In recent a conversation with a friend, he mentioned to me, almost boastfully, that his grandfather was very religious. My response was that I hope that my great-grandchildren will be able to say the same. The implication being that my goal is for my children to be as religious as your grandfather, so that THEIR grandchildren will be able to boast about their lineage. And of course, if each generation concerns itself with just the next generation’s Jewish future, we can essentially guarantee the Jewish commitment of the future.
The reason this is on my mind today is because last month we celebrated our son Mendy’s bar mitzvah.
As we all know, a bar mitzvah is the point in a boy’s life that he becomes responsible for his own actions and obligated to observe all the commandments—the mitzvahs—in the Torah. That’s where the term “bar mitzvah” comes from; the young man is now technically an adult. And the same goes for a girl when she turns twelve and becomes a bat mitzvah.
Much has been written about how a bar mitzvah marks the beginning of Jewish life, not the end; about Jewish education not concluding with the bar mitzvah but should just be getting started; and of course, the fact that the bar mitzvah boy can now be counted towards a minyan.
But perhaps a slightly overlooked component of the bar mitzvah is its significance in framing the future; not only of this specific boy but of the entire Jewish nation. Promoting to our children the values we hold so dear, and encouraging them to take an active part in Jewish life every single day of the year, is what ensures a Jewish future. We should not suffice with our children simply knowing that they’re Jewish, they need to live it. And by living it I mean every part of their lives should be imbued with Torah and mitzvahs.
As the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Of course, pushing a child to perform well at his bar mitzvah is nice, for the moment, but once the moment passes, there is little impact on the future. But train children to live like Jews, provide him or her with the tools to live wholesome Jewish lives, and you have ensured a Jewish future for them and their children.
The same message is present in the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates G-d giving the Torah to the Jewish people. The Midrash says that before the events at Mt. Sinai, G-d requested a “guarantor” that the Torah would be treated properly, and we responded that our children will be our guarantors. They will not only ensure that we observe Torah and mitzvahs today, but it is through them that we know there will be future. By putting our children first, we can be certain that everything we believe will be passed on to coming generations.
It’s a work in progress, and even the most religious families have their challenges in this area, but my hope is that with time and effort on our part, and a lot of help from G-d, we are on the right track.