Did You Immunize Your Kids?

By Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier

By now most parents have received notices from their children’s schools and yeshivos regarding the strict vaccination policies. Immunizing children is no longer a private decision; public health policies override what parents consider safe for their children. Essentially, we are being told by the government, our doctors, and our rabbonim what’s healthy for our children and about the responsibility we have to other children.

In the summer of 5716 (1956) the Rebbe wrote to Mrs. Sarah Shefer, a teacher in Herzliya, Israel:

It is certainly unnecessary to remind you about the primary obligation of every educator, to immunize their students to be able to withstand the trials of life and the winds blowing in the world without veering from the path of Torah. Even subjects which appear to have no connection can be used to permeate the students with a deep faith in the Creator and Ruler of the world; to teach that He is the epitome of goodness and that in His great goodness He instructed us with a way of life that brings happiness. And with reflection, we find the appropriate words with which to explain this truth to the children according to their intellect and age. Nothing can stand in the way of our will.[1]

Is it perhaps time to consider stronger policies concerning spiritual and mental immunization?

When it comes to the dangers of unrestricted social media, internet, and smartphone use, there is far less debate than there is with vaccinations. Virtually no one denies the risks. In fact, the very same rabbonim and medical professionals who support vaccination policies also recognize the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dangers unrestricted access poses, and strongly support the implementation of strict policies to combat these dangers.

If we’re accepting their directives regarding our physical well-being, should we not accept their directives to protect our spiritual health too? And don’t our schools have the same obligation to do their utmost to protect our children’s spiritual and mental health, as they do their physical health? And perhaps we can even say that what parents choose to expose their children to spiritually is not a private decision but a matter of public safety?

Educate and Enforce

Parshas Shoftim, which begins with the directive, “You shall set up judges and law enforcement officers at all your gates,”[2] is read at the beginning of the new school year.

Many seforim interpret this as a personal instruction. The gateways refer to our eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, and we are responsible for guarding and scrutinizing what enters and exits through them. This includes both sur me’ra– avoiding destructive images, speech and behaviors, and aseh tov-active practice: using our mouths to speak positively about our fellow Jews and share words of Torah and tefilah; our eyes to see only the positive and pure; our ears to hear only good, etc.[3]

With modern technology the gateways have become floodgates, and it’s more vital than ever that we establish strong safeguards.

The Torah doesn’t just give us awareness, it also provides the tools we need. The shoftim (judges) aspect is, perhaps, education: to educate ourselves and teach our children how to use technology safely, taking into consideration the social-emotional perspective as well as yiras shomayim. And the shotrim (law enforcement) element is the filters all internet-capable devices should have, and limits to using digital media in general.

All or Nothing?

When dealing with such enormous struggles it’s common to fall for the “all or nothing” trap. Since it’s not possible to shut down the digital industry, we find ourselves throwing up our hands in despair, feeling helpless to make any effort at all. This, too, is addressed in this week’s parsha: “For whoever does these things [forms of idolatry] is an abomination to Hashem.”[4]

Rashi notes, “It does not say, ‘one who does all these things,’ but, ‘whoever does these things,’ even one of them.” This is true in the positive as well. The Torah outlines hundreds of things we should be doing, but it’s not “all these things” or nothing. Hashem cherishes even one move in the right direction! [5]

Action!

Let’s begin with something, even something small. Since there isn’t much disagreement when it comes to spiritual immunization, let’s encourage our schools to do their utmost to immunize our children. Let them make strong, healthy policies that will be enforced and let’s commit to doing our best to honor and uphold their rules. Let’s do it for ourselves, for our children, or, at the very least, for the children around us.

[1] Free translation of Igros Kodesh vol. 13, pg. 332-333.

[2] Devarim 16:18.

[3] See maamar Shoftim V’shotrim 5729 (1969) and sources cited there.

[4] Devarim 18:12.

[5] See sicha of Yud Shevat 5717 (1957).

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