On Sunday evening, we were privileged to hear the Gateshead Rav speak at a fundraising dinner for the school attended by some of our children. I very much enjoyed what he said about the challenges facing parents and teachers today. I was particularly struck by the second part of his speech in which he used a section from the Shabbos davenning to show how these challenges have changed over time.
The Rav said that the phrases “Kadesheinu be’mitzvosecha, v’sein chelkeinu be’Sorosecha, sabeinu mituvecha – Sanctify us with Your commandments, and give us a portion in Your Torah, satisfy us with Your mitzvos” show the progression of struggles in Jewish life over the last century. In the late 19th/early 20th century, particularly in America, it was very difficult to keep Shabbos. One hears stories of people who were sacked every week when they did not turn up on Shabbos, and had to start again on Monday morning, looking for another job, which they would almost certainly only hold for the rest of the week. It is almost impossible for us to imagine the pain and inner struggles that these brave men (for it was mostly men) must have faced. For those who could not face the toil that shemiras Shabbos took on their families – no welfare state then! – there were even minyanim that began and finished early on Shabbos morning, so that people could at least daven with a minyan and hear the leyning, before sadly going to work afterwards. The Rav told a moving story to illustrate this. He said that in Brooklyn everyone would visit the beautiful sukkah of the late Bobover Rebbe, R’ Shlomo Halberstam. One year, the Rebbe observed that his sukkah was “not only not the most beautiful sukkah in the world, but not the most beautiful sukkah on the street!” He directed the fascinated listeners down the block to the sukkah of an older man. This man had always kept Shabbos, even when he was being fired each week for doing so. Each week he collected a pink slip, a dismissal document., which he kept, and now he had covered the walls of his sukkah with his pink slips – a physical testimony to his mesirus nefesh for Shabbos. The Rav said that nowadays keeping mitzvos like Shabbos and kashrus are mostly quite easy – kadesheinu be’mitzvosecha.
Then he said that although in previous generations there were individuals who were great talmidei chachamim, the majority of the people did not have the opportunity to learn very much. However, now, more people are learning whether full time or in “spare time” than ever before – v’sein chelkeinu be’Sorosecha.
This generation’s challenge is “sabeinu mituvecha” ensuring that our children and talmidim are so full and satisfied with Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvos that they do not feel a need to look elsewhere for gratification. This means that we need to ensure that what they are learning and experiencing is fulfilling and satisfying, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. The Rav told a story about the Chafetz Chaim, who set up kosher food distribution in army camps (presumably the Russian army?) during the First World War. After a while the organisers came and told him it was a waste of time because the Jewish soldiers were eating the kosher food and then going and eating the non-kosher food afterwards. The Chafetz Chaim suggested that maybe the portions were too small, but the organisers replied that no, they had left overs. “In that case,” said the Chafetz Chaim, “the food is not tasty enough and the soldiers aren’t satisfied.” He said that if a yiddishe neshama is fully satisfied with something kosher, it will not go chasing after something which is not kosher. This would apply across the board – food, activities, intellectual pursuits.
Authentic Torah Judaism provides an incredibly rich range of experiences, filling all categories – emotional, intellectual and spiritual. It is our responsibility as parents and educators to facilitate our children appreciating this.