What can we do today to engage kids? To get them interested, to get them excited about life? To wake up in the morning energized, happy to live and breathe and be alive?
It’s amazing… On the one hand, we live in a world that has the highest average standard of living in history! A time of unprecedented advancements of the modern world. And yet, kids today are so restless. Rates of depression, boredom, anxiety, are higher than ever before. What is happening? Why are kids having such a hard time? How can we better the situation?
I am no expert and I definitely don’t propose to solve all the world’s problems in this post, but I believe that what would fill kids with meaning and get them excited about life is having a stronger connection to giving. Yes, that is right: the simple act of -- chesed. After all, each of us is created in the image of Hashem. We are a chelek elokah mimaal; we have some spark of Hashem inside of us, so to speak. And Hashem is the Ultimate Giver. Consider: Why did Hashem create the world? He wasn’t lacking anything. He is Infinite! The reason He created us was purely to give. Olam chesed yibaneh. Our purpose in life is to become like Hashem. That’s why it is so incredibly satisfying when you give. Nothing compares - not even remotely - to the deep pleasure of sharing and helping others. It touches you inside on a level that nothing else comes close. Why? Because your neshama is connecting with the core of its existence, the chelek elokah mimaal.
If kids could only taste that sweetness, that.. satisfaction that comes from being dedicated to sharing and giving. I am not talking about doing a chesed here or there. B"H everyone does that. I mean emulating our Avos and Imahos who were fanatics for chesed, who were moser nefesh for giving. I'm talking about becoming ambassadors for chesed, people who live and breathe to help and care for others, people who ooze ahavas yisroel.
Think about Avraham Avinu and how he went searching outside for guests on the third day of his mila, despite his excruciating pain, because he was bursting inside with a desire to give.
Think about how Avraham beseeched Hashem to spare Sedom even though their selfishness was the antithesis of everything he lived for. And yet, he cared so much for other human beings - rashaim as they were! - that it pained him to the extent he put himself out, begging Hashem to have compassion on them.
Think about how he moved homes after the destruction of Sedom because the hachnosas orchim business just wasn’t the same anymore. We all have guests over for Shabbos lunch, why not? It’s fun. But could you imagine a husband saying to his wife, “Honey, you know, I think if we moved to such and such a city we’d really be able to do the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim so much better. Come, I’ll help you pack our bags.” I mean, it is ludicrous.
Think about Rochel Imeinu and how she gave over the secret signs to Leah, her sister, effectively causing herself to have to share her husband with another woman for the rest of her life, because she cared so much about someone else and their feelings.
The problem is that our kids live in a society that promotes selfishness, that teaches them the exact opposite of this beautiful heritage, that life is all about getting and the more you have the happier you will be. They are bombarded with adverts that tell them that if only they would “buy this,” and ”get that” then their life will be good. They have social pressure to see how many friends they can get to like them. Surrounded by a culture that is self absorbed. Just look at how the most popular items they have in front of them: iphones, ipads, itunes.. Psychologists have even dubbed them, the iGeneration.
The question therefore becomes what can we do to ensure that our children and grandchildren grow up loving to do chesed? Not just to do chesed but to be rodfei chesed, people who love gemilus chasadim?
You look at kids walking down the street glued to their phones, and wonder, “What chance do they stand to grow up hooked on giving? In a world of fast-moving media, how do we imbue our children with a passion for chesed?”
This issue really affects all of us; we are affected by this culture - myself included!
Let me share a story with you…
A few years ago, I was sitting at my desk, trying to come up with an outline for a script that would tackle this very question. I was under a tight deadline. Needed creative ideas. They weren't coming. I felt pressured for time. I was frustrated. My director was waiting for the outline.
I get a phone call from my brother in law, Chezky, in Ramot:
“Remember you said you would help with a loan for my friend?” I vaguely remembered the conversation. It had been a good few months before and was for a few thousand shekel. “Yeah?” “Well his rent is due tomorrow and he really needs the funds.” “No problem. He can come to pick it up whenever he wants today.” “Thing is, he is up north in Rechasim! Is there any way you can deposit it in his account at Bank Hadoar?”
To tell you the truth, I felt a bit annoyed. I mean, if he needs the funds, fine, but let him come to get them from me! Why should I have to schlep to the post office, take a number, wait in line, and all the rest of it? And today of all days when I had to get the script done?
And then I remembered a beautiful idea I’d seen as part of my research.
The Gerre Rebbe said on the passuk, דַּבֶּר נָא בְּאָזְנֵי הָעָם וְיִשְׁאֲלוּ אִישׁ מֵאֵת רֵעֵהוּ וְאִשָּׁה מֵאֵת רְעוּתָהּ כְּלֵי כֶסֶף וּכְלֵי זָהָב, that the word “borrow” should be read with quotation marks. It's so easy to fall into trap of feeling it's your money to do as you want. Hashem reminds us that he is just lending it to you. It's all His money. Use it wisely.
“Sure. Send me his bank details. I’m on my way!”
Got to the post office on Paran Street and it was closed. Tuesday afternoon, I don’t know why this branch is closed. Oh drat, I thought.
I was just about to call Chezky to tell him it is not going to work. I mean, I tried, right? And then I remembered another beautiful idea I’d come across in the Artscroll Tehillim with notes by Rabbi Feuer:
"A wealthy magnate who was noted for his extraordinary generosity, once became completely overwhelmed by the countless requests for assistance which were addressed to him incessantly. He consulted with the saintly Chofetz Chaim on this matter. As the man entered the room, the Chofetz Chaim happened to be explaining this very verse. He expounded, 'No man can live out the days of his life in complete tranquility. Everyone is pursued by worrisome bother. Often it is serious, as when pursued by enemies, or police, or bill collectors or sickness. Fortunate is the man who discharges his 'obligation' by being pursued by insititutions of charity which harass him continuously for support. This is what David meant when he said, 'May only goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life.'
The magnate understood the message. He returned home reassured and doubled his charitable efforts. (Heard from a grandchild of the philanthropist.)"
And I thought: the effort in helping this person is really just saving me. And, of course, I decided, “I’m going to do this.”
So I headed over to the next closest branch which is in French Hill. Found parking. Go inside and the line was an hour easily.
And the little voice in my head started ranting again. “I don't have time for this!” “I don’t even know this guy from Adam.”
Had another flashback. This time I remembered an idea from Rav Yaacov Kamenetsky.
Reb Yaakov asked why Avraham was sad he couldn’t do chesed? It's not that he was meant to do a mitzvah but was onus, he never had an obligation to do it. It's like someone being upset on Sunday that its not Shabbos! Rather when it comes to chesed one has to have such a love for it that he is troubled when he can’t do good for others. It was his state of being. His essence.
Again, I decided to push forward.
I drove to Ramot, a 15 minute drive. On the way, Chezky calls, “How’s it going? Can you make the deposit by 5pm so it will appear in his account tomorrow morning?” It was 4pm. “I hope so.”
Where’s the post office? Down that way. Crossed a pedestrian bridge. No, it's on the other side. Took a number, sat down, 6 people in front of me, watching the clock. 4.30pm. Will I make it? Finally my turn, and there's a complication with my passport. “Sorry, sir. An English passport isn't sufficient, I need a teudat zehut (Israeli ID card) to make a cash deposit. Please call the manager.”
In the end, he got the funds in the nick of time. But what struck me was how charged and energized I felt after spending the afternoon being focused on helping someone else. Only when I forgot about myself and my frustrations and focused on someone else did I get that buzz. I felt ecstatic.
And the funny thing was that the very events I had viewed as annoying turned out to be a huge blessing, as it was the outline of the chesed film I was trying to come up with. The events that happened to me that day were the catalyst of what has now grown B"H over the last three years into a multi-episode film series now known as the Live to Give series.
What is the idea of the Live to Give series? Let's take the very tools of distraction which are currently drawing away our youth from a love of giving and flip them on their head to spread chesed like never before. We at Torah Live decided to take on a project that is bigger than any other videos we have done before - by far!
It is written like a real Hollywood film: gripping storyline, suspense, drama, emotional development of characters.
It has seven 40 minute episodes with 400 actors, actresses and extras, and 103 locations!
We’re having popular song-writers writing original music and appearing in episodes, planning live events where they will be present, and the most unique aspect of it is that the series blurs the line between reality and fiction. As you watch each episode you think, “Hey, one minute, is there really a chesed revolution going on?”
The actors turn to the viewers, the children watching in real life, and encourage them to create original chesed opportunities and upload their creative chesed ideas to a dedicated Live to Give website, so that other kids can see it and be inspired. There are LTG wristbands that the characters wear on screen and that kids throughout the world will be able to wear in real life! - again crossing the line between film and reality.
This is our way of trying to make a difference in spreading the word that giving is one of biggest things missing from our culture’s consciousness today. And as for our own lives, this is an amazing key that we can all use to fill the emptiness that has become so prevalent in modern culture.
In the zechus of Avraham Avinu - the original chesed revolutionary - may we be zoche together to bring the Geulah closer, which we are told will happen in the zechus of chesed.
Filming for Live to Give is still underway, but the first chapters of Chesed are available already. Be inspired by real kids who have made chesed a central part of their lives!