Yesterday I received an email from Artscroll, an Orthodox publishing house, with a prayer to be recited over one’s children on Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the evening before the new month of Sivan begins. The email explains that since the Jews received the Torah in the month of Sivan, and thus became God’s children, this is an appropriate time to pray to God for “good and upright children.”
The the text of the prayer is terrifically long – three pages in single spaced, small font. (I think I would first have to pray for the time to recite such a long prayer….) Not surprisingly, there are quite a few sections that don’t quite align with my deepest hopes for my children. Artscroll has never really been my cup of tea. First of all, their translations always refer to God as Hashem, which I can no longer read without recalling the time a non-Jewish friend mispronounced it as hash-em, as in “What would you like me to do with these potatoes?” Their children’s books tend to be a stunning combination of didactic text and unattractive pictures, with titles that seem like they are from another era altogether - When Moshiach Comes, Donny and Deeny Kteeny, and Mitzvos We Can Do! (We’re definitely more of a Jewish Lights kind of family, collecting up all of their warmly illustrated, completely groovy, rabbinically penned but nearly ecumenical, books about God.)
First of all, the Artscroll prayer for children contains several references to their “mates.” While I do hope that my children will grow to find life partners and create families, the word “mate” conjours up images of dogs humping. Or Australians. But definitely not my four and five year old daughters.
The prayer goes on to ask of God (I mean, Hashem): “May they serve you with love, and true, internalized fear of heaven, not merely apparent fear.” Agreed, yirat hashamayim, or fear of God, is probably a good thing. I’m sure it would be of particular value come adolescence. But when I think about nurturing my young daughters’ emerging relationships with the Divine, fear (and REAL fear, not pretend fear, damn it) is not the top quality I’m aiming for. Instead, I’m working on some combination of intimacy, wonder, and gratitude, with a touch of duty for good measure.
On some days, I think we’re getting close. There was the time Ella started whispering out the car window, and later reported that she was asking God to please make her big enough to take ballet lessons, or Zoe’s stock answer to the question “who made you so cute?” But there are other days, when we’re doing an errand on shabbat, or when we neglect to say brachot before eating, that I think I’d be doing a much better job at this whole home-shuling thing if I were a little more Artscroll, and a little less Jewish Lights.