September has arrived. Because of the pandemic, we are mostly preoccupied with the question of how the children will learn, but what will they learn?
In 1949, the State of Israel’s first year, Zalman Shazar, Minister of Education, wrote a long letter to the young students of the new State. Here are a few sentences which, in my eyes, awaken a longing for the days in which people dared to speak in such a manner:
Grow up well, young brothers and sisters. Open the chambers of your hearts wide to receive the Torah of Israel. Learn for yourselves about the steep price of loyalty to their faith that was paid by an uninterrupted chain of generations, how bitter was the taste of slavery, and what destiny was in store for those who envisioned the rebirth of Israel. Remember: You are being summoned to be the successors. The entire historical value of our revival depends on this: Love the legacy of your people. Learn to revive within yourselves the glory of holy aspirations and an eternal mission. Cherish our greatest creative minds and teachers, whether from ancient times or living with us today.
Establish heart and soul connections with our eternal heritage, ever renewed. May the vision of Israel’s prophets be the vision of your future lives. The hope of our nation is the State of Israel; the hope of the State of Israel is our youth. Gather strength, learn well, deepen your knowledge, know the Torah of Israel, cherish the creative human spirit, love freedom. And guard very well the heritage and hope that have been deposited in you.
Amen. Parents, teachers, and students – have a great school year.
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Not If, But How
My niece Roni celebrated her bat mitzvah and I was thinking about the blessing that would be appropriate for her. But that’s not so easy these days since our generation is different. If once a bat mitzvah – and the obligation to keep mitzvot – was celebrated in a spirit of selfless devotion, if once we lived in fear for our lives yet kept our traditions and identity at all costs, today the world is more open, more comfortable, and we are much more spoiled. Everything is available and accessible. It’s no longer a problem to build a sukkah or to learn Torah. So what is left for this generation to do?
I said to Roni that it’s not a question of if you will keep the mitzvot, but how you will keep them. It’s clear that you will go to hear the blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah. We are no longer living in a land where you had to walk kilometers through the snow in order to hear the shofar, or we had to hide from the communists to hear it. Today, we are privileged to live otherwise and can keep all the mitzvot we desire. Our concern is not about if we will hear a shofar, but how we will hear it. Will we get excited, will we experience renewal, will we understand the significance of the shofar’s siren sound?
It’s not about if you will do what your parents ask, but how you will do it. It’s not about if you will pray and keep Shabbat, but how. It’s not about if you will learn Torah, but how. In other words, the question is not about what you are doing, but whether you are you doing it with enthusiasm.
In short, life is not a series of technical instructions that need to be checked off. The mitzvot you accept upon reaching the age of 12 are not a dry list of operating directives. The purpose of life, after all, is to bring our heart and soul into everything we do.
(Translation by Yehoshua Siskin)