Teaching Kedusha in the Home

Dear Rabbi Brody,

In case you don’t remember, my wife and I made Tshuva 5 years ago. Then, our daughter was 6. Now she’s 11, and despite our efforts, she isn’t careful about washing her hands in the morning or about saying Krias Shma at night. In your last letter to us, you told us to try and be stronger personal examples and do everything that we demand from her; we’ve implemented your advice, but it still isn’t easy. Could you devote some of your valuable time to strengthening a little girl in Kedusha? Could you please explain to our Debbie the importance of “negel vasser” and Krias shma at night? We’re sure that she’ll listen to you, and we’d be forever grateful.

S and J Ross,

Dear Debbie,

Can you imagine waking up to a world where the flowers don’t blossom, the birds don’t chirp, or the sun doesn’t shine? Now imagine that some evil force stole the world’s beauty every morning, and then went around painting everyone’s windows black, so even if anything beautiful to see still remained, you wouldn’t be able to see it!

The Zohar teaches us that when we go to sleep at night, our neshomas (souls) go up to Heaven to hear Torah and to be spiritually recharged. When the soul leaves the body, the body assumes a form of lifelessness, tantamount to death, and therefore becomes spiritually contaminated. This spiritual contamination that is left on our fingertips in the morning renders us not only impure, but spiritually “stupid”, whereas we can neither pray nor learn Torah properly. Whenever we’re spiritually impure, heaven forbid, we become slaves to the Yeyzer Hora, the Evil Inclination, and are easily prone to transgression and all types of wrongdoing. Exposing your delicate and exquisite neshoma – a tiny part of Hashem – to such impurity is like tossing a dainty
princess, the King’s daughter, into a pile of cow manure. What scorn!

By using “negel vasser” and washing our hands from a one-liter cup 3 times consecutively as soon as we wake up in the morning, we rid ourselves of the night’s spiritual impurity that contaminates our souls. Debbie, I can’t stress enough the importance of using “negel vasser” and washing your hands first thing every morning. Without it, you can’t grow up to be a “bas chayil”, a daughter of valor that’s destined to be a woman of valor.

Before you go to bed at night, you have to make sure that you deposit your beautiful little neshoma into the hands of the holy angels that will carry it up to the heavens, where it will be replenished with wisdom and blessing. When you skip Krias Shma at night, accepting the yoke of emuna and your loyalty to Hashem, then according to the Zohar, you are casting your neshoma to the nasty clutches of the dark-side angels who play with it, contaminate it, and make it stupid, rendering it incapable of learning Torah and praying. Furthermore, a neshoma that goes without Krias Shma becomes spiritually starved. Spiritual starvation leads to a number of emotional and learning problems.

The Yetzer doesn’t mind if you play computer games, watch TV, or even learn math and American history all day long. But, without saying Shma Yisroel at night, your faith in Hashem will be feeble, and you won’t be able to understand any of your Torah learning properly.

Debbie, I promise you that by your saying Krias Shma at night – every night with no excuses – you’ll do better in school and you’ll be much happier. Tell Mommy and Daddy that Lazer from Israel says that they should say it together with you every night.

With blessings and prayers for your success and welfare, Lazer Brody

19 comments on “Teaching Kedusha in the Home

  1. be very careful in forcing the child. it says in Tanya to educate every child according to his/her ways.

    i have friends who were forced to be religious and now they are rebelling even more.

    ps- regarding the above answer, as beautiful as it is, you cant promise a child that she will do better at school because she says Shma at night, one does not have anything to do with the other. imagine she said shma at night and did not learn her school work- she will then not do well at school!

    the most important is to install a proud Jewish identity in every child, teach them about the mitzvot and why we do them

  2. Oops !!…I should have typed “Eternal”…instead of “noncorporeal”….. just in case you thought i was a pagan Has V’Shal-m.

  3. I have found that my children seem to accept “spiritual” concepts very easily without getting confused.

    They don’t struggle with logic and intellect like we do. A ” neshama is a part of Hash-m “….what’s the problem ? Give them this idea ….it’s good one…..how many grown ups really intellectualise the concept of Hash-m being noncorporeal ? We’d end up in the looney bin !

    We relate to Him in His terms….he is revealed to us …so to speak….in a way that we can grasp….relative to our ability to comprehend…..as we grow we grasp more and more I Y H .

