We have been reading in the recent Torah portions the story of our father Avraham, life. It is significant that born Jews as well as geirim can equally call him their father. How many of us, however, think about Avraham not as an iconic figure from the Bible, as this gigantic spiritual personality whose name itself sounds thrilling, but as a father, grandfather, and family man who, besides living a very active public life thought also about the future of his children.
Every father does this, every father thinks, worries, and spends sleepless nights trying to figure out how to give his children a good life.
He thinks about bringing up his children in ways where they will not have complexes about their family wealth, or lack of wealth; he plans his work or his business in a way that brings him enough resources to raise his children and provide for the family, that they should never feel lack of anything in their material well being.
But fathers who are themselves also the children of Avraham also think about the children's spiritual upbringing. These parents understand the temporal character of this life and they spend much of their resources in order to put their children in an environment where their children may be exposed to the spiritual path of their forefathers. In the case of Jewish parents, it is a yeshivah or Jewish girls' school.
We will not dwell at this moment how much of the above is result of their own upbringing or pressure from the broad religious society they are exposed to. There are people who make many of their life decisions because of this societal pressure. In fact, I dare to say that these people are not making any decisions at all. We assume that for most of Jewish parents, sending their kids to religious schools is a conscious decision based on information acquired in their own home and schools; not a blind decision, but a decision undertaken after analysis and thoughtful examination.
It is not always easy, the money is not even a consideration here, but all the hassle, all the dealing with the principals and administrators, sometimes involving self-humiliation beyond borders of human dignity.
And why do these parents do this? Is it for their self-fulfillment or even pride? It doesn’t make sense to spend resources like this for one's own fulfillment, when there is no direct self fulfillment. It doesn’t make sense to humiliate yourself either.
What is the mechanism of this self-sacrifice on the part of parents devoting their lives to the sole goal of bringing up their children with the awareness of G-d and His law?
Admittedly, there is a powerful desire within us to extend our lives through our descendents. After our departure from This World, we leave behind those who continue part of our legacy, part of our life. Then after another 20 or 30 years, our grandchildren carry on, extending it even more. If our legacy is strong enough, it can be carried for generations. It doesn’t have to be service of the Creator that parents try to impose on their children; people who are not too busy with their relationship with their Creator are very proud when their children can name every passing car or can distinguish between various entertainers. Parents impose on their children all kinds of lifestyles, hobbies, likes, and dislikes. They are leaving a part of themselves in their descendents, as we said.
In this light, this way of understanding, we are leaving a part of ourselves when we depart from this part of our existence. It is about us!
Does this mean that our legacy is not about our children? Is it only dictated by our egoistic feelings and perhaps even by instincts of self-preservation?
I think the answer is both yes and no. Ha, another dialectic divagation to go.
Please let me explain.
Yes — because we are indeed thinking about ourselves.
No — because we consider our children as ourselves.
By doing anything for them, we actually are doing it for ourselves, as they are blood of our blood and flesh of our flesh. They are us!
I know, if any teenager is reading this he will say, “Ach, another frum selfish parent trying to convince me about how important it is to follow in my fathers' footsteps.”
Well, I cannot write this any better. If you are not convinced, I can promise you that when you will have your own children you will understand.…
The children of Avraham are aware of something else; they know that their existence will continue after they depart from this world. They are aware that their children have the same opportunity to continue their own existence in the higher reality, existence which in fact is the real life of our real selves.
To get to this level of existence, there are certain conditions that we have been given by the Creator of both our real-spiritual selves and our bodies, bodies that serve as a tool for achieving the goal of prolonging our existence to the dimension of eternity.
These conditions are described in length for the Creator’s chosen people in the Torah. The rest of humanity may think that they have these conditions in much lesser number and that they are less difficult, but this is not necessarily so. I will elaborate on this in the future, im yirtzeh Hashem. The bottom line is that there are conditions to fulfill in order to live happy life in this world and in the eternal world after that.
It is imperative to remember that we cannot offer anything to the Giver of Life; the fulfillment of His will is our natural duty regardless of the fact that He, in His love for us, is offering us eternity. Even if it we are given only 70–80 years on earth, we still owe it to Him. We owe it to Him for every minute, every second of our life. But He wants to give us more than this.
It is possible, however, that if we rebel against His will, if we decide not to follow the dictates of the Torah, that we could be punished for our insubordination in the Next World.
This is really why - every parent who follows in Avraham's footsteps loses sleep over raising their children. This is the real reason for all of our effort in bringing up our children in the path of the Torah.
Our sages and leaders designed magnificent mechanisms to help us fulfill the wishes of our Creator in best possible way. The siugim and gedarim (fences and borders), the minhagbim and chumros (customs and additional restrictions), all are designated for different Jews in order to serve the sole purpose of distancing the person from aveiros (disobedience of the word of the Creator).
Fulfillment of mitzvos itself is an extremely difficult task. The yetzer is an internal reality within ourselves; it exists within us in fact, in our bodily existence. Keeping additional restriction is not easier for us, but it makes it easier to achieve our task of submitting ourselves to our G-d.
How we dress, how we look, how we talk or even laugh, is the tool to keep us away from sin, from the possibility of slipping away from the path of truth.
We impose these mechanisms on ourselves and our children not to make our lives harder and our children unhappy. We choose to follow the path of our parents, and in the case of geirim and many baalei teshuvah, chose the path that promises the best security and is most effective to help us achieve our life goals — to stay on the derech haEmes, close to the Source of life.
Young men and young ladies, if you chose to dispose some of these protecting mechanisms, you have the right to do so. Hashem gives us free choice to sin, if that's really the path we chose.
If you have chosen to not keep one or more of the things your parents taught to you to ensure your success, please make sure that you have other tools, other protective mechanisms that will serve the same purpose, i.e., will keep you away from aveiros and help you to do the mitzvos.
If, however, your choice puts you in the vulnerable position of coming closer to the evil and away from the good, think twice before you change the way you dress or your hairstyle or any other chumrah, minhag, or even element of the culture of the group in which you grew up. Those details can indeed be changed according to the situation in general society and the time. But these changes cannot be done unilaterally and without the guidance of those more experienced than we are.
Again, I think it is most important that these changes be replaced with other devices that will serve the same job — to protect us as individuals and protecting Jewish society.
I know you will say that these details do not guarantee success on the spiritual path, as there are many reshaim who are ostensibly dressed in a religious manner, yet they are still evildoers. Yes there are many of them. One answer is that if they would change their appearance they would, in most cases, be even bigger reshaim than now.
The other answer is that according to our sages the religious hypocrite is the worst of all evildoers.
You are not one of them, you are not even close, so preserve what was given to you and one more time, think, think what you are doing.
Every father, every parent, like Avraham our father, is trying to make sure that his children will follow in his footsteps for his own good, but, in fact, it is solely for their own good.