Earlier this month I wrote an article on the Shabbos texting epidemic in a small, but significant, segment of the Modern Orthodox community. Never in my 20 years of writing has an article of mine received the response this one did. It seems like I hit a nerve.
Many were shocked to learn about what’s really going on. Many felt schools and rabbis are partially to blame because they don’t properly teach the importance of Shabbos observance. Others felt parents are at fault for failing to impart the importance of Shabbos to their children.
These responses made me wonder what prevented me from even considering violating Shabbos as a kid. Was it my rabbis? I don’t think so. I didn’t relate to most of them and I was a serious nuisance growing up. Was it the synagogue rabbi? No. He was holy and scholarly, but we rarely spoke.
So what was it then? And why didn’t my dad ever miss a day of putting on tefillin when he didn’t even attend a yeshiva?
It turns out, the answer is obvious: Everything starts in the home. I never even dreamed of turning on a light on Shabbos because my father taught us, “The Sabbath is holy. Hashem commanded us to observe it. We will be punished if we violate it, and we will be blessed if we keep it. Hashem tests us, and He also gives us an extra portion of manna from heaven to assure us He will take care of us if we keep His Shabbos.”
My dad taught me that Hashem really sees us – He is a living God – and that He knows all that we do. And thus, I never even had a desire to violate Shabbos. Friday night was a holy time to connect with friends, family, Hashem, and ourselves.
Does that mean schools and rabbis can’t play a part? Of course they can. They can, for example, replace a portion of the regular Jewish curriculum with clear instruction on such relevant Jewish questions as: Does God really care if I eat a cheeseburger or text on Shabbos? Why are some Orthodox-looking Jews not honest in business? Why does Lou Gehrig’s disease exist if there is a God in Heaven? How do we know that the Torah is real?
At the end of the day, the answers we provide to these questions will bolster our children’s connection to the Torah and, ultimately, to Hashem.
Still, we would do well to remember the wise words of a pioneer in Jewish education, the revered Rav Sender Gross, z”l, who said, “A school is not a laundromat. If the clothes come in dirty, they will leave dirty.” In other words, schools can’t easily make a kid very frum when his parents are not.
Our children sense what is important to us. When we spend hundreds of hours discussing colleges, people, money, school, music, literature, politics, film, TV, social media, and Trump’s latest tweet, we are sending the wrong message.
We must ask ourselves: How often to we discuss the real important things in life like belief in God? Do we mention to our kids how grateful they should be for what they have? Do we tell them that every second is a gift that can be taken away at any moment? That God is right here, though hidden, and we have to seek Him, and only then will he reveal Himself?
Do we teach our children that every night a part of our soul returns to Hashem and we ask for protection and blessings when we say Shema? Do we explain to our children that our Torah is so amazing that even Einstein, when asked whom he would most like to meet and what would he say to him, exclaimed “Moses, and I would say, ‘Can you believe it’s been over 3,000 years and our people are still around. What a miracle!’”
It is these conversations we need to have. They lay the basic foundation for one to become solid in his beliefs and observance. Today, many parents who were forced to observe or who had a bad religious experience take a more laid back approach, hoping their children will become inspired because they “feel it” and not because they were forced.
Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t always happen. And the desire of many to be their kids’ friend rather than their parent doesn’t help.
So let’s get back to the original question. Why is this happening? Well, I’d say we’re all a little guilty. Parents may have to step up their game and focus on explaining the importance and beauty of the Sabbath. And teachers and rabbis have to start focusing the big picture. Talking about God, hashkafa, and one’s love and understanding of Torah is just as important as a brilliant analysis of Tosafos.
Finally, all of us, as a klal, have to gently spread the beauty and importance of Hashem’s holy Torah. We must aspire to be a light not only unto the nations, but unto ourselves as well.