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The Joy in Judaism and Why I Give Your Kids Candy in Shul!

Let’s be real, compelling a child (or teenager or even an adult!) to attend a lengthy, solemn service, reading from a black and white Siddur in the era of Apple Vision Pro Artificial Reality Headsets, is no easy task!

We recently read one of the most astounding episodes in the Torah found in Parshat Ki Tisa with the episode of the Golden Calf. A nation freed by G-d from 210 years of slavery in an awesome display of overt miracles, yet barely a month later they worship an idol!? Some Rishonim explain that after the nation received the Torah they were looking for freedom, but after seeing Hashems’s might in its full glory, what freedom could they possibly desire?


The answer, closely connected to Purim, is simple yet profound. The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) tells us that before we received the Torah, Hashem ‘held the mountain over them like a barrel’ and practically forced us to accept the Torah. In fact, the Gemara then relates that as a result of that, our nation had somewhat of an excuse regarding lapses in observance. However, this all changed during the Purim story 957 years later, when the Megillah conveys that we reaccepted the Torah - this time with love, not fear (Esther 9:27)!


With this, Rav Yitzchok Berkowitz explains that if the Torah is accepted only due to force, without desire and connection, it will inevitably eventually be resented. Before long, people will disdain it and seek even the flimsiest excuses to abandon it - just as they did with the Golden Calf.


Indeed, sadly some view the Torah as simply a list of rules and G-d as headmaster with a litany of demands - this type of Judaism simply isn’t sustainable. In contrast, others, although they are also aware of the obligation to follow the mitzvot, perform them for a far deeper reason, namely because they love Hashem and realize that this is the best form of life. It is the greatest privilege and a source of true happiness.


Indeed, in the Purim story, the initial decree for the annihilation of the Jews was a result of their 'enjoying Achaverosh’s party' (Megillah 12a). Not because they attended, but because they found their enjoyment there and not in the Torah and Mitzvot. Therefore, it was only once they reaccepted the Torah with joy that the decree was rescinded.


We need to look no further than the Torah itself as it describes the terrible suffering that will befall our nation. It is not brought upon us for sinning or even for failing to observe the mitzvot, but 'because you didn’t serve Hashem your G-d with happiness and a good heart' (Devarim 28:47).


An easy way to grasp this is by examining the closest form of human relationship; that of husband and wife. If the entire reason that a husband invests in his marriage and gives his wife what she needs, is due to fear; if the only reason a wife spends time with her husband is because she is scared of his reaction, what kind of relationship is that? Can we even call that a true marriage? It certainly isn’t sustainable! Instead, we crave a much deeper relationship, one in which we enjoy and love each other. When it comes to our religion it should be just the same, we must find the beauty and enjoyment in it.


The renowned maggid of Yerushalayim, Reb Sholom Schwadron, would use humor in his speeches to help explain his profound messages. Once, during his weekly Friday night speech in Zichron Moshe in Yerushalayim, a person got up and announced, “This is ‘leitzanus’ light-headedness. It is improper to speak this way". Reb Sholom feared that perhaps this man was right and took the rebuke to heart. So he went to ask the famed Chazon Ish for advice. After hearing his dilemma, the Chazon Ish reassured him that he had nothing to be worried about. He explained, "In Lithuania, there was a lot of fear of heaven, but the joy was by the 'maskilim' - those that rejected Torah, and that is why we lost so many of our youth". Such is the importance of joy and humor! When there is happiness from within, we don’t seek happiness elsewhere.


We are taught that the women didn't sin at the golden calf. Reb Yissachar Dov of Belz, explains that this is because the women danced after the splitting of the sea at the Yam Suf, as the Torah relates ’and Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aharon, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and danced’ (Shemot 15:20). Since they danced then, they didn't dance with the idol! The men however, who didn't dance then, danced around the idol as the Passuk relates when Moshe came down he saw ‘the calf and the dancing’ (Shemot 32:19). The tribe of Levi also didn’t sin (see Shemot 32:26), because they serve Hashem with music and joy in the Beis HaMikdash. Where there is joy, one doesn’t seek other pleasures.


And this is why I give your kids candy in shul… Let’s be real, compelling a child (or teenager or even an adult!) to attend a lengthy, solemn service, reading from a black and white Siddur in the era of Apple Vision Pro Artificial Reality Headsets, is no easy task! So, to ensure the next generation's connection to Tefillah, we take a two-pronged approach:

  1. First, we must make the Shul an enjoyable environment. This is accomplished by making our shuls look pleasant, fostering a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere, singing beautiful songs in davening, allowing the kids to have fun at Shul (in a respectable way, of course), and yes - by offering them candy! All of these help our children develop positive associations with the Shul and with prayer. But of course, we know that Tefillah is so much more than all of those things.

  2. Therefore, concurrently, and as the child matures even more so, we should focus on conveying to them the profound satisfaction in speaking to our Creator, our responsibility and obligation to pray, and a deep sense of love for Hashem.


Unfortunately though, too frequently, the initial step is overlooked and the joy is left out. This tragically often lends to negative associations as the child subconsciously has little interest in Shul or, worse still, resents it G-d forbid. This leaves very little opportunity for the child to learn what true Tefillah is.


This is why Purim, with all of its fun customs and laws, is so important; we are celebrating accepting the Torah with delight and we are demonstrating 'the joy factor' which has ensured that our Judaism remains undiluted by the many illicit pleasures around us. It’s an easy time to show our kids (and ourselves!), that we find true happiness in the Torah - there is no need to look elsewhere.


Joy in Judaism isn't just a luxury, it's essential for our continuity and vitality!

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