The Midrash tells us that when Hashem said “Anochi Hashem Elokeicha”, the entire world went silent. Any small noise, anywhere in the world, even from the smallest of creatures or aspects of nature, even if unheard by others, would have “detracted from” (K’v’yachol) or distracted from Hashem’s Oneness. We see for there to be a proper Kabalos HaTorah there needed to be no distractions in the universe. This at a time where electronics, media and the rest did not even exist, and still the world was only able to handle it for the first of the Dibrot, maybe part of the second according to some meforshim. The reaction to this complete focus on Hashem and his word was that Klal Yisroel literally jumped out of their bodies towards Hashem, breaking down all barriers, to connect with his Oneness.
How can our children make a real Kabbalas HaTorah in todays day and age, where we are constantly bombarded and pressured with distractions? Whole careers are now based on generating distractions! Scientists tell us that the new generation has a “different brain” and can multi task better than we can. Do we see this with our own experience? Are our kids more connected with the world, able to focus on more than one task at a time and succeed at both on the same level and to their fullest potential?
For the generation of the Midbar, they could only handle one sentence, and that was enough. For our kids too, its not necessarily about completely disconnecting (although the more we do that the healthier they’ll be physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially, educationally, etc…). We need to create small moments where everything else it tuned out, and they can focus on one simple concept and connect with it. Then go back to the noise. When klal Yisroel went back to their “noise”, they retained Moshe Rabbeinu as a teacher, but he was only successful because he built on that single moment of quiet where all Bnei Yiroel connected with Hashem. Kids fight against the quiet. They freak out at boredom. However, like all withdrawals (literally) after pushing through the pain and uncomfortableness they can achieve a few real moments of clarity, that we can build on and cultivate the rest of the time. Klal Yisroel naturally jumped towards Hashem when all other distractions were removed, and kids as well gravitate towards the right, healthy and spiritual thing when all distractions are removed and they push through those first uncomfortable moments. Obviously things like Shabbos help, and we need to take more advantage of those things. One boy told me that the Asifat Horaim was a success to him because while he and his parent had to wait on line to speak with a teacher, it forced them to be together with no other distractions and they had a real conversation. Kids often cringe when their parents want to talk, but take away all other options (not as a punishment, just as circumstances) and they appreciate it and really want it.
We need to start generating and looking for those moments, keep them small, not necessarily an hour long chavrusa (though with time it could build into that) but small, real and focused interactions with our kids.
Rabbi Ari Deutscher MSW