Teaching children to help others may help heal a troubled world
Updated: Oct 31, 2022
21 lives snuffed out in a moment, 21 families that will never hug their loved ones again, 21 worlds shattered.
The news of another mass-shooting, this time in Uvalde, Texas, with most of the victims again being young school children forever taken from their families by the hands of a gunman, should tear at the heart of any human being. We can never make peace with the evil being perpetrated in our midst, and we must be driven to action to completely eradicate this scourge. The fact that this is becoming frighteningly commonplace is all the more reason to act now and not be complacent. Something has to be done.
One thing that we can all agree on amidst the terrible political discord in our country is the value of the sanctity of life. Saving a single life always takes precedence over any ideology; it even comes before religion. Judaism doesn’t fit perfectly into a specific political narrative, and it definitely doesn’t take sides in the various political debates raging through society today. But Torah most certainly does take the side of life.
But what can we do? What type of action is there for the regular citizen of the United States to take and not come across as merely virtue signaling and repeating political talking points? We can point fingers at this side of the aisle or that. We can get worked up and angry. But will that change anything?
Those of us that aren’t in positions of influence and aren’t going to affect any global initiatives — how are we supposed to make a difference and bring an end to this madness?
In 1981, when President Ronald Regan was shot, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, addressed it in a public talk. The Rebbe emphasized how so much of society’s ills could be prevented before they result in tragedy. We are very good at reacting to events of this sort, but of course that shouldn’t be the goal, to merely react. We have to work towards a much more ideal objective, for there to never be something like this ever again.
This, the Rebbe said, is accomplished through education. Children must be taught from a young age that it is up to them to make the world a good place — for themselves, for their families and friends, and even for people they have never met before. Sure, children go to school and learn to read and write and add and subtract. But we are plagued with a deficiency in moral education, in teaching our youth that there is a Superpower that provides the world with its sustenance, and who expects us, His creations, to act in the most morally justified way.
Education initiatives come and go, with emphasis on one issue or another, but the goal should always be to promote awareness in the Divine — without promoting a specific religion or ideology — leading children to engage in ethical behavior. When a child is taught about G-d, and is taught that the reason we exist is in order to make His world a good place, seeds are planted for a morally and ethically sound future.
Teaching children the importance of helping others — about how being kind to strangers and sharing what you have with the less fortunate is the purpose of our existence — ingrains in them the characteristics of morality. A child who starts the day with a moment to reflect on how they can be good and how they can better be there for others, will grow into an adult who can make a real difference in the world.
Something as simple as placing a few coins in a charity box every morning before leaving for school, making it a family project to bring the full box to a local charitable cause, goes a long way to remind the child that they can make a difference. They may be small and their daily contribution might seem insignificant, but size doesn’t matter. They should be taught that any good deed, regardless of how small it is, makes the world a better place and can be the reason for a brighter future.
We may not be able to bring these 21 lives back, but we can, and must, ensure that the sanctity of life is preserved at all costs.
When we put the focus of our child-rearing on selflessness rather than selfishness, on helping others rather than putting others down, we can be assured that the world that they enter as adults will be a better place for all of mankind. Emphasizing to our children and students that they hold the keys to a better future, empowers them to be the change the world so desperately needs.
This column also appeared in the Post-Tribune and The Times of Israel