    Fear and Love are terms of references that He supplied to accomodate a relationship with Him…..Baruch H. Our Neshamot are from Him….whatever that means….but I can relate to Him this way for a while ….until i am ready to step it up a bit more and receive greater understanding.

    Hash-m is The king , the Father , the Judge….everything…..beyond this we cannot really understand.

    I choose to keep it simple…..teach my Kids to keep it simple…..not to get in the way of themselves…..Gee Oh Dee….that’s all .

    Start with G. O .D…… we do Negel Vasser because Hash-=m has shown us how to cling to Him as a Human Being…..because the soul He gave us needs to be comfortable in the body He gave us…..and we need to teach our body how to make our neshamot feel like a welcome guest.

    David Dome ( London )

  4. “Please understand that if a child at age 5 begins learning Chumash with Rashi, they will be exposed to “Kabbalistic Concepts” – see Bereishit – Chapter 27 verse 33 “And Isaac shuddered””

    Elchanan, that is not a kabbalistic concept, it’s a midrash chazal.
    Regardless, I wasn’t aiming to say that a child be taught *no* kabbalistic concepts. I suppose the extent of that would depend on the parent’s outlook. (That is why I only objected to this one line, despite the fact that there are several kabbalistic statements in R Brody’s response.) What I meant was that there are particular kabbalistic concepts, that relate to conceptions of God, that aren’t meant for such a young age. We can’t confuse young children with ideas that impinge on ikarei emunah. A statements like “neshoma – a tiny part of Hashem” can be understood as rendering God corporeal if the audience is unprepared, and 11 year old girls awaiting instruction on negel vasser and krias shema are unprepared.

  5. Ok , so it bothers you….but don’t feel guilty. Find time during the day to speak to Hash-m…..like you speak to a Father figure or a close freind…..CONNECT…..truly ….with all your heart….by doing this you will find that you won’t forget to say berachot…..why…..because you start to say it out of love rather than fear. This has worked for me……and I am just another Jew trying to connect ( P G ).

    What happens if you forget to set your alarm that reminds you to say birchat acharona….gonna feel just as bad …doubled !

    I have recently learned that in order to ascend we often times have to fall…..this gets us down….but our return is with so much energy….to counteract our descent the energy needed is greater than it was to fall….that we return huge positive forces back up to H…. that we emerge as a relatively ascended being….compared to who we were before.

    So the mistake is part of the solution…..

    So now you may say ” let’s the guitar out and sing around a camp fire !”….but I’m not dreaming….. with the right intention we can fly out of bad habits. But “guilt” is a killer and it provides no room to grow.

    David Dome ( London )

  6. Sephardi Lady,

    I know what you mean…since I’ve become more Frum over the years, sometimes if I forget to do something, like a prayer before (or after) eating, I feel badly about it…also if I fall asleep before saying Krias Shma, it bothers me, where years ago, I did none of this….

  7. I’m surprised nobody else has said this, but don’t many people struggle with remembering to say brachot and washing hands and more throughout the day? I’m not embarrassed to admit that I forget to do things I should do throughout the day. Sometimes I have a “good excuse” like I am chasing after a toddler. Sometimes there is no excuse and I just allow myself to get distracted.

    While spiritual explainations are wonderful and inspiring, sometimes what we really need are concrete reminders like a post-it note on the bathroom door reminding us to wash our hands in the morning, or an alarm that goes off shortly after eating to remind us to say birchat hamazon or a bracha achrona (a nice tip that a Rosh Kollel I am close to gave me), or a reminder in an electronic calander to stop and say morning brachot.

  8. Dear All,

    In my humble experience I have found speaking to children about Neshamot and “going to Shamayim to learn Torah allows their imaginations to flourish….if they can read the “Wizard of Oz” and play “imagination” games with brothers , sisters and freinds …then understanding the concept of flying up to Shamayim isn’t hard.

    How does one explain to their children what washing with a Negel Vasser is for without speaking in abstract terms about ” spiritual defilement” and Kedusha…..come on already….we kids need to open our hearts and minds to more “spirituality “…..without intellectualising everything.

    ” Daddy….why do we say Shema at night ?”….so that Hash-m knows we love Him and when he hears us say these words his highest angels come to stand as witnesses and guards us as we sleep…..afterall by saying these words we are standing as witnesses that Hash-m is the Boss and we want to guard his Torah.

