Never Underestimate Child’s Capacity to Learn Prayer

Never underestimate what an almost 3-year-old can absorb even when it comes to prayer.

Tonight, my son’s eyes widened, and he suddenly stopped playing with a basket of plastic fruit. A sweet melody was playing on our stereo.

“What’s that song?” he asked.

“It’s Shehechiyanu,” I answered. “It’s a blessing we sing to say thanks for something in our lives. You are the biggest blessing in your Mommy and Daddy’s life.”

He paused, then said, “My Mommy and Daddy are my blessing.”

I had given my son a Cliff Notes version of the meaning of the Shehechiyanu. As my husband and I try to make Judaism a natural part of Simon’s life, our goal is: keep it simple. Why do we throw bread into a pond or river for Tashlich during the High Holy Days? It’s what we do. Why drop coins in a box before lighting the candles on Shabbat?  It’s what we do.

As parents, we are our children’s teachers. And they, of course, are always teaching us. They show us by their reactions how much to teach them. After my brief answer to his question about the blessing, Simon immediately returned to play. He did not want a lecture.

The CD playing – Songs in the Garden by Melita Doostan and Octopretzel – was in and of itself a blessing. It came one day in the mail from The PJ Library, a foundation which sends a free book and sometimes a CD on a regular basis to young Jewish children around the country.  The organization often sends us books and music we might not have chosen ourselves. We are new parents, and neither of us grew up immersed in Jewish children’s literature and music. The beloved books of our childhood were secular tales, like The Little Engine Who Could or just about any Dr. Seuss book.

The CD features a mellow folk group playing mostly traditional versions of Hebrew prayers. We have played it our house several times, and I thought it odd initially that the Shehechiyanu was on the CD. It’s a song I’m used to singing at a Shabbat service, a wedding, a bris, a baby naming, or a bat or bar mitzvah. It’s not an everyday song. It typically marks something new, a beginning. If I had given Simon the direct translation, he would have tuned out. In English, it translates to: Blessed are you, Oh Lord, Our God, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

At our temple, we often sing it to celebrate a special birthday or a wedding anniversary. But when Simon asked me what the song was, I immediately thought of it as a way of blessing a special person.  I did not meet my husband until I was 40 years old. We did not marry until I was 42. We had Simon when I was 43. Miracle of miracles, yes, I’m quoting that name of that over-giddy Fiddler on the Roof song, I was able to have a child. I looked at Simon tonight and realized again how lucky I was to have this blessing in my life.

I uh honestly wanted to finish the dishes rather than pause to accept a plastic fruit from his basket to “eat” about the same time Shehechiyanu came on the stereo. But I resisted the urge to keep scrubbing – and accepted the fake strawberry and pretended to eat it. Then the song of blessing filled the kitchen. A few hours later, I tucked Simon into his bed. I often sing to him a little bit. Tonight, I could only think of one lullaby. “Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam,  shehechiyanu v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu lazman ha’zeh. Ah… Ah… Ah….. Ah-ah-men.” I quietly left the room.

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