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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Raffi Bilek

COVID-19: A Chinuch Opportunity

The coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns have brought a long series of new challenges into the lives of virtually everyone on the planet. For some they have meant ongoing isolation and loneliness. For others, it’s been the madness of homeschooling children (perhaps many of them) while trying to manage a job (or two) at the same time. Not to mention, of course, the disease itself and, R”L, the loss of life.

And at the same time, for many of us there are a string of silver linings we can latch onto as well. For me personally, I’ve been appreciating the slowed pace of my morning now that I don’t have to speed out of bed to minyan and get the kids ready for carpool, and also the extra face time (lowercase) I’m getting with my kids.

Just as the situation was ramping up before Pesach, I wrote a post on the great chinuch opportunity we had as the holiday approach. While of course we would never have wished this matzav upon ourselves, there really are significant benefits we can extract from it if we can keep our eyes on the ball.

I’d like to highlight another opportunity I think many of us may be encountering at this juncture.

chinuch opportunity

After months of lockdown and social distancing, our resolve is weakening. People who live alone are daring to mingle a little more. Kids are out playing with each other without much thought to masks or distance.

I am certainly not judging anyone here. I completely understand how difficult these restrictions have been on all of us, and everyone will have to make their own decisions about what rules they will or won’t observe.

One of the hardest moments for me was when one of my children came home and reported seeing her best friend out with another friend. My wife and I felt the heaviness of the peer pressure. The difficulties imposed on our children by this situation, as they are restricted from normal social interaction with friends, have been so sad for them and for us. We wanted so much to be able to give the okay.

Alas, the social distancing rules are still in place. Here in Baltimore the Va’ad HaRabbonim has made clear statements about this, and our family policy is to adhere to the guidelines of the Va’ad. So with a heavy heart we told our children that we can’t allow them to have normal playdates, even though their friends are doing so. It was painful.

But here’s the turnaround. As hard as that was (and continues to be) for all of us, when I think about it, I really am grateful for the powerful opportunity.

What lesson do parents want to teach their kids more than this one – that we do what’s right, even when it’s hard? We all worry to some extent about how our kids will stand up to peer pressure. We hope to raise them to be able to say no at the right times – even when it’s difficult; even where there seem to be no consequences for other people who aren’t doing what’s right.

I am hopeful that this lesson will stay with them. They may hate the current reality (I certainly do). They may be sad and angry at the situation, and possibly at us. But we have sent a clear message that in our family, we do what’s right, even when it’s hard. What a golden opportunity! I pray that they will remember this moment when they are faced with a test in the future, when the stakes will be higher.

Of course, there’s a caveat to the neatly packaged little lesson here: I have to play by the same rules.

I have to wear a mask when I go out so long as that is still the requirement. I have to abide by the other guidelines of the Va’ad, even when it’s inconvenient. If my kids see me flouting some rules but holding them accountable to others, it will backfire in a major way. No amount of lecturing will make anywhere near the same kind of impact that modeling does. So in order to make the most of this chinuch opportunity, I’m holding myself to the same kind of expectations that I’m holding my kids to.

Despite the challenges of the day, I am looking for small things to be grateful for. Here’s one worth grabbing onto that we will all likely be facing at some point during this ongoing matzav. Let’s try to make the most of it.

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