When our daughter was born, she weighed six pounds, 13 ounces.
One of the first memories I have from those hazy hectic minutes after her arrival was the significance of the figure 613, the number of mitzvot (commandments) listed in the Torah.
I know not all of the 613 are the good deeds that have come to define the term “doing a mitzvah.” But I took her birth weight as an omen our child would go on to a life of doing good things that would help make the world a better place.
How we’d raise our child was something I’d considered before she was born, but very much in secular
or technical terms. I read up on breastfeeding, how to introduce solid foods, the pros and cons of sleep training, and parenting styles like attachment parenting or RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers).
How we’d go about raising a Jewish child, well, that seemed pretty simple by comparison. We’d go to synagogue. She’d attend Jewish summer camp, and receive some kind of formal Jewish education. The usual, such as it is.
But, as we begin to consider what form that education will take, I’ve started thinking a bit more deeply about the question of how to raise a Jewish child and how much we delegate versus take on ourselves to move our role in the process beyond basics like lighting candles or marking the holidays.
Among other things, it means thinking a bit more about how to take those customs and rituals past just doing them because that’s how we were raised.
But it also means thinking about how to be a “Jewish” parent.
An example: I told my daughter we were going to visit a sick family member in the hospital and, of course, she asked, “Why?” I explained our family member was unwell and we should go visit.
“Why?” my daughter asked again.
I paused. “Because it’s a nice thing to do,” was the easy answer, “plus it’s family.”
But I thought back to a PJ Library book we have about mitzvahs and how she liked it.
“You know that book about mitzvahs?” I asked her. “Well, remember how, in that book, it talks about how visiting someone sick is a mitzvah? So, that’s what we’re doing – a mitzvah.”
The concept seemed to resonate with her, as a few days later she was playing with some wooden vegetables and told me she was chopping them up for our ill family member, because that was a mitzvah.
It was one of those golden and so infrequent moments where you think, “Hey, maybe I’ve actually got this parenting thing.”
But, before you think I’m humbly bragging, I’ll also tell you the day before that, when she asked why Santa wasn’t coming to our house, and I explained because we were Jewish, she told me she didn’t want to be Jewish.
So, like everything in parenting, teaching our kid about Jewish customs and practices is a process for both her and us.
For that reason, though, we’re looking forward to this year’s Mitzvah Day on Sunday, February 5, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s annual day of giving back to the community. We took our daughter when she was younger, and, while she had fun singing along with residents of Hillel Lodge or doing crafts to donate to them, she was a bit too small for the learning opportunity the event provides. We look forward to making it meaningful for her this year.
One of this year’s activities will be a station to swap PJ Library books. It’s a great idea – but we’re holding onto our mitzvah book. I have a feeling we’re not quite done with it.