There’s a beautiful midrash that prompts the cynical among us to smile. But I invite even the most ardent cynic to read this column and then tell me if this midrash does not reflect today’s reality as it unfolds before our eyes.
It is written that before Hashem was about to give the Torah at Sinai, He asked for “guarantors.” Who would sign on for the loan of the Torah to mankind? The Torah had until then been in the Heavens, within the reach of angels. But giving the Torah to men? Surely they would transgress it, violate it, defile it. How could the Torah be entrusted to men?
Therefore Hashem asked for guarantors who would be responsible in the event the buyer defaulted. Am Yisrael held a conference. What guarantor would Hashem consider acceptable? The people agreed that our Patriarchs, the Avos, would be the best representatives. But Hashem did not accept that. The Avos had kept the Torah. They’d locked it in the chambers of their hearts. They saturated their souls with the holy words.
So Am Yisrael made other suggestions, including the Prophets and even the hills and mountains, Hashem’s powerful creations. But those offers were likewise turned down.
Finally someone came up with a novel idea – let’s guarantee our children. People were shocked. What do children know? They are naïve and immature and can easily be duped. Surprisingly, though, Hashem accepted it. Yes, children would be the perfect guarantors to ensure the observance of Torah for all eternity.
A couple of years ago in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, I was addressing a standing-room-only audience in a community of dedicated and devoted Jews. The audience was comprised of young and old, Jews and non-Jews, government officials and elected representatives. The words of Torah can cut through all barriers and unite people from diverse backgrounds.
Following my address people came over for blessings, advice, or just to share thoughts. I looked up and saw two sweet little boys standing before me. The older one, who was 12, told me of his concern about being accepted by fellow students in his school.
“I want to observe the mitzvot,” he confided, “but I’m worried the other boys will make fun of my tzitzit, my yarmulke, and my keeping kosher and Shabbos. I don’t want to ever give up any of our mitzvot. Every word you said went straight to my heart. ”
His younger brother agreed and said, “I’m going tell all my friends all the things I learned from you tonight. I really will tell it to everyone.”
So tell me, can anyone doubt the veracity of the midrash that tells us about children being our surety, our guarantors?
“Do you go to public school?” I asked the boys.
“Yes, we do,” they responded.
I asked to speak with their parents, who quickly came over to me.
“Do you realize what a gift G-d gave you?” I asked them. “What treasures He imparted to you? Your sons are sons of Am Yisrael who stood at Sinai and swore to be guarantors of the Torah. Thousands of years have passed since that day. We’ve traversed many continents, crossed many oceans. You yourselves came from Russia – a communist country where the words of G-d were taboo – but nevertheless even there your children were guarantors.
“The deal that was sealed at Sinai has proved more powerful than armies, weapons, culture, and society. That spark of Hashem, the light of Torah, can never be extinguished by any power on earth. The brightness of our flame shines more powerfully than ever, its brightness penetrating every nook and cranny of our hearts, energizing our Jewish souls.”
Two boys standing in line – not for a ball game, not for goodies, not to meet a sports star, but to ask a piercing question: How should they respond to classmates who might make fun of their yarmulke and tzitzit, their kashrus and Shabbos observance? The midrashic account that unfolded so long ago came to vivid life to me as I spoke with those children.
“Who,” asked Hashem, “will guarantee that My Torah will never be lost?”
“We offer you our children, Hashem, our sons and our daughters,” responded Am Yisrael. “They will be our surety.”
Sitting not far from me during my exchange with those boys and their parents was one of the rabbis from the community. “Rabbi,” I said, “we must find a yeshiva for these boys.” And then I turned to the parents. “Your boys are beacons from Sinai capable of igniting the Divine Light in the dense darkness of our world. Guard and protect that light; make certain it shines ever brightly and shows the way to the coming of Mashiach.”
I looked at the parents and their eyes told me they fully understood.
Every morning at the conclusion of our morning service we say a beautiful prayer. “Zot briti – this is My Covenant with them,” says Hashem. “The words I shall place upon your lips shall not depart from your lips or from your children or your children’s children for now and forever more.”
Can a mere human make such a prediction with the assurance he would never be proven wrong? Could a mere mortal have known those words, proclaimed millