Getting the Most from Shavuos
As the Yom Tov of Shavuos is only a few days away, I would like to offer some thoughts on how to best approach this Yom Tov. Yomim Tovim bring with them the opportunities for parents to bring their children closer to Hashem. Yomim Tovim also offer parents the opportunities to bring their family members closer to them. As with other things that offer hope, they also bring with them the potential for lost opportunities, and the possibilities of damaging, or increasing the damage, to the relationships between children and Hashem, and children and parents.
Shavuos should not be seen as a technique, or even worse, a time of the year for parents to "demand" that their children become friendlier, or more Frum. Shavuos should be used as an opportunity to expose children to the beauty of Yom Tov and their family. If it's done properly, the children will appreciate these two special relationships on their own. They may feel themselves becoming closer,immediately, or only after several months or years.
Bringing children closer to Hashem and to the other family members, is not a project reserved for "problem" children. Parents should remind themselves that many teenagers, even those that are performing well in school and at home, may not be as connected to the Torah as they should be, and don't appreciate that it's truly the best path for them to follow. (I've written several articles on hollow children, all of which are available by request.)
Even some of the people who appreciate the Torah and its lifestyle, often see the Torah as a rigid task master. They may also see the Torah and its Mitzvohs as something on the periphery, something that must be done (such as Davening), before one is allowed to do the things that one wants to do. They see it as something that often limits what they want to do in life.
However, Yom Tov offers them the warmth that is often missing from the "daily grind". Even some well meaning Yeshiva students who perform the Mitzvos with a robotic approach (bordering on O.C.D. behavior), will find that Yom Tov offers them a break.
Since Shavuos doesn't have tangible Mitzvohs to perform, such as a Succoh during Succos, and a Seder during Pesach, Shavuos may have even less meaning to many teenagers. What Shavuos does have is a focus on learning, something which many students, and adults, find difficult.
If these thoughts are passing through the teenagers' minds, then "forcing" them to appreciate the Yom Tov may have the opposite effect. In a similar way, if teenagers are less comfortable with their families than they are with their friends, forcing them to sit through long Yom Tov meals with what they perceive as meaningless discussions, will also have the opposite effect.
I would like to offer some tips, in order for the Yom Tov of Shavuos to give families what the Torah intended.
1) Pesach and Succos, have a focus. The Seder and the Succoh are beautified to make the Yom Tov more enjoyable, and appealing, to their children. Shavous also has a focus; the Torah. Parents are supposed to make the Torah beautiful, so that it will be appealing to their children.
2) Some Shuls offer interesting Shiurim (Kol Yakov among them). If these aren't accessible, parents, and/or the teenagers, should look for stimulating Chavrusos, in advance. Learning throughout the year, usually focuses on the more necessary subjects, such as Gemorroh and Halacha, which can often appear bland to the non motivated person. Shavuos should focus on interesting topics, even ones that may increase an awareness, and appreciation, for a Torah Lifestyle. Subjects can include history, Emunah, or anything that's of interest to the individuals.
3) Torah learning shouldn't be limited to the first night, without any additional learning throughout the Yom Tov. Limiting one's learning only to the first night, reinforces the attitude that Torah is something you do to "get it over with". However, the intended message is just the opposite: Torah is fascinating, relevant, and will make a person's life better.
The primary goal is not to increase the amount of time spent on learning, although that would be great. It's to give the Torah its proper position in the Yom Tov. It's to be the focus of the entire Yom Tov.
4) If possible, the learning should attempt to complete some unit of Torah. Learning with a goal, gives one a feeling of satisfaction. With satisfaction comes a drive to continue learning throughout, and beyond, the Yom Tov.
Girls often have a more difficult time with Yomim Tovim, since they're usually "left out" of many of the activities. During the Yomim Tovim, their participation is usually limited to the "less fun parts", such as cleaning and cooking. Many women aren't uncomfortable with this. These women, and unmarried girls, should pro-actively search for outlets to make the Yomim Tovim meaningful. Going to Shiurim, and enhancing the Yom Tov table (through non cooked items), are two ideas. It's the husbands' responsibility to offer interesting Divrei Torah. However, he must make sure that those around the table are interested. Women and girls should also make it a point to enjoy the Yom Tov, by enjoying their family, food, and friends.
Both Areivim, and Kol Yakov, will offer Shavuos programs that incorporate the majority of the above points. If you know of any teenage boy, or young adult, who may be interested in an inspiring, yet casual, Shavuos experience, please call the office 845-371-2760, 347-865-3247 or 914-490-8129. Arrangements can be made to spend the entire Yom Tov with us.
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