Over the past eight months, we have all been zooming, be it for work or school or even simchas, of late. Inadvertently, this has given everyone a glimpse into our homes. There is one thing that struck me sitting in on meetings with many different communities in Montreal. First, the number of people who have taken over their dining room tables as a home office. And second, the similarities in the décor of the dining room of Jewish homes. Namely, the Espresso brown Ikea Billy shelves filled with the requisite ArtScroll Talmud set, chumashim, siddurim and sepharim. In some meetings with agencies who are not part of the Jewish community, participants actually commented on the beauty of the library behind me. It amused me to know that many of my Jewish Day School colleagues share the same décor and it is not a virtual background. Our shelves are lined with sepharim filled with knowledge, prayers, insights into our holidays, rituals and practices, but this is not where the greatest learning takes place. That happens at the table in front of the shelves, day in day out, when we sit with our children and share a meal.
In Parashat Lech Lecha, G-d tells Avraham to leave his homeland and travel to Canaan where he will make him into a great nation. We know nothing of the early life of this man who is destined to become the patriarch of several religions, and for Judaism, the man to become Avraham Avinu. While there are many midrashim that fill in the blanks, giving insight into Avraham’s early life, his understanding and appreciation for monotheism, the story of how he smashed his father’s idols, and how he upheld and represented justice and kindness, the Torah makes no mention of his greatness. If anything, Avraham and in fact all the people appearing in sefer Bereshit are quite human and even, at times, quite flawed. In fact, the Ramban, in his commentary has quite a bit to say about Avraham and Sarah, pointing out their flaws, the mistakes they made, and the “wrong” decisions they took. Flawed or not, Avraham did understand one very important thing: his role in chinuch.
We read that “Abram heard that his nephew [Lot] was taken captive, and he armed his initiates who had been born in his house….” (Bereshit 14:14). Rashi explains that the word used for “initiates”, chanichav, shares the root of the word chinuch, which he explains as “the beginnings of the entry of a person into a craft in which he is destined to stay”. Though chinuch, of course, is most commonly translated as “education” it is so much more than that. Chinuch is not merely about acquiring knowledge; it is about instilling a destiny into a child. It is about ingraining in them the life of Torah they are destined to embody and about transmitting an all-encompassing outlook on life.
Though we may not all be Rabbis or teachers or educators, we are all involved in the chinuch of our children, and we are doing so every single day. There are those teachable moments we recognize but there are those that we miss or even unconsciously sabotage. It is daunting to know that we are ultimately responsible for our children’s chinuch, for developing their outlook on life, their moral compass, their views and their beliefs. But as parents, we are not expected to be perfect either. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes: “in Judaism, moral life is about learning and growing, knowing that even the greatest have failings and even the worst have saving graces”.
In a recent Dvar Torah, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote that “the hardest commandments in Judaism are not the religious strictures, but the moral imperatives”. It is how we handle these dilemmas in front of our children that are perhaps the most teachable moments of all. In an article on parenting, Elana Mizrahi reminds us of the prayer we say when we eat a new fruit for the first time in a season, we say Shehecheaynu, vekiyemanu, vehigiyanu la zman hazeh. We thank G-d for bringing us to this very moment. Our lives are a series of moments, a series of gifts that we must learn to appreciate. We are constantly making decisions and choices with our actions and with our words. How we treat each other at the dining room table, the stories we relate on the events of our day of how we dealt with the other people in our lives-our children are taking it all in. We are not perfect, but we need to be conscious of these moments in our roles as mechanchim to the next generation. And, most importantly to remember, as Rabbi Lamm points out, that chinuch is more often “caught, not taught”!
“Abraham the father, and Sarah the mother, are our enduring role models of parenthood as G-d’s gift and our highest vocation” Rabbi Sacks
Dr, Laura Segall
Head of School