Despite, or perhaps, because of the many controversies swirling around us this year, it is more important than ever not to lose sight of one of our main goals as Jews: to pass on our glorious heritage to the next generation. One of the areas that we need to develop and strengthen as individuals and as community is how to transmit our Jewish heritage and values successfully to the next generation. I personally feel that previous generations have been woefully inadequate in this regard. I have made a list of the values that I think are really important:
- 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 secular and Torah studies, not just knowledge of facts, but also understanding why.
- Pride in the Jewish Heritage including: love of Eretz Yisrael — the Land of Israel, love of Am Yisrael — the Jewish people, Knowing our history and that 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.
- 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, in the image of G-d. Love and respect for parents and teachers.
- Spirituality – deriving satisfaction, joy and a feeling of growth from tefillah, prayer and shemirat hamitzvot, acts of devotion.
- The importance of donating to Jewish education and Jewish causes to perpetuate Judaism.
- The importance of getting married and adding to the miniscule number of Jews in the world.
I would like to focus this short article on the latter two aspects of parental responsibility. Today we are all 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 -psalms of praise’ 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 the first paragraph of the Shema that a Jew should recite at least twice a day 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 child: “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. 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.
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.