Dr. Alicia Lieberman is a scientist that studies the growing brains of babies in utero through age three. At the General Assembly in Los Angeles, she explained that when babies engage in ritual, predictable rituals, the comfort of the reoccurring experience allows the child to learn in the most surprising and unimaginable ways. Meaningful ritual: knowing that a parent will tuck you in at night, listening to the same music while pregnant and then, again while playing with your child, taking moments every day to share statements of gratitude and blessing.It may be neuroscience. But it is also very Jewish. Rituals: lighting the candles as a family every Shabbat, saying the Sh’ma at bedtime, singing Modeh Ani in the morning, kissing the mezuzah, saying hamotzi, the list goes on and on. Predictable, meaningful, enriching moments that infuse comfort, tradition, connection, and growth.Lately, I take a Sunday and prep enough challah dough for the rest of the month. Friday morning, the dough thaws and I am ready for an easy, quick-bake challah that my children enjoy for Shabbat dinner. It’s a messy braid, more chocolate chips than any other ingredient, but laden with love.Last week was busy and moments before Shabbat begun, I realized that the dough wasn’t put out to thaw… The challah just wasn’t going to make it on the table. My daughter was devastated. Yes—perhaps the tears came because chocolate chips would have to wait another week. But I think it is more than that. After a week of rushed dinners, sloppy goodbye kisses, and hurried walks to schools, it’s often the smells of a delicious, chocolaty challah that remind us how good life is. The ritual of uncovering the challah, watching the gooey stains land on the tablecloth, and the wide grins of sugared children helps our family to pause, reflect on definitions of love, and kvell in each other.
It is ritual that holds us together. It is ritual that allows us to grow.
Science proved it. Judaism lives it.