THIS Wednesday, Jews the world over will be celebrating the Festival of Shavuos (Pentecost) marking the occasion 3025 years ago when God revealed himself to the Jewish nation on Mount Sinai and gave them the Torah.
The Midrash relates that before God gave the Torah to the Jewish people, He asked for guarantors. The nation offered several options – the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and the other prophets, but God rejected them all. The people then volunteered: “Our children will be our guarantors.”
God agreed and gave the Torah.
On one hand, the concept is obvious. If you want an idea or a practice to be perpetuated, you must involve youth. Perhaps the point of the Midrash then is the nature of the involvement asked of our children. A lot of times people say, “I will show my children an approach. I’m sure that they’ll appreciate that it’s good. But I won’t force them. I’ll let them make up their own minds.”
Judaism takes a much different tact. Before the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai, they told God: “We will do and we will listen,” making a commitment to observe the Torah, before they knew what God was commanding them.
This practice is mirrored in the way we train our children to approach the Torah. The first thing is actual deed. They observe the mitzvot (commandments) without understanding their rationale. Instead, they grow up practising them as an integral part of their existence. They do not see Judaism as merely a set of beliefs whose value they comprehend, but a fully integrated way of life that encompasses every dimension of their existence.
“Brainwashing,” someone might protest. “Denying the children free choice.”
But it is not. Our children will always have a choice. They grow up in a world where material things are openly evident to all of us, and the existence of spiritual truth is only in books. Is there any question that they will hear the other side?
And raising them without a thorough involvement in Judaism as a way of life is also a message. It teaches them that Judaism is secondary, perhaps a nice pastime, but not one of the fundamental elements of life. What kind of choice does that leave the child?
Rabbi Yehuda Pink MSc
Solihull & District Hebrew