Kids And God
avid Wolpe grew up in a family that celebrated
represents God's words. And the Eternal Light represents
being Jewish but never sat around the dinner table
God timeless brightening of our way.
talking about God. His father was a rabbi of a large
If God is nonphysical, why does the Torah teach that
Conservative congregation, and David attended Jewish day
humans were created in God's image? Hear Rabbi Wolpe:
schools and summer camps, but dinnertime talk typically
"Inside each of us is something eternal that partakes of the
focused on Soviet Jewry, Israel or U.S. politics.
"All of that we talked about endlessly," David said.
Controversy surrounding his teachings aside — Rabbi
But that didn't stop him from becoming a rabbi.
Wolpe once gave a sermon that the Exodus didn't happen
Today, he's a pre-eminent shaper of theological thought in
exactly as the Tanach says it did — his ideas for helping
the Conservative movement — as a teacher, a lecturer and
kids understand God are enlightening.
an author. He's also senior rabbi at Sinai Temple, a 1,800-
When children ask him what it is to be in God's image,
family congregation in Los Angeles, and a
Rabbi Wolpe tells them it's the part of you that is constant
renowned authority on bringing kids closer
even as your hair, cells and emotions change. "No one else
will ever be you," he tells children. "That's because you are
Not surprisingly, the Philadelphia native
a unique image of God, that there is something eternal in
maintains that Judaism is hollow without
you that is part of God that is only about you."
Rabbi Wolpe's message reminded me how hard it is to
God certainly is at the center of my spiri-
explain not only what God is, but also how God works.
tual orbit. No one knows what it is
In prayer, people tend to think
are pulling God to them. But I
Rabbi Wolpe, 46, spoke as
Rabbi Wolpe's belief that
Shabbat scholar in residence, hosted
people instead are pulling themselves
by the Laker family, at Congrega-
to God. "It's not that you are praying
tion Shaarey Zedek in Southfield on Nov. 12-13.
to inspire yourself," the rabbi said.
"Whether you have difficulty with God, whether
"You are, in fact, praying to align
you struggle with' God, whether you were one of
yourself and our life with God, not
those people who was born with an unshakable
to change God to do what you want
faith, without God you take the ground floor out of
because, after all, who are we?"
Judaism," he told 300 congregants at the Kabbalat
He focused on transcendence, the notion of some-
Rabbi Wolpe got to the
thing °. o breater than humankind.
question — "Why does
Rabbi Wolpe has taught both at the Jewish
things happen?" — you
Theological Seminary in New York and the
Rabb i Wolpe
a pin drop. He tells
University of Judaism in L.A. His talk played off
the story of a man who looks up in
themes in his book Teaching Your Children About
heaven and says, "God, your world is so full of evil and suf-
God (Henry Holt).
fering and pain. Why don't you send help?"
And God said, "I did send help. I sent you."
Clarity Of Terms
The story affirms the Jewish ideal of tikkun olam, human
Too often, we ignorantly say to children that talking about
repair of the world.
God isn't respectable, or that God is essentially an old man
Rabbi Wolpe said it's "incredibly enriching and wonderful
in the sky, said Rabbi Wolpe, who has a 7-year-old daugh-
to actually talk to children about God." Just don't be over-
ter. "One day," he said, "we'll have to tell the truth, not
imagining that setting children up for a clear disillusion-
"They're children," he said. "This is not debating society.
ment is going to make them distrust us when we discuss
You don't have to convince them you are right. They can
other significant things."
feel however they want."
What he then said should spur every parent: "It is possi-
In my mind, the center of your Jewish universe should be
ble to tell children things about God that the Jewish tradi-
your home, not your synagogue. So how well parents nur-
tion believes to be true and which they can grow into
ture their children amid the confluence and clashing of
instead of grow out of."
Jewish life experiences determines how deeply the kids will
Consider: We tell kids that God is invisible when we real-
relate to Judaism.
ly mean intangible. God is nonphysical. "Invisible means
Rabbi Wolpe agreed. 'All of Jewish education is about
God has a body but you can't see it, like if you put a hat on
keeping kids interested long enough so that they can learn
God, you could see the hat go down the street, but you
what Judaism is really about," he said. "Ten-year-olds can't
couldn't see God underneath," Rabbi Wolpe said.
know what it is to feel fragility and mortality, or what it is
In contrast, ask a child to point to something intangible
to be a community. But if we can keep them around long
like love and they're likely to point to their heart. "When
enough, we'll have a chance to teach them."
you come to realize that love is both real and intangible,"
At its core, Judaism requires that parents must never stop
Rabbi Wolpe said, "you can say God is like love."
What a beautiful metaphor.
As Rabbi Wolpe put it: "In some sense, everything that
God doesn't have a body we can touch, but we can feel
we are — our Torah, our tradition, our legends, all of us as
God's presence. Imagine a synagogue sanctuary. God isn't
a people — was given in trust so that we would give it to
seated with us, but is there in two indisputable ways. Torah
our children." I I
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