Shabbat Lunch and Learn

From: Leonard

Dear Rabbi,

I know it is important to learn on Shabbat, and particularly with one’s children. But in my case, I am so tired from work by the time Shabbat comes around, that I find it very hard to learn with my children instead of relaxing or napping. Anyway, my kids aren’t thrilled to study. They’d rather play outside, which is what most of the other kids seem to be doing (i.e., and not learning with their parents). Is this OK? What would you recommend that I do?  

Dear Leonard,

I understand entirely the difficulty you have in balancing your need to rest and relax on Shabbat with the need to invest in your children’s Jewish education on this very important day for Torah study.

One way many people attempt to balance both is by incorporating learning with the children and reviewing their weekly material in the context of the Shabbat meals. This might be accomplished by featuring a different child at each of the different meals, or by focusing on different children throughout the various courses of each meal.

In any case, this helps ensure that the discussion at Shabbat meals will be Torah based, rather than on the news, the neighbors or other mundane topics.

Another thing you might try is to make the meals shorter so you have more time outside your nap to be with your children. In addition, since eating big meals makes one lethargic, if you eat a bit less you may find you’ll have less of a need to nap.

Regarding your kids wanting to play instead of study, that’s perfectly natural and they should certainly be allowed and encouraged to play. But here too, you need to find the right balance. Perhaps you could set times for both, so that they play while you rest. Let your kids know before Shabbat that you’ll be studying together at such-and-such a time, and set an alarm which ensures you’ll get up from your nap on time.

Of course, think of ways to make study time with your kids more enjoyable for them by being pleasant, happy, patient, and by introducing games, quizzes, prizes and the like.

Although it seems to you that most other kids are also not learning with their parents, that might not be the case. They may be rotating by learning with one while the others play outside (which is another way to facilitate personal attention to each child’s needs). But even if others are not learning with their children, that’s no reason to neglect your own.

On the contrary, when your children see the sacrifice you make to learn with them, and the special emphasis you place on their Jewish studies and your desire to be a part of what they learn, they will come to appreciate and value Torah study all the more. This is generally passed on from generation to generation.

And even though initially they might resist the change and be reluctant to shorten their play time, ultimately they will enjoy the special attention and one-on-one time with you, particularly if you use the time to display love and affection as you learn. This can be accomplished by complimenting, encouraging, hugging, kissing and making learning fun, as well as rewarding them for their efforts with appropriate incentives!

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