I recently witnessed a well-meaning rabbi communicate to a room full of elementary school age Torah students:
“The next gadol hador (leading Torah scholar of the generation) may be sitting in this room!”
I wonder if this message unintentionally does more harm than good. Surely, it is meant to inspire, but isn’t our goal to encourage each child to deepen and strengthen his/her unique connection with G-d? What happens when one (or many) of those children experiences difficulties or a lack of pleasure in studying Torah? He realizes that he’s probably not the next Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) and then what does he say to himself? I’m a failure. I’m not so precious in G-d’s eyes. There’s something not right about me. He is discouraged from pursuing his natural spiritual yearnings.
Unintentionally, we may be sending the message that there is one ideal in serving G-d represented by the talmid chochom (Torah Scholar).
Without going into the historical reasons as to how this notion developed, it is false. Worse, it inhibits our ability to develop the spiritual potential of each child.
A much more empowering and encouraging approach is to describe the pleasure that each child gives Hashem when he is engaged in a whole-hearted, joyous relationship with Him.
Speak about how each child is cherished for the unique aspect of G-d’s presence that only she can reveal in the world. Whatever your passions, skills, interests and talents are, they can be used to serve G-d. It is your thoughts, your words and your actions that He wants you to use. A human parroting even the most righteous individual is still just a parrot. If you are gifted in becoming a leading Torah scholar, I hope you use that gift. It would be a shame for you to waste it. But what about the rest of us?
Children are especially impressionable and they take the aspirations we set for them seriously. Perhaps we need to give more thought to the goals we are setting for them or at least how we express those goals.
Rabbi Elazar Bloom, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist, marriage counselor and parenting consultant with a private practice in Hollywood. To learn more about his work, visit: www.elazarbloom.com