RIGHTEOUS ACTIONS CAN LIVE ON
The years have shrouded the specific incident; all I remember now is my father’s punchline in response to my objection.
As to what I objected and what happened, I’m not sure; what I do know is that I apparently saw my father do something that disturbed me because I knew he didn’t ordinarily do such things. Whatever it was, I called him on it.
He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, smiled and said, “Do as I say, not as I do!”
“Gotcha, Dad…” I said resignedly.
Though I can no longer remember the particulars, a general image of the incident has remained in my memory because it was so exceptional. Long after my parents ceased to exert direct influence on me, I often reflected on the tremendous role models both Mom, of blessed memory, and Dad were and remain for my sister and me.
As I said at my mother’s funeral, we are who we are because of our parents, plain and simple.
The importance of parents (and grandparents) as role models was reinforced for me awhile back, when I was asked to speak with a class of Epstein School students about Moses as a role model. I began by asking the students to identify role models in their lives, and, as one might expect, parents were high on the list.
Apparently, parents were high on the list of medieval biblical commentator, Rashi, too. On the matter, he cited the opening verse of our parasha for the week, Noach:
“These are the offspring of Noah…Noah was a righteous and wholehearted man in his generation; Noah walked with G-d.”
Most frequently, we focus on its latter half of this verse as we interpret it. Was Noah a relatively righteous individual, or was he an absolutely righteous person? Did his righteousness stand out among his peers only because of the immoral nature of most people at that time, or would his righteousness have shined at any time?
Rashi, however, focused on the first half of the verse. “These are the offspring of Noah,” it says; but who were these offspring? Though the Torah shares their names a bit later in this portion, there is no mention of Noah’s children in this verse; only Noah’s righteousness is mentioned.
According to Rashi, quoting Genesis Rabbah, it was Noah’s righteous actions that were his most enduring offspring. The Torah thereby teaches you that the real progeny of righteous people are their good deeds.
Think about it: After a person dies, we remember his or her actions. But memory eventually fades. How do we recognize his or her continuing presence in the world?
One primary way is through the individual’s children. While a child’s nature is a product of many environmental factors, among the strongest are the effects his or her parents had in shaping it.
Often, the unseen presence in a person’s righteous actions is his or her parents’ righteous actions that inspired this quality in their offspring. If so, that is because those parents were generally positive role models for their children.
Some of us are well beyond the child-rearing years, but many of us in that group can still have great influence on the nature and direction of grandchildren. Generally speaking, we will not influence the youngsters to the degree their parents do, but, if we are fortunate, we can still have an important impact on them and on their nature.
So shouldn’t we consider the type of role models we are for them too?
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:
“Your actions speak so loud, I can’t hear what you are saying.”
If this is the case, may our actions loudly proclaim our righteousness – not only for our own sake, but for the sake of those who look to us for direction.
By Rabbi Neil Sandler / Ahavath Achim Synagogue and the Atlanta Rabbinical Association
Rabbi Neil Sandler is the senior rabbi of Ahavath Achim Synagogue and president of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association.