D’var Torah: Parshat Va’etchanan and Shema Yisrael: Developing Our Own Relationships With Judaism
This week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, includes the Shema. “Listen Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is one.” There is a midrash that explains that these are the words that Jacob’s (also known as Israel) sons said to him when they gathered around him as he was dying. What messages were his sons trying to convey? They were trying to reassure their father that the God he had dedicated his life to was also their God. Here is what they may have been trying to say:
“Shema Yisrael” – “Listen dad!” Dad, we love you, we know you are dying, we want you to know that we have been paying attention all these years. You can rest assured we have internalized your lessons.
“Adonai Eloheinu” – “Adonai is our God.” We have accepted Adonai as our God. It is true that we have developed our own relationships with God that might be different than yours. We are a new generation with different opportunities and challenges. Our relationship with God is dynamic.
“Adonai Echad” – “God is one.” Despite the fact that our relationship with God and Judaism is a bit different than yours, our God is one and the same. Religion and practice evolve, but the foundations of our beliefs remain.
As parents, my wife Tami and I want to pass on our belief system and our practices, which have been so meaningful to us. Judaism is central in our lives. As our children grow up, we control less and less of what they do and believe. We often wonder if we have made the right decisions in passing on our love of Judaism. How much do we push being Shomer Shabbat? Do we force the kids to sit with us in synagogue? Is Day School worth the price? Throughout this process, we have found that Camp Ramah has been critical to our children’s development. At camp, my children have incredible and cool role models to look up to and they participate in Jewish practices that they love. As my older children have passed through the teen years during which they questioned their parents’ wisdom, the Ramah experience has proven even more valuable.
Ultimately, we have decided that we will provide our children with a top notch education and wonderful family celebrations and that we will make our values clear. Then it is truly up to them to develop their own relationships with God and Judaism.
As I have watched my children – and so many of yours – grow up here and now assume the roles of leadership at Ramah as Rashei Edot (division heads), Madrichim (counselors) and in Nivonim, I feel as reassured as Jacob must have felt that they have internalized our lessons and developed their own relationships with God and Judaism. Shabbat Shalom!