouraged to ask four questions about Passover. Judaism understands that when someone asks a question, it means that they are invested in the answer. We don’t want to shove information at our children. Instead, we want children to feel passionate and invested in our values. Questions indicate interest. Questions are the heartbeat of the Jewish people.
In the Haggadah, we read about four sons: a wise son, a wicked son, a simple son, and a son who doesn’t know how to ask questions. What lessons about teaching our children can we learn from the four sons?
All children are welcome in our homes and at our seders, because we’re all part of the same family. We all need to be able to sit at the same table and have a conversation. The Haggadah is also trying to teach us that people learn differently, and that it’s vital to find the words to teach each child. Lastly, the sons represent each one of us at different times in our lives. In that vein, we need to recognize that our children are not static, and we need to respond to them as such.
How can we learn to appreciate and relate to our children, even if they are very different than we are?
Judaism teaches that our children are loaned to us by G-d. We are asked to tend the garden, but we don’t own our children. When children choose different paths, we need to remember that that’s not a reflection of us. As parents, we are expected to treat our children well, and most of all, to offer them a completely unconditional relationship. We need to be their rocks, their touchstones, and their safe spaces. That is what they need from us.
What are some kid-friendly ways to prepare for Passover and the seder?
The most important thing to achieve at the seder is “v’higadta l’vincha” — teaching our children. So, we need to ask ourselves, what speaks to our kids? Tell them the story of Passover in a medium that appeals to them — whether that includes contests, costumes, candy, prizes, or skits. Most of all, the seder should be filled with fun and happiness. Then, your children will associate seders with positive memories, and will want to continue the tradition.
How can we create a warm, welcoming atmosphere in our homes, where our children feel valued and cherished?
In The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman describes how different people feel comfortable receiving love in different ways. For some, that may mean creating an atmosphere with music. For others, that may mean minimizing hugs, kisses, and conversation. The first step is getting to know each child’s love language, without judging them, and giving them permission to be their best self. Then, your child will feel love and cherished.
How can we communicate our Jewish story to our children and continue to learn together, in ways that will make Judaism feel like a treasure to them?
Our home should be the center of our family’s Judaism, and its presence should feel natural there. If our children grow up discussing Jewish ideas, as well the miracles in their lives, they will feel like Judaism is a part of who they are. Judaism teaches that it’s important to marry spirituality with enjoyment. When we associate Shabbat, for example, with delicious food and quality family time, children will feel positively about it and want to continue the tradition once they leave your home.
What are some practical steps we can take to cultivate our children’s souls and help them develop into great people?
First, we need to be those great people ourselves. Of course, we aren’t finished products, but we should do our best to model good behavior. Second, take a look at your community, neighborhood, and your kids’ schools. Do they cultivate Jewish values, like kindness and humbleness? Make sure that they are in a place with peers who will influence them in positive ways. And finally, we need to understand that there’s no tried-and-true formula for raising great kids. We share the challenge with G-d, so we need to pray to G-d to ask for help.