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 talk 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.” It closes with the same words in reverse: “Listen, Shhh.” The adult reader can easily prolong that last “Shhh” into a long “Shhhhema, Yisroel……” So, the last word of the book becomes the first word of the prayer.
Today’s photo shows the book open to a page where the boy blows fluffy seeds from a milkweed pod. Ever done that? Like dandelion seedheads, but bigger. Milkweed is a wildflower far more beloved than the dandelion, and is the host plant for Monarch butterflies. No milkweed, no Monarchs. My family gathers a few pods every fall to try to help spread the range, to expand butterfly habitat. Each seed is equipped with a fluffy tail perfect for wind dispersal. Or toddler dispersal. “Fluffy weeds grow seeds to share…”
For more info about Milkweed, see the Project Milkweed page at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The page also directs you to regional guides to learn about which milkweeds are native to your area.
Need a quick reference or some background for the Sh’ma prayer? See these links:
Overview of the Shema (JewishLearning.com)
The Shema in Deuteronomy (MyJewishLearning.com)