The week before Rosh Hashanah, we will read the Torah portion of Netzavim-Vayelech. Moses is about to die, and he is giving his last will and testament to the Jews. He exhorts them to follow the Torah and commands them, “Choose life (i.e., follow the Torah), in order that you and your children shall live.”
It is obvious that you can affect your destiny by choosing to follow the Torah, but how can you affect the destiny of your children? Though a person may follow the Torah on his or her own, how does that person ensure that his or her children will continue to follow the Torah and therefore merit life as well?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) explained that there are two ways to follow the Torah. One can follow the Torah and perform the mitzvot because he feels compelled to do so, though he isn’t too interested, or one can follow the Torah out of excitement and joy to be able to perform the mitzvot.
If children watch their parents fulfill their Judaism in the former way, it is very likely that they will reject this guilt-ridden Judaism and not follow in the ways of their parents. If, however, children see their parents view their Judaism as adding beauty, meaning and excitement to their lives, chances are that the children will want to keep their own Jewish spark alive and well.
Rosh Hashanah is a time to take stock of where we are as people and where we are as Jews. We live in an unprecedented time when we see Jewish youth leaving Judaism by the tens of thousands. How will our own children fare? How will the next generation of Jews who are in our circle perform?
One thing we can do that will help stem this tide, and we hope will ensure that our children follow in our Jewish footsteps, is to make sure that we are appreciating our Judaism. If we are not, then it is a sign that something is lacking within our Judaism, and, unfortunately, the chances of our children keeping our traditions are much smaller.
On behalf of all of us at Anshi and the Atlanta Scholars Kollel Morningside Center, I wish the entire Atlanta community a kesiva vechasima tova, a sweet new year of health, happiness and personal growth.
Rabbi Mayer Freedman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Anshi S’fard (www.anshisfard.org) and heads the ASK Morningside Center @ Anshi.