Serve God in Joy if You Want Your Children to Love Judaism
Principle 2 for Being an Inspiring Parent
This second video looks at how importance of setting an example your children can follow, and serving God in joy yourself, to show your children how to live and love their Judaism.
How to inspire our children, Rule Two.
Well let me talk about my own late parents of blessed memory. My late father of blessed memory left school at the age of 14. He came to Britain as an immigrant from Poland. The family was poor, he had to leave school to help earn a living to support the family. And so he never really had an education, not secular, not Jewish. My late mother of blessed memory left school at the age of 16 because Jewish girls in those days were not expected to go on to higher education, so they never really had an education.
And yet all of us, their four boys, went on to Cambridge University and did reasonably well. And we stayed frum and, you know, I became a Rabbi and so on. How did it happen? The short answer is this: It was nothing my late parents said, it’s what they were. They were “Ashrei yoshvei vaytecha”.
When they went to shul, I saw my dad, my mum, feeling, ‘This is where we belong.’ They loved davenning, my mother used to make the kiddushes, my father just felt at home in shul. They were “Ashrei ha’am shekacha lo.” The mere fact that they were Jewish gave them pride. My dad had very little to be proud of, and yet he was a Jew, so he walked tall. And that was what made an impact on all four of us.
The Alshich asks a very simple question about the Shema. It says, Veshinantam levanecha – ‘You shall teach these things effectively to your children’. And the Alshich says, “How can you command somebody to ‘teach these things effectively to your children’ if, in part, it depends on your children? It’s not entirely in your hands.” And he says, “The Torah gives an answer two lines earlier. Ve’ahavta et Hashem Elokecha – ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.’ If you love the Lord your God, your children will likewise.”
Or, lehavdil, as Wordsworth said in The Prelude, “What we love, others will love, and we will show them how”.
Let me tell you a little story. You can imagine, as the elders of four boys, that we had a bit of a difficult moment when it came to the Seder Night and the Passage of the Arba Banim, the Four Boys. Look, a chacham, that’s fine, a Wise Son, okay, but how can you sit there, looking around at your three brothers, and say, “Now which one is a Rasha? Which is Wicked? Which is Simple? Which one can’t ask?”
I have to tell you, I was made very, very uncomfortable by that passage, and I developed a theory which I hope will work for you, which is that these aren’t actually four children, they are four stages in each of our development. We begin as the child who can’t ask, then we become the child who accepts simple answers, then we rebel a bit and become the Rasha, and then eventually we’ll all end up as being the wise child.
But there is one passage there that is troublesome and haunting. You remember the question of the Rasha? The Rasha asks, Ma ha’avodah hazot lachem? – “What does this service mean to you?” (Exodus 12:26) To ‘you’, and not ‘to me’. And for that he is deemed the Rasha, and you answer him with a rough answer. And I thought to myself, “Hang on, one second. Number one, does there anyone really believe their child is a Rasha? You know, Isaac’s son Esau probably was a Rasha, a wicked or at least a rebellious and temperamental child, and yet the Torah says, Vaye’ehav yitzhak et-Eisav – “Isaac loved Esau”. Even if you think your child is not quite 100%, you still love them. The Torah gives us an example of a ‘wicked child’, the ben sorrer umoreh, the “stubborn and rebellious child”, and you remember the famous statement of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the Gemara, (Sanhedrin), Lo haya velo attid lihiyot, ben sorrer umoreh “There never was a case when this law was applied, and there never will be,” because which parent would condemn their child as a wicked child?
Besides which, ask yourself a very simple question: how old is this child? Well, let me give you two alternatives. Either this child is not yet Bar Mitzvah, or it is Bar Mitzvah. If the child is Bar Mitzvah, and he asks a troublesome question, then there’s a Jewish law, it’s codified by the Rambam in Hilchot Mamrim, Chapter Five, that says “If you offend or insult a grown up child, “you are guilty of lifnei iver, “putting a stumbling block before the blind”, because you will provoke him to attack you in turn, and that’s a very bad sin. So if you’ve got a wicked child, do not behave the way the Haggadah tells you to behave. And if this child is not yet Bar Mitzvah, then he’s asked the right question! What do these mitzvot mean to you, Mum, Dad? He’s not yet a Bar Mitzvah. They’re not supposed to mean anything to him at all. So if he’s less than 13 he’s asked the right question, and he’s not a Rasha, and if he’s over 13 he may be a Rasha, but you shouldn’t rebuff him or rebuke him in that way.
And therefore I came up with a radical re-reading of this passage, I’ll just give it to you very briefly, you can read it in my Haggadah. “Rasha, ma hu omer?” What is this child that we think of as a rebel really saying? Whatever he’s saying on the surface, deep down what is he saying? ‘What does this Judaism mean to you? I know what it’s supposed to mean to me. You sent me to Jewish schools, you gave me Jewish tuition, I’ve learned all my life, I know what it’s supposed to mean to me. But what does it really mean to you? Because when I see you daven, it doesn’t do anything to you. You fulfil the mitzvahs without any passion, without any enthusiasm, you’re doing it by rote. What does this really mean to you? Ma ha’avodah hazot lachem? And you have to say, Ba’avur ze assa Hashem li – “This is what God did for me when He brought me out of Egypt”.
If you really want your children to love Judaism, you have to show that you love Judaism. You have to show them what it means to you. And that is what my parents did. So if you want your children to love Judaism, Rule Two, ivdu et-Hashem b’simcha – “Serve God in joy”. Let your children see you love the mitzvahs you do. Let them see you feel at home in shul. Let them see prayer actually come from the heart and enter your heart.
If you really show your children that you love Judaism, so too will they, and that is Rule Two.
This video series, Inspired Parenting, consists of thirteen short videos of Rabbi Sacks discussing some of the ways we can be inspiring parents and really kindle the flame of Torah in our children.
We hope you will learn, as Rabbi Sacks did, from exploring these ideas.