All learning and living can be like music and art: Spiritually rich experiences. On the journey toward living spiritually, it is helpful to understand the Jewish concept of ‘Lishma.’ ‘Lishma’ is doing something good from a place of internal, rewarding motivation. When I do something Lishma, it feels almost musical. When I do something ‘Lishma,’ I do not desire material reward. How do we get our children to feel that doing good is its own reward? In an effort to motivate kids to behave, parents and educators sometimes use material goods in place of genuine goodness, to the point of completely elbowing spirituality out of the picture. It’s clear where Jewish educators begin to veer from valuing genuine reward: In order to make a child’s first association with words of Torah sweet, they are introduced to the letters of the Alef Bet with honey, and a cake accompanies the receiving of a first prayerbook. This is where the veering of course begins…Honey on letters shouldn’t equate with a spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down! Do we really think we should teach children that Jewish learning is something bitter that requires sweetening? Words of Torah ARE sweet Once this veering begins, it picks up speed, and even the adults view the motivator as the goal unto itself: “Study and you’ll get a treat.” “Say your prayers/share your toy, and you’ll get a prize.” This is where I want to cry out…No! Study IS a treat! Prayer and sharing ARE prized behaviors! I can already hear a cacophony of parental voices…”But the children don’t FEEL the sweetness of learning and doing good, so don’t we HAVE to offer the treats to get them to do learn and do good?!” In keeping with classic Jewish tradition, I will answer that question with a question. Why DON’T the children feel the sweetness of learning and doing good? This questions begs an honest answer and confronts us with…Ourselves. OUR attitudes, expectations and goals. When I know that my goal in this world is to connect with and keep moving toward my best self, and that my best self is my most G-dly self, then I can understand that real reward is closeness to that self. From a young age, a child can be encouraged to identify her own higher self and to choose goodness for the reward of growing goodness. This is the development of conscience, the uncovering of the soul, one that will be nourished with art, music and all of life! It is this soul that will appreciate the world’s material goods as tools for celebration of a life that is lived ‘Lishma’! Dvorah
Miller is a contributing writer to Kiddish Magazine. She is Irvine Hebrew Day School’s Jewish Studies Director, a mother, grandmother and a passionate Jewish educator.