Traditional Jews recite the Sh’ma three times in a regular day, including at bedtime. Lately, Jewish parents of all flavors have begun adding a bedtime Sh’ma to their routine. Reciting the Sh’ma right before bed is a sweet way to inject Jewishness into a kid’s life. It may seem a small step, but the timing makes it a big one. Bedtime is the vulnerable transition when kids are tired but receptive. They move from from waking to sleep, from together to alone, from light to dark. The Sh’ma can be an anchor, a comfort, a piece of Jewish identity in a larger quilt of meaning.
Sweetland’s book fits in with the quiet, reflective, receptive mood we like to see in a kid about to go to bed. The oil pastels show a boy fully engaged in the natural world, listening to “God’s quiet things.” The language isn’t otherwise religious, which is nice for those of us allergic to too much God language in children’s books. But what really makes it a great lead-in to the Sh’ma is the structure. The book opens with these words: “Shhh. Listen.” The book closes with the same words in reverse: “Listen, Shhh.” A parent can easily prolong that last “Shhh” into a long “Shhhhema, Yisroel……” The last word of the book becomes the first word of the prayer.
Today’s photo shows this book open to a page with the boy blowing seeds from a milkweed pod. My family gathers pods every winter from stalks in a nearby park, and it was nice for the Toddler to see them in a book after playing with them in real life.
Need a quick reference or some background for the Sh’ma prayer? See these links: