What lessons do our gifts really send?

Elizabeth Hersh is Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel (TE), and a blogger on the Jewish Light’s website (stljewishlight.com).   Joel Iskiwitch and John DeMott, authors of the  “What can you do?”  sidebar, are congregants at TE.

By Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh

There is a principle in Judaism that we should not make promises to our children that we cannot keep. Why? It teaches our children that it is permissible to not tell the truth. It is a learned behavior. If an adult, especially a parent says he or she will purchase a toy or a book or a stuffed animal and then disregards the promise, how can a child learn to believe in the word of humanity?

I am not a fan of the gift giving that surrounds Hanukah. We have a few family friends who say it is their pleasure to gift something to our son. A couple of the friends ask me what he would like or come to me with an idea and inquire if it would be appropriate. I notice that my young child has specific ideas of what he would enjoy. I also watch as toys and games sit untouched. 

Last week a family friend asked my son what he wanted. He gave a very specific answer of something he has wanted for a long time. It was reasonably priced and something he could use on his own without a friend or adult present. 

I knew as my son was telling me the story that he would not receive what he asked for. The family wanted to do something else. I am not sure why they asked him. My son doesn’t want for anything but it set an expectation that he did not initiate. Fortunately, now I know what to tell someone when they ask. May this season pass with ease.

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