    Kapeesh ?

    David Dome ( London )

  9. I agree with the parents who posted above Yerachmeal. Their post seem liks the kind of advice that one can find in R Wolbe’s sefer on Chinuch that was published in English by Feldheim. R Wolbe argues quite clearly that parents cannot expect or force young children via force or intimidation-like arguments to perform mitzvos or learn beyond their natural and intellect capabilities.

  10. As the parent of a similar little girl who followed Rabbi Brody’s advice I can tell you that only good things resulted from the holy words of Rabbi Brody. My daughter with simple faith and trust followed Rabbi Brody’s instructions perfectly. We noticed right away how she seemed to blossim like a beautiful flower. And only a couple of days later this little girl who had been struggling in her Torah studies came home with such a big smile because that day in yeshiva she took a difficult exam in Chumah and did so great. She was so excited when she told us, and I quote, “THE ANSWERS WERE JUST FLYING INTO MY HEAD”. Again, this is a little girl that had always struggled on such a test in the past. She truly understands how her performance on her test relates to her new practice of washing in the morning, and saying Shema at night.

    My advise to all of you is find the right Rabbi or Rebbe and have the courage and faith to listen to his advice, it comes from a very high source.


  11. A superb answer. However, it is very harsh on the child. The young child does not do something because, obviously, she does not think it’s important, as a result she didn’t even dream of writing the Rabbi about the issue. What happens is that a letter is published that basically says: “Rabbi, our daughter is naughty. You advised us to be perfect ourselves, which we did already; she still is being careless and bad. Please straighten her out, thanks for your time.” The Rabbi sets aside this introduction and addresses beautifully the question, actually, he’s quite on the reprimand side, compared with his usual tone. But here the issue is not just the handwashing and saying Krias Shema. The issue is about a couple of parents which should, IMHO, have been reminded that they themselves did not do those mitzvot for how-many-years, in fact, who believed that it was perfectly alright to not do those mitzvot to their daughter and to not teach their daughter to do so, for six years. So, first thing, a little bit of humility, and those parents should IMHO swallow their pride and say, guess what, dear Debbie, even if you think it’s a meaningless rite and don’t do this every morning, or in fact, not at all, till you’re 20 or 25 and perhaps just had a child yourself… guess what, you’ll still be anyway a long, long way ahead of ourselves. They should swallow their pride and say, we did not know any better when we were your age so we never did it, as a result, see for yourself, we have been cursed by yelling at you (perhaps even hitting you) many dozens of times since you were born; we don’t want YOU to ever get angry at your children G. forbid, we don’t want you to ever feel the shame we felt (hopefully) every time we did an injustice to you or treated unfairly (or even worse, * G. FORBID * to feel no shame at all); that’s why we are praying every day that you do it regularly and with the utmost attention (are they praying for it, by the way?); and moreover, our concern causes us to repeat that to you many, many more times than it’d be appropriate, thus annoying you even further – see? it curses us again.

    Dear editor, publish, don’t publish, forward to the rabbi, delete… whatever you think is most appropriate. I took the time to write because I figured Debbie is not at fault for the shortcomings of someone else; she should instead be encouraged to correct them in herself (and it will work for her family, too), even if the people in question are her parents and thus deserve the utmost respect.

  12. Please understand that if a child at age 5 begins learning Chumash with Rashi, they will be exposed to “Kabbalistic Concepts” – see Bereishit – Chapter 27 verse 33 “And Isaac shuddered”


  13. Emes,
    It depends on the age and maturity of the child. Might work better in Eretz Yisrael where unfortunately children have become more used to the idea of death.

  14. How appropriate is it to tell a child that sleep is like death? Any problems falling asleep after that?

  15. “Exposing your delicate and exquisite neshoma – a tiny part of Hashem – to such impurity is like tossing a dainty”

    I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of telling an 11 year old girl that the neshama is a part of hashem. This is a kabbalistic idea; at that age, one should surely stress the concept that God is incorporeal and unlike anything human and leave such kabbalistic concepts aside.

  16. Great stuff! The exact wording can be adjusted to suit the age and maturity of the child.

  17. Dear Rabbi Brody,

    Beautiful….simply beautiful! No other words I can add.

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