The Torah teaches us that when children ask their parents, “What is this?” we must be prepared to answer them. Today the world feels upside down and our children understand that things are not normal. This pandemic that we face today is global in nature and impacts everyone. We can reassure them with the information that we have in an age-appropriate way and tell them stories of how previous generations have overcome great difficulties and challenges.
This month Jews around the world will celebrate the annual Festival of Passover, which always begins with a ceremonial meal called Seder which means “order”. During this ordered meal, we read from a book called the Haggadah, which helps us tell the story of the Biblical story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. One of the sections that we read highlights the Four Children and the questions they will ask about the Passover story and how we should answer them – the Studious Child, the Rebellious Child, the Simple Child, and the Child Too Young to Ask.
The Studious Child will want to listen to the news and is reading information about COVID-19 and we need to have honest conversations with them, sharing what we know and understand and helping them to process the difficulty of this time. The Rebellious Child might ask, “what does this have to do with me?” and we help them to understand why solidarity and communal responsibility is important even when they might not know anyone who is impacted. The Simple Child, might ask “What is happening?” and we must find the uncomplicated answers to empower this child. For the Child who is too young to ask, we explain that we are doing things differently today to help make the world a healthier place for everyone. We can all help by washing our hands, social distancing, staying home and sending virtual hugs to our friends and family. If we all do our best, we can all contribute the solutions.
During difficult times, our faith communities, traditions and sacred texts have also been great sources of spiritual support and strength. It is my prayer that every child can voice their questions and worries about what is happening in our world and that the adults in their lives will find the best way to answer them, openly and honestly.
Rabbi Diana S. Gerson
Associate Executive Vice President
The New York Board of Rabbis