A Jewish parent should endeavor to transmit the following Jewish values in a warm and joyful way:
- Belief, knowledge and love of G-d from the heart.
- Love of the Torah and love for learning. Inquisitiveness (thirst for learning), exhibiting itself as excellence in limudei kodesh and chol (secular studies), not just knowledge of facts, but also understanding why.
- Pride in the Jewish Heritage including: love of Eretz Yisrael, love of Am Yisrael, knowing that we are all part of a greater whole and responsible for each other’s welfare – kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh; love of the mitzvot.
- Cheerfulness and pleasantness, both in the man and G-d relationship ‘Ivdu et Hashem besimcha’ and in the human relationships ‘vechol deracheha shalom.’
- A feeling of being in a nurturing, loving, secure environment.
- Middot – good character traits, exhibited through Derech Eretz (manners), tolerance, and cooperation with others, and chessed – kindness and giving. Respect and empathy for all humanity that was created betzelem elokim. Love and respect for parents and teachers.
- Spirituality – deriving satisfaction, joy and a feeling of growth from tefillah and shemirat hamitzvot.
I would like to focus this short article on the latter two aspects of parental responsibility. Today all of us are busy. Most parents enjoy very little quality time with their children during the week. The only quality time available is on weekends (thank G-d for Shabbat). Teaching and reinforcing good behavior in our children, teaching our children to derive satisfaction, joy and a feeling of growth from prayer and performance of the mitzvot must be applied during this short time that we spend with them each week.
I remember in my own childhood (when I was six or seven years old), being woken up by my father or mother every Shabbat and being bundled off to synagogue with enthusiasm (Theirs, not mine. Believe me, it took a lot of persistence on their part.). One of my fondest memories was sitting close to my father, of blessed memory, enjoying the warmth and security of his presence, his continual pointing to the place in the siddur and telling me to follow the prayers. He would hush us when we kids would sometimes whisper together. On Shabbat afternoons, he was my teacher who used to ‘corner’ me and teach me to chant the ‘zemirot’ in the synagogue on Shabbat. Needless to say my parents’ enthusiasm and warmth was infectious and my father’s insisting that I follow the prayers with the chazzan gave me the ability to follow the tefillah. It wasn’t very long before I became self-motivated and ran to synagogue early on Shabbat morning for the privilege of reading the ‘zemirot’ I am eternally grateful to them for imbuing me with these qualities.
It is a positive commandment to learn Torah and teach it. This is learned from Deuteronomy 6:7,
“… and you shall teach them (the words of Torah) diligently to your children.”
(Sefer Hahinukh, Mitzvah 419).
The mitzvah to teach Torah to one’s children and grandchildren is derived from Deuteronomy 4:9:
“… and you shall make them known to your children and your children’s children.”
Sefer Hahinukh gives an interesting minimum for a father’s obligation to teach his son: “That the son will be able to read from a Sefer Torah and understand the simple meaning of the words.” The purpose of learning Torah is to enable a person to understand the ways of the Almighty and to provide the know-how to improve the character to make us better, more refined people.
It is important for all parents who attend minyan to engender in their children a sense of belonging, a sense of warmth, and a sense of respect and honor for a holy place. Please make sure that your child is not running around or engaging in any kind of disruptive behavior. The impressions that a child receives at a young age remain with them for a lifetime. We have to inculcate in them this respect for a holy place, the love of being close to Hashem and the privilege of being able to approach Him and communicate with Him.
We ourselves have to set the example to make sure that we are not chatting with our friends in the lobby, and that we take pleasure in the prayers and Torah reading. We have to communicate this feeling to our children and the expectation that they also take the prayers and Torah reading seriously.
I seriously request that all of us make every effort to take the Shabbat tefillah service seriously, coming on time and staying inside the sanctuary, not chatting in the lobby or elsewhere, infusing a sense of seriousness and joy of being in synagogue into our children. If the child is over eight years old, the parents should have them sit next to them during prayer. If they are under eight years old, they can choose to sit with their parents, or attend one of the supervised programs for children that are available.
Persistence, firmness, understanding, enthusiasm and lots of love -- these are a parent’s tools. Let us use them wisely to inculcate the above values into our children.