October 20, 2019

Teach Your Children Well

My entire life, I have recited from the Ve-ahavta prayer, “Vishinantam l’vanecha” (You shall teach them to your children). Certainly meaningful words. But my friend and colleague Rabbi Jeremy Gimbel shared that the depth of the ancient words would take on new significance after I gaze into the eyes of my newborn infants. 

He was correct. 

And so, as we observe the High Holy Days, and as my husband, Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin, and I enter as new parents, these awesome days face us with the task of teaching lessons to our children.

Teach them diligently to your children. What exactly do we want to teach them?

Teach them that they come from a line of thinkers, doers and survivors. They come from intellectuals, rebels and fighters. Their ancestors were scholars and milkmen, musicians and tailors. We were poets and pioneers. We were tortured. And we rose from the ashes.

Teach them diligently to your children.

Teach them that we have a rich text, an anthology of Jewish values. Our Torah and rabbinic literature offer a treasure trove of stories, allegories and spiritual guidance. Teach them to sift through the pages, to argue and wrestle with the passages. Teach them to question but never walk away from our texts. While the Torah and Talmud may not always make sense, our engagement with them enables us to be part of a 3,500-year conversation. Remind them that the Talmud is not about how the rabbis agreed or came to resolution. No — the pages show that even the smallest voice from a minority perspective is honored and preserved.

Teach them diligently to your children.

Teach them that it is their right and responsibility to question God, to demand more of God.

“Teach them that we have a rich text, an anthology of Jewish values.”

But also teach them to pray to God. Teach them from ancient texts. Write with them new texts. Find God in the synagogue and on the playground. Experience God at Yosemite or at the opera. Partner with God every time they do a mitzvah or participate in tzedakah. Be God’s eyes when they look at the Earth from above and marvel at just how incredible it is. Be God’s feet when they march for social justice. Be God’s voice when they speak out against inequality. Be God’s hands when they feed the hungry. Be God’s soul when they give another person a hug.

Teach them. Teach them that God can be found in oh so many places. And teach them that things that we often call “acts of God” like hurricanes and earthquakes, floods and avalanches — that those have nothing to do with the God that their daddy prays to.

Teach them diligently to your children.

Teach them that they have a responsibility to the Jewish community. Teach them that even after they have received their education, they must ensure others get one as well. Teach them to support Jewish institutions, local and beyond. Remind them we are all responsible for one another.

Teach them diligently to your children.

Teach them also that we have a responsibility beyond our people. We need to build bridges, to welcome the stranger, to reach out to those we don’t understand. Teach them never to judge another until we have been in that person’s place. This means the homeless person, those who suffer mental illnesses, older adults and people who are lonely. This means trying better to understand our neighbors from other religious backgrounds.

Teach them diligently to your children. Teach them Ahavat Yisrael, a love of Israel. We are a people as well as a nation. We have a history and a future that is woven into the land, woven in a tapestry that includes Jews of all backgrounds and practices — but including threads and patterns from people from other faiths. 

Teach them to be mensches. Teach them to welcome the stranger. Teach them to give really good hugs.

Teach them diligently to your children. They are here to make the world a better place.

Dear God, as we teach them, please teach us to be the best role models we can be. Teach us, Avinu Malkeinu, to harness their light, listen to their spirits and embrace their souls.

Rabbi Zach Shapiro is the spiritual leader of Temple Akiba, a Reform Jewish Congregation in Culver City.