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Teach Your Children Well (Achrei Mot 05/04/19)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Teach Your Children Well
What is the essence of the Torah? Is it about fixing the world, sanctifying life, or elevating our souls? Perhaps you could make a few more suggestions, but most of our core values come from what we are currently reading in the Torah.
Parshat Acharei Mot starts with the innovation of Yom Kippur: a day of national and personal forgiveness and renewal. It then goes on to teach models of personal purity and sexual morality. Parshat Kedoshim charges us to live elevated lives, to not stand by idly when we can help someone in need, and to love our fellow human beings as ourselves.
Jewish ritual observance varies from community to community, but these core values continue to ring true to Jews across the globe and across the religious spectrum. Whether we talk about them openly with our children or teach them through our actions these values pass from one generation to the next.
What happens when we don’t impress our moral values on the next generation?
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein is the Chabad rabbi in Poway who was shot last week on the last day of Passover. Shocked that the murderous assailant entering his synagogue with a semiautomatic rifle was a teenager, he asked, “How does a 19-year-old, a teenager, have the audacity, the sickness, the hatred, to publicize such anti-Semitism in his manifesto? How does he come here to a House of Worship and do what he did?”
“Perhaps we need to go back a little earlier and think about what are we teaching our children. What are we educating our children?”
This month the magazine “The Sun” featured an interview with famed consumer advocate, Ralph Nader.
Nader came to fame in mid-sixties when he published, “Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Danger of the American Automobile.” In the book he exposed the design flaws pervasive in most cars at the time: loose seats, poor brakes, weak frames, hazardous glove compartments and unsafe steering columns. Thanks to his book and testimony before Congress, auto safety laws were passed and the National Safety Administration was established. In response to his investigations, we have seat belts and air bags, vehicles that don’t flip over because of suspension defects, and engines that won’t explode in a crash. It’s estimated that because of Nader’s interventions, at least 3.5 million lives have been saved between 1966 and 2014.
From where did Nader’s concern and advocacy for his fellow arise?
Nader describes his parents: they were immigrants from Lebanon and raised four children in the mill town of Winsted, Connecticut. Nader’s mother, Rose, was a civic gadfly who once convinced Senator Prescott Bush to build a dam so the town wouldn’t keep flooding. His father, Nathra, ran a restaurant and bakery, where he presided over political debates with his customers.
Rose once asked her son Ralph if he loved his country, and when he said yes, she told him to work hard to make it even more lovable.
Sometimes I wonder why we go through the whole effort of the Bar/Bat mitzvah service. Thirteen is a pretty young age to be considered responsible for one’s actions. While kids start adolescence around age 13, in a year or two they’ll really start to look like young adults.  Furthermore, the whole concept of teaching of kids to lead a prayer service in Hebrew and Aramaic is dubious at best.
Yet there’s a great moral and pedagogical concept here. We are teaching the kids responsibility at the very beginning of their maturation process. We’re teaching them that they are leaders of the community and that the community needs them. When they’re lifted on chairs and paraded through the dance floor, we show them not only that they are special and beloved, but that they have reached a new stage of accountability in life.
While we may not be able to solve the problems of New Zealand and Sri Lanka, we can help solve problems of racism, inequality and bigotry on Long Island. We need to remind ourselves that we are fixers. We come from a heritage that espouses personal, communal and worldwide growth and care.
Let’s make sure are challenging ourselves and our children to make our whole world “more lovable.”

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