Recently, my aunt introduced me to the following phrase: “Oz-good.” Literally, it means “big ears.” This is a code word used among adults to describe a child who is eavesdropping or attempting to be part of a non-age appropriate conversation.
Kids do not just have big ears. They are oversized with all their senses. Children are like sponges, absorbing and understanding more than we adults realize, for better or for worse. “Oz-good,” reminds adults of the presence of children, serving as a cue to resume the conversation at a later time when “big ears” are not around.
As human beings, we learn about our environment through exploration. This process begins at a very young age. Every adult can relate to this phenomenon, especially as the children in their lives become increasingly interested in their surroundings. The author of Curious George nailed it on the head! Just like our kids, George was a good little monkey but always very curious.
Generally speaking, we tend to focus on shielding our children from hearing something negative. However, I recently learned that the opposite is equally true! Children absorb positive interactions and conversations in the same manner.
This past Purim, our family set out on our mishloach manot delivery route. The day is always jam-packed and just does not seem to stop! We did not want to be late to our seudah but we were cutting it tight as we scrambled to deliver our last gifts to friends and family. As we passed by the local Ralphs, my son saw a homeless woman sitting by the bus stop.
“Wait!” he called out to us. “We have to give to every poor person we see. Do we have any more money left to give her?”
We paused. Wow. First of all, we had not realized that he really understood the depth and extent of the mitzvah. Secondly, we had already passed the bus stop and were running late. The Type A personality in me wanted to keep moving and finish delivering the intended mishloach manot. After all, I rationalized, there was only so much time and we were going to be late. Then a little voice inside me said, “Turn around. What’s the big deal? It’s Purim, and tzedakah changes our decree…”
Out loud I responded, “Why don’t we turn around and give her? After all, it is Purim, and Josh is right. Let’s do a mitzvah.” We made a big deal of this suggestion and praised our son for his compassion. I quickly got out of the car and handed her a small bill. She was so grateful, praising both us and the Lord. My son was shocked at how happy she was with such a small amount.
“See guys? Money is valuable!” I was pleased with the lesson imparted of the value of a dollar. We continued driving and we did not think much of that small act.
The Shabbat immediately following Purim, I asked my kids at the table what their favorite part of Purim was.
My son said, “Candy!”
My baby answered, “Four!” (She is two years old in actuality, but tells everyone that she is four no matter what the question).
My other daughter (who is actually four years old) replied, “The VERY BIG mitzvah we did by the Ralphs…”
I had had no idea that it had made an impression on her at all.
Then my son proceeded to remind me of mitzvah we did years before by the Ralphs when we helped an older man who was short of breath by giving him a bottle of water. I had completely forgotten about that occurrence, but it clearly had remained etched in my child’s mind.
All these small acts that I barely considered mitzvot at all turned out to be memorable to our children and clearly impacted them. What communicates most to our children is our actions, not our words. We learned that day that it is important to take advantage of even the seemingly tiny mitzvot that you do as a family. It does more than any book one can read about kindness or any lecture you preach to your child about sharing toys or including lonely children. When it is a natural occurrence, the lesson lasts the longest. Children learn the most through watching and absorbing.
Do we praise them for good grades or for their kindness? We can preach charity all we want but if they see us turning people away or making excuses, what will they end up taking away?
I once heard a fabulous quote in a parenting class. If children could, this is what they would tell us: “Your actions are so loud that I can’t hear you.” Children pick up and mimic our behavior for better or for worse.
Although I had my hesitations about giving to an individual on the street (versus a traditional institution) I think the message of chessed and compassion had a positive end result. Take advantage of small opportunities because we do not realize the deep impact that they may have on our children. To us it was a small mitzvah by Ralphs. But my four year-old daughter has forever titled it, “The Very Big Mitzvah We Did at Ralphs.”