Vayechi I - DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR CHILDREN ARE?
EVERY EVENING before the ten o'clock news on Channel Five, the announcer intones in a voice that expresses concern, "It is ten o'clock. Do you know where your children are?"
If this is a question that stirs the hearts of parents every where these days, how much more so is this true of Jewish parents! When one considers the rate of mixed marriages which is threatening the survival of our people and the radicalism of an important segment of our youth, one realizes what a sobering question this is. With us our anxiety is not limited to merely the whereabouts of our children at a given point in time, but we are worried about their spiritual and moral goals, and whether we can count on them to take our places in Jewish Life when we are gone.
Unfortunately this is not a new question for us. Someone has said that Jewish parents spend half of their life worrying how a child will turn out and the rest of the time wondering when the child will turn in. Many heartaches are experienced in the process of raising children, but the most bitter moment of them all is when antagonism, misunderstanding and loss of sympathy develop between young people and their parents. When fathers and mothers lose touch with their offspring for whom they have made many sacrifices and to whose success they have looked with high hope, it is a bitter pill for them to swallow.
Some time ago, I visited a man in the hospital. During the course of our conversation he told me how disillusioned he was in his son. He had always cherished the hope that one day his son would take over his business that took forty years of sweat and toil to establish. For the young man it would mean financial independence and the opportunity to observe Sabbaths and Festivals, and for the father it would mean that his retirement would come with ease. But due to the influence of bad friends, the son refused the offer, and nothing could move him to change his mind.
Or take the case of another mall who confided in me tearfully that the blackest day in his life was when he learned that his son was keeping company with a girl who was not of the Jewish faith.
This problem of parents and children is as old as life itself. It constitutes the major theme of the Book of Genesis. The story of Abraham revolves around his troubles with his two children, Isaac and Ishmael. The life of Isaac is preoccupied with his twins, Jacob and Esau. But it fell to the lot of Jacob to get the bitter taste of what is known in Hebrew as tzaar gidul banim , of raising twelve sons and one daughter. From the moment he became a father unto his dying day, the poor man had no rest and no peace.
The Talmud relates that when the old Patriarch summoned his children to his deathbed, he divulged to them his troubled mind. "He said to them,'Perhaps there is one among you who does not believe in the God that I do?' To which they replied, 'Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Just as there is the fear and the love of but one God in your heart, so is it in ours.' When Jacob heard these words, he exclaimed with joy: 'Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever' " (Gen. Rab. 98:3; Pesachim 96b).
As long as Jacob was haunted by doubts concerning the faith of his children, as long as he was not completely certain whether the next generation would remain loyal to his God and to his religion, he lacked the courage to pronounce the words "forever and ever." Bur when he was assured by his sons that they would carry on his faith even after he would be gone, he was happy to declare, "Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever. Now I can die in peace, for I am sure that my faith will be carried on after I am gone."'
With Jacob we ask, what about the future? How about tomorrow? We, the parents, must confess that if the prognosis is not so good, at least part of the blame is ours. We have not transmitted Jewish learning to our youth as it was transmitted to us.
A legend is told of a wealthy man who desired to transport a very costly diamond from one place to another. Whom could he trust with such a rare treasure! Finally he contracted a friend. But being reluctant to reveal even to him the true value of his heirloom, the rich man told him that he had a brass button which he had inherited from his forefathers and which he would like to be taken to another city. As soon as the friend had gone out of the city, a robber attacked him and took away all his possessions. When the man returned, the wealthy man was furious, "You have lost a treasure for me!" he cried. "Treasure! Why, it was only a brass button!" the friend exclaimed. "You're wrong" said the man. "It was the most costly gem in the kingdom." Then the friend retorted, "Oh, if you had only told me the truth in the beginning, I would have taken weapons with me and I would have defended the treasure with my whole strength, with my very life!"
A similar condition exists with us. Many of our younger people have but an elementary and fragmentary knowledge of Judaism. They have been given the "brass buttons" of reading, and a few stories from the Bible. If they had learned more they would have known what a vast treasure Judaism really is, and would guard it better. We would then be in a position to feel with Jacob that Judaism will live on forever and ever.
Let us, therefore, plan with great care the religious education and the moral training of our children, so that the answer to the television announcer's question will be, "I know where my children are and where they are heading. They are part of my people and my family, and they are destined to take our places when we are gone."