A Dual Mesorah
Jewish Action’s “Getting Their Attention” articles (summer 2011) addressed the concept of mesorah, but failed to emphasize the important role that parents play with regard to the unspoken experiential mesorah.
In Sefer Devarim (4:9), Rashi explains that the Torah charges us with not forgetting the teachings of the Torah, while the Ramban opines that the Torah is demanding that we not forget the experience of receiving the Torah at Har Sinai.
Their views underlie what I think is the dual mesorah that we as parents and mechanchim are charged with conveying to the next generation—the intellectual mesorah and the experiential mesorah. The two are indispensable in producing committed children with a passion for Judaism.
Children, and especially teens, see the world in black and white. They view their parents’ actions through a binary prism in setting moral hierarchies and in determining the relevance of religious practices to themselves. Many times it is this subtle yet powerful unspoken mesorah that has the greatest impact on our children.
For many individuals, the last time they developed religiously in a serious way was their post-high school year in Israel. As such, oftentimes a huge divergence between one’s religious practice and other aspects of one’s life develops. When a child looks at his parent, he sees an educated, well-accomplished professional—an adult but an adult practicing his Judaism like an eighteen-year-old (or maybe someone even younger). A child will intuit this disparity. He easily discerns the sophistication with which his parents approach the planning of a simchah, the building of a house, their social interactions and work, a sophistication that is absent in the religious realm of their lives. A child is acutely aware that his parents know more about the features of their smartphone or car than they do about their tefillin, Shabbat and yom tov observance, and the weekly parashah. They know that their parents invest infinitely more time in knowing the sports scores, decorating their house and choosing their clothing than they do in understanding their religion and enhancing their relationship with God. They observe that attendance and punctuality are important for work and leisure events, but not for prayer and religious practice.
There is only one conclusion for that child: religion can’t be that vital.
A child who witnesses a parent talking during davening in shul receives the message that davening can’t be that important. When a parent opines on halachic issues without consulting a rav, but consults with professionals for medical and financial issues, or even worse, speaks disparagingly about the rabbi and his opinions—the child learns that halachah and rabbinic authority are not essential. A parent who worries more about what to wear to shul or what will be served at the kiddush than whether or not she has davened with kavanah sends a clear message to the child that fashion and public appearance trump one’s relationship with Hashem.
Upon that foundation is built our children’s religious education and experience. It is no wonder that by the time they leave high school their religious commitment is so shaky. There is only one solution to this problem: Parents have to apply the same sophistication, tenacity, maturity and commitment to their religious practice as they do to other aspects of their lives. Learn Torah like an adult. Pray like an adult. Do chesed like an adult. In short, practice religion like the adult one has become.
In a generation where children are asking, “How is Judaism relevant to me?,” parents can help answer that question by demonstrating the centrality of Torah in their lives. Upon that firm foundation, together with davening for siyata d’Shmaya, b’ezrat Hashem, we will merit to see our children embrace the positive intellectual and experiential mesorah we provide them.
Beit Shemesh, Israel