This past summer, at the Shabbos Sheva Brachos of our children Baruch and Alanna Apfel in Los Angeles, our mechutan invited me to say a few words. Several moments before I was called upon to speak, my wife asked me why I had that faraway look in my eyes. (Those of us who are married a long time correctly understand that question to represent a coded, polite way of asking, “Yankie; why are you ignoring me?”)
I motioned for her to look around the room and said, “Udi, we only have one more table to go.”
You see, the people attending the Sheva Brachos were seated by age – two tables for children, one for teenagers, two for young married couples, two for our age bracket (young-at-heart, but in need of reading glasses when it came time to recite birchas hamazon), and finally one for the members of the ‘Greatest Generation.’ I guess it was the reflective mood I was in due to the great simcha in our lives, but it had suddenly hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks that the sands of time are pouring through the hourglass at lightning speed.
With those powerful thoughts coursing through my mind as I walked up to the lectern, I decided not to use the speech I had previously prepared for the occasion. Instead, I faced the table where the grandparents of the chosson and kallah were seated and, addressing my remarks directly to them, extemporaneously said the following:
In this week’s parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu continues his charge to the Bnei Yisroel exhorting them to tread the path of Hashem’s Torah and to follow His mitzvos. One pasuk in the parsha attracts the attention of the gemarah and many of our commentaries. “And now, [Klal] Yisroel, what does HaShem ask of you except that you revere him” (Devorim 10:12). And while the gemarah (Berachos 33b) raises the question of how Moshe Rabbeinu could treat acquiring Yiras Shamayim as an easily achievable goal, one may wonder why he spoke about an overarching theme like fear of Hashem rather than mentioning specific mitzvos that are actively performed.
I would like to suggest that Moshe Rabbeinu was sharing profound guidance with the Bnei Yisroel in his charge to them – advice that we ought to strongly consider as we raise our children in these challenging times.
We all have limited ‘bandwith’ in our minds – meaning that we can only concentrate well on a few things at a time. With that in mind, perhaps Moshe was instructing us to focus the bulk of our attention on the fundamental underpinnings of our emunah and mesorah like Yiras Shamayim. In fact, a similar theme emerges from gemara’s discussion in Makos (24a) which analyzes the list of 11 core Torah principles cited by Dovid Hamelech (Tehilim 15) and progressively shorter lists noted by neveim who followed him (See Rivan and Maharsha).
I think that you and your generation followed that sage advice when you passed on the Torah values of your parents and grandparents to us. You kept things simple. In fact, I could probably fit all the instructions you gave us on the back of an index card. Be a mentch. Learn and master our Torah. “Farbreng nisht der tzeit -- make the best use of every minute of every day. Make a kiddush Hashem wherever you go – don’t ever forget that you are wearing a yarmulke. Get an education, be self-sufficient, and give something back to the community. Yet these simple themes encapsulated all the major components of our tradition.
At our Pesach sedarim, you didn’t distribute ‘matzoh cards’ to make sure that we had the proper shiurim or share profound divrei Torah with us, but your eyes brimmed with tears when you spoke to us about our glorious mesorah. You didn’t speak much about your generation’s extraordinary success in rebuilding your individual and collective lives after the Holocaust, but you taught us by example, what it means to sacrifice for Yiddishkeit and how we should treasure the gift of freedom you were denied. You didn’t deal much with segulos for parnasa like ‘chai rotel’ and ‘shlissel challah’ but always stressed the importance of ehrlichkeit in our financial dealings, living below one’s means, and scrupulously giving tzedaka.
Since your guidance dealt with very basic and broad themes, there was little in the way of the confusing blend of Halacha,minhag, chumrah and common practice that leaves our children groping for an understanding of how to prioritize. And there were no mixed messages about what you taught us, because you lived these values each and every day of your lives.
Wherever I go, people ask me why we seem to be having far more problems raising our children than did the people of your generation. Obviously, a question like that can be answered in many ways. But I think that the answer may be found in the pasuk we just discussed. I think that you had an easier time raising us, because you followed the advice of Moshe Rabbeinu and Dovid Hamelech, and just kept things simple.
On April 23, 1985, with much fanfare, Coca-Cola, the largest beverage manufacturer in the world, launched a sweeter version of the soft drink named 'New Coke,' withdrawing its traditional 99-year old formula. It was a spectacular failure. Coca-Cola sales plummeted and employees had to work overtime on its complaints hotline, which received an average of 1,500 calls a day.
Ten weeks after introducing the new Coke, and after publicly vowing that the original formula was gone for good, company executives brought it back. They added a “Classic” underneath the script Coca-Cola lettering to distinguish it from the new formula. Coca-Cola Classic began to outsell new Coke almost immediately, and revived the company’s sales.
I think there is a striking parallel between the experiences of Coca-Cola and our charedi world. My yeshiva-educated generation, for all the right reasons, and with the best of intentions, introduced a ‘new and improved’ brand of chinuch – with longer hours and progressively elevated standards (read: pressure) in academics, dress codes, and social norms for our children, with increasingly more and more emphasis on gemarah b’iyun at the expense of other limudim, general studies, hobbies, and exercise.
It is humbling and difficult to come to terms with, let alone say this publicly, but I think that your generation had a far better recipe than ours, though both generations have their successes and failures. You prepared us for secular culture whereas we shelter our children from it. You played offense; we play defense. You celebrated the enrollment of each and every Jewish child to a Mesivta or Bais Yaakov; we send rejection letters. You raised children; we tried to raise gedolim.
Over the past few years, I’ve increasingly felt that the most effective way of reversing the exploding number of kids and adults abandoning Yiddishkeit is to revert to the old-fashioned “Charedi Classic” education my generation was fortunate to receive from yours; and pass on those core values to our children and grandchildren.
Mazel tov, and may Hashem grant us the zechus of your presence and guidance for many years to come.
© 2009 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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