No Need For High Walls

Principle 4 for Being an Inspiring Parent

This fourth video explores the value in giving children a strong faith in their religion.

How to be an inspiring parent, Rule Four. Rule Four takes off from a fascinating passage in the Torah, the story of the spies in parshat Shelach Lecha. You remember Moses sends the spies, he tells them to look at the land and also he tells them umah he’arim asher-hu yoshayv bahainah – Look at the cities that they live in, what are they like? Im bemachanim im bmivtzarim – Are they living in open unwalled cities or they living in cities defended by high walls?

Now, you know what happens, ten of the spies come back completely demoralised. They say: The people are giants, we are grasshoppers. The cities are surrounded by high walls, they’re impregnable.

The cities are strong. Therefore, they assume the people were strong. And Rashi tells us that actually they completely misinterpreted what their eyes saw. And this is what Rashi says: Im bemachanim haim yoshivim… siman hu ze chazzakim hem shesomchin al gevuratam – If they live in unwalled cities, this is a sign that they’re strong because they don’t need to live behind high walls. They are confident in their own strength that they can defeat any enemy. But Im bemivsarimhaim yoshvim, siman hu she chalashim haim – if they live behind high walls, this is a sign that they’re weak.

So how did we ever get to the point where we thought we had to hide our children behind high walls. never letting them into contact with the wider culture? Because we think that if we surround our kids by high walls, that will give them strength. The truth is, living behind high walls is not a sign of strength. It’s a sign of weakness and it is Rashi and Chazal who tell us so.

Let me be very blunt with you. I did not learn a great deal of detailed Judaism from my parents, because they didn’t know a lot. And then I went out to Cambridge University and to Oxford University, I was studying secular philosophy, and almost all of my teachers were atheists. They thought religion didn’t make sense at all. Since then I’ve taught in many universities, quite a lot of them, Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, you name it. And in all that time, I’ve taught not only Judaism. I’ve studied and taught: philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, jurisprudence, you name it. Never once in all my reading ,and all my study, and all my encounters with the world’s great academics, did I feel my Jewish faith waiver or suffer a doubt for one microsecond. Why? Because, I never grew up behind high walls. I knew perfectly well that I had the confidence to go out into the world and know that there’s no contradiction between science, natural science and human science, which is God in Creation and Torah, which is God in Revelation. We believe that the God of Creation is the God of Revelation. Therefore, there’s nothing in principle in science that is incompatible with Torah. And there’s nothing in Torah which is incompatible with science. And if we think there’s an incompatibility – and many scientists do, my beloved friend Richard Dawkins and all the rest – then they are reading too much into science. That’s bad science. It’s not bad religion.

So therefore, Rule Four is this: Don’t think you’ll help your kids to be strong by letting them grow up behind high walls. If you do that, they’re going to be very fearful of the culture outside and that culture, when they come into contact with it, is going to destabilise them. The truth is, give them the courage and confidence that everything in Judaism is true and proved by four thousand years of Jewish history, and they will go out and they will confront some difficult issues (and if you have problems, send me an email or encourage your kids to send me an email because I know all of this is harder than I’ve made it sound) but give them the confidence to go out into the world. Don’t try and hide them from the world. Give them the confidence to face the world without fear, but with total faith, and that is Rule Four.

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.