Thursday, August 9, 2012
Teach “Your” Children…© by Rabbi David Baum written in August of 2009
A lot can change in just one week. One week ago, I had only one exemption on my tax forms. One week ago, I was cooking for two. One week ago, my house was an adult’s playhouse, no toys to be seen.
But two days in the hospital, and Alissa and I drove home with a new addition to the family, formerly Baby Boy Baum, now Avraham Yaakov, or as we call him, our little Avi.
One week ago, when I read the V’ahavta paragraph of the Shema, I focused on the idea of my personal relationship with God. It is no coincidence that the first paragraph of the Shema was read last week in parashat V’etchanan and it is written in the singular tense. I would often times gloss over certain parts of the Shema because they did not pertain to me. “V’shinantem Levanecha” – instruct your children about them (these words).
Suddenly, as I read the second paragraph of the Shema, I see the mention of guiding your children again. This time, it is “v’limadetem otam et benechem l’daber bam…”
“Teach them to your (plural) children, using them when you sit at home and when you walk about, when you lie down and when you stand up; write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates – that your days and your children’s days in the land that Adonai promised to give to your ancestors may be as numerous as the days that the sky overlooks the earth.”
As a religious Jew, I put on tefillin and tzitzit everyday, I have a mezuzah on my door post to remind me of my role on earth everytime I enter and leave my house. But now I have a new mitzvah, a new commandment – to teach my child.
This text, the texts of the Shema, the central text of Judaism gives us very important mitzvoth. Tzizit, tefillin, loving and serving God, but why is the mention of teaching your children so paramount to this text?
I looked at Rashi’s commentary on the words, L’daber bam, to speak to them (Deuteronomy 11:19). He states: “When the baby begins to speak, his father speaks with him in the Holy Language (lashon hakodesh) and teaches him Torah. And if he does not do so, see now, it is as if he buries him, as it says, “in order to increase your days and the days of your children.”
This is a very scary thought for a new father. If I neglect my duty to teach my son, it is as if I am burying him? Given these consequences, it is important to know exactly what I am supposed to do. What exactly does teaching him Torah mean?
It got me thinking about a subject that I am quite familiar with: Jewish education. In the past, I used to read text books, books on education theory by thinkers like John Dewey. But I turned to a new book that I was given called A Student’s Obligation, by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, a famous Rabbi in Poland who eventually became the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto.
The book is quite long, so I cannot give a whole summary in such a short time, but I would like to share some lessons that I learned. Rabbi Shapira explains the concept of Jewish education - CH-N-CH, Hinuch- is a special word that implies the realization of one’s potential. This potential will remain hidden unless we bring it out. Our task is to cause the potential to emerge.”
He goes on to say something that I have just now understood:
“Since a Jewish child has the spirit of God, the breath of the Lord, hidden and concealed within him from the very moment of his birth, it is necessary to raise him and educate him to bring out and reveal this godliness and allow it to flourish.”
As we hold our son, we realize that he depends on us to live, for food, shelter, and warmth.
But as Jewish parents, we have an added responsibility: it is our job to educate our child – to penetrate his inner being and reveal the holiness of Israel that is within him.
As I was researching my son’s name, I looked at different passages regarding Avraham in the Torah and I found Rabbi Shapira’s commentary on these quotes. He commented on a line, “I have made Myself known to him in order that he command his children and his household after him to guard the path of God (Genesis 18:19).” Every generation in Israel is a link in the chain of our heritage, a chain whose beginning stretches back to Avraham and whose end will reach our Messiah. Every generation receives its faith, its Torah, and its sense of awe before God from the generation that preceded it. They take what they have received, serve the Lord with it, and pass it on to the next generation. “In order that he command his children” is the mainstay of our existence.
I now realize the special job that I have as a father and why. It is my job to transmit to my child what I have learned so that the breath of the Lord will emerge from him, just as it has emerged from me. Were it not for my parent’s educating me, I would not be standing here today.
All too often, we seem to shirk the responsibilities of personally teaching our children about Judaism. That is why we have Hebrew school teachers right? And who am I to teach them about something I know nothing about? Yes, it is true that there are those with more knowledge than us who are paid to teach our children. But this does not mean that we do not have the responsibility to teach them some Torah ourselves, to start teaching them the holy language and Torah as Rashi instructed us.
As we have seen, the commandments of sharing the words of the Torah with our children from the Shema come in both the personal and the communal. As a community, we have the obligation to teach everyone’s children. We do this by supporting our schools and religious institutions. But we also have a personal duty to teach our own children. I dare say that this duty never ends – to this day, I still learn lessons from my parents. My parents will always be my teachers.
I want to give one message to each one of you reading or listening to this dvar torah: do not be afraid to take on the role of Jewish educator--it is your task in life. Do not be afraid to teach your child Jewish values, to sing the Shema to them before they go to bed, to bless them on Friday night, or to share your stories with them.
When we educate our children, we show them that we love them.