Securing Judaism's Successful Transition to the Next Generation
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
There are, of course, many ingredients involved in successfully transmitting Judaism to future generations. A good Jewish education and modeling observance of Judaism are, no doubt, fundamental ingredients. For parents and grandparents there is another crucial ingredient which Rabbi Moshe Feinstein learns from Parshat Vayetzei.
Yaakov tells his wives Rachel and Leah that God has instructed him to leave the home of Lavan, their father, and to return to the land of his fathers. He explains to them how he feels threatened by Lavan and how Lavan has cheated and deceived him on countless occasions. Rachel and Leah respond “Do we still have a share or an inheritance in our father’s house? Are we not considered by him as strangers, for he sold us and also consumed our money? But all the wealth that God separated from our father is ours and our children’s. So now, all that God said to you, do.”
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein inquires as to why they did not simply respond by saying that they will do whatever God instructed. Why the preamble saying that they have nothing to gain by staying in any event? He responds by saying that Rachel and Leah would have carried out God’s instruction even if they were set to lose their father’s inheritance. However, they wanted to carry out God’s command willingly and with a positive disposition in the knowledge and with the faith that ultimately one does not lose out financially by fulfilling God’s commands. Rabbi Feinstein explains that there were Jewish emigrants to America who kept Shabbat under difficult circumstances and would tell their children how hard it is to keep Shabbat and to avoid working on Shabbat. He explains that this attitude sends the wrong educational message to the children and ultimately results in the children leaving the path of religious observance. The next generation absorbs the message that ‘Es iz schwer tzu sein a yid.’ – it is hard to be a Jew – the message that keeping Shabbat hinders one’s financial possibilities and is therefore a tough sacrifice. This message will not sustain a new generation of committed Jews.
Rachel and Leah teach us that our attitude should be that it is a privilege and pleasure to follow our tradition. They teach us that our faith should be that God ultimately provides us with a livelihood and that keeping our faith does not result in us losing anything. When we live with the attitude that it is indeed a great privilege to keep the Torah’s commandments, the next generation will be enthused to do the same.