Living, as he did, in a town with 40 churches and no operating synagogue, I
would imagine my stepfather was the only man around with his favorite Rashi.
It happened by accident- I wasnt planning on lecturing him on on
Chumash. But my parents had spent considerable time that week arguing
about the validity of me becoming observant. There was too much at stake for me
to say nothing.
After one argument, I quietly asked my stepfather if hed like to see
something neat. He sat down next to me and we opened my little Stone
Chumash to my favorite Rashi. Id only just discovered him, but I was
hooked. It was his comments on Parshas Chaya Sara, when Ephron and
Avraham Avinu (our patriarch) are navigating the purchase of the
Maaras HaMachpela. There is a point at which the vav in
Ephrons name is taken away, recalled, at just that point when he cheats Avraham
Avinu out of 400 silver shekels. Rashi states that it is because he
said much and did little. In behaving dishonestly towards Avraham
Avinu, he had caused a lack in his own self. No more vav.
My stepfather sat there a minute looking at Ephrons name, the before and
after versions. He never again argued against me becoming observant, nor did
anyone else in his presence. He didnt say much, but I know that something had
clicked. The precision of the Torah, and G-ds clear desire for human integrity,
hinted at something that he respected too much to refer to as religion. Until
that point, he had always thought highly of Jews. Now he thought highly of
Judaism, rules and all.
Now that Im raising a child of my own, I often think about that Rashi. In
fact, Ive been sharing it with my son since he was 3, and it is his favorite
Rashi, too. Perhaps it is because integrity is such a rare commodity these days
that we cling to stories and people who illustrate it. It is a healthy anecdote
to the world around us to remember how the Torah, and G-d, view those who say
little and do much (such as Avrohom, who received an additional letter) versus
I have realized something else over the years, as I think about that Rashi
and my chavrusa (partnership) with my stepfather, the tremendous
Kiddush Hashem we can achieve simply by valuing honesty.
Ive realized that even when you change worlds entirely, as baalei
teshuvah (returnees to observance) do, you still carry the influence of
your parents with you in so many ways. What we gravitate towards, and what
resonates within us most deeply, is almost invariably either that which
reaffirms the good weve experienced or lifts us above the negative. Either way,
it is connected to where we come from. I realize how great an impact I am having
on my sons inner world with every detail of how I choose to live, an impact
that will, in part, determine which Rashis he most cherishes. Then I think about
what I want my sons value system to be and whether Im really living up to it.
Its a sobering thought.
We are practically bombarded these days with
classes, panel discussions, and workshops on talking to our teenagers (which I
hear today means anyone over age 9), on improving Jewish education, on the
decline in certain standards in our community, etc. What we seldom find the
energy to admit, though, is that the real answer to these problems is that we
must work on ourselves. For sure, we still need to learn how to communicate with
kids as they grow up. We need to give our schools the support they need-
financial and otherwise- to thrive, and we need to look for new ways to educate
children for whom standard methods arent working.
But the first and last answer is- dauntingly enough- that we have to raise
the standards we set for ourselves, and then get there. A great deal of our
success in raising observant, Torah abiding children- children who value their
spirituality, modesty in both behavior and dress, and everything else that Torah
has always stood for, rests on how consistently we demonstrate that we value
While there are no guarantees, if we strive to reach high enough, and do it
with obvious joy, were at least giving our kids the ability to soar.