I’ve been writing the last few weeks about what it means to be a spiritual role model for one’s children. Here are some responses from readers who recall the positive and negative exemplars in their own lives.
My parents and grandmothers were my primary influence. Every Friday coming home for lunch the aroma of Shabbat permeated the building where I grew up, with fresh baked Berches (German challah) and delicious cakes. And each Friday we had our dinner together with Dad making kiddush and bentching. My parents worked long hours in a grocery store but Friday night was family time. We went to synagogue after dinner and then the family met at my Oma’s house with aunts and uncles and cousins.
Shabbat my grandmothers took me to shul.
Definitely a primary influence and one I continued after marriage [was] baking like they did. The aroma of Shabbat is important when children come home on Fridays.
Also my Dad davened daily at home. I had some great teachers but my family were definitely the ones who were my primary influence. Now as a great grandparent I see my children and grandchildren carrying on like me.
I was walking with my father in the hot Florida sun when he stopped to speak to a landscaper and told him that he should really cover his skin better so that he would not be adversely affected by the long-term impact of the rays of the sun. The man hardly acknowledged him just as I would imagine the man himself was hardly acknowledged by people who walked by him. And then just a few feet further on, my father addressed the colleague of the first man and gave him the same advice, namely, that he needed to take care of himself, to protect himself. And as we moved on, the man running came after me and said “Your father is such a special man.” That was a powerful moment for me.
About 18 years ago when I was youth director, I led the teen minyan …[O]ne Shabbos we started without a full minyan, [and as] we were approaching Shochen Ad in a couple of minutes [the point in the service at which a minyan was required], I stepped out of minyan to see if anyone was coming, and, voila, I saw a father and son (a boy who davened with us about 70% of the time) approaching. The father was coming into the minyan room anyway to get his talis from the storage area… I welcomed the boy and his father and said how glad I was to see them, and that they must have been heaven-sent because the timing was perfect. Knowing that the shul’s main minyan (which the father was presumably coming to shul to attend) began at 8:45 am (teen minyan began at 9:15 am) and that the time now was approximately 9:35am, I asked the father if he would help us out temporarily to make the minyan so we could continue with our davening until another man would show up and at the same time the father would be able to daven Shacharis with a minyan, which he already missed in the main shul. There was silence. No response. The boy standing on one side of me, the father on the other side of me. The father hesitated in his response. I suspected that he did not want to say yes or that he would begrudgingly say yes (to help, mind you!). I wasn’t going to let him off the hook – I needed him to articulate his hesitation. So, I continued to look at him, told him we are about to start Shochen Ad, and could you please help out the teens for a few minutes with the minyan. And then he said, “I come to shul once a week . . . and I like to see my friends and sit with them . . .” The end of the story: He didn’t stay to make a minyan. His son was right there listening the entire time.
Rabbi Kalman Packouz of the Aish Hatorah Shabbat Shalom Fax, has said several times over the years, “A parent owes his children 3 things in life: Example. Example. Example.”
My father was (is) a wonderful religious role model for me. He is a modern orthodox working man. He didn’t go to daily minyan, but I know that he davened three times a day, because he would do it in the living room or family room etc. I still think back about him davening as I put my tefillin on at home before I go to work. I don’t think he davened in the open to teach us a lesson, but it worked. Similarly, he didn’t talk during davening at shul, but that wasn’t to teach me, but rather because that is who he is.
But, in the realm of charity, that’s where I know he went out of his way to teach us. I remember specifically when I was in middle school and the Soviet Jewry issue was in the forefront. There was an appeal in my shul (for the Jewish federation, I believe) to collect money to get Jews out of Russia and over to [our city.] Now, my father is a charitable person, but he never liked public shul appeals, or any publicity for his charity. Not his style. However, I (very vividly. Creepy in fact how vivid it is for me) remember him turning to me in shul and saying, “[Son,] this is pidyon shvuiim [the mitzvah to redeem captives]. There is no bigger mitzvah around. Everyone has to give everything they can.” He then pledged $5,000, which was a huge amount for him at that time. He wanted to be sure I knew what he was doing and why, and so I did. As a child. he would also ask me every Pesach if I wanted to give a little to maot chitim and every Rosh Hashana if I wanted to give a little to the rabbi’s fund.
His conscious efforts to make sure I knew the value of tzedakah worked better than anything I could ever learn in yeshiva.
I was thinking- it happens sometimes- that the reason why taking some time to think about the state of my children paralyzes me is that I erroneously focus on aspects that I have little control of. For example, I think of the school and which school might be better then I feel overwhelmed with the logistical and economic factors involved in switching. In reality, there are so many factors that I DO have control of that this thought cycle is not conducive. I need to focus more on the hours they are home or how I can help them cultivate good habits or expand their social circle to include higher caliber friends. I can control the talk around the dinner table or even having a dinner table. Focusing my thoughts about thinking about my children is a crucial step. It comes back to being the person we want our children to become- thoughtful and refined.
Thank you for sharing! I often think about the need to contemplate the state of my children as the Rebbe Rashab suggested although it often times makes me worry more than being proactive… Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts and unless we are connected and activated to Torah through joy our children will see right through it- “your actions speak louder than words.”
All of these recollections point to the profound role that adults can have on children’s spiritual development, often in the most unanticipated ways, often for decades after the behaviors were first modeled. All the more reason that we as parents and grandparents and teachers need to be as self-conscious as we can, as proactive as we can, as consistent as we can. The souls of our children deserve no less.
Please share your own thoughts and recollections at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Dr. Jay Goldmintz has been a day school educator and administrator for more than thirty five years who currently teaches fulltime at Ma`ayanot Yeshiva High School. He is Educational Director of the Legacy 613 Foundation, runs tefillah education workshops for teachers and has served as an adjunct at Azrieli Graduate School. He is author of the Koren Ani Tefila Siddur series, winner of the 2014 National Jewish Book Award.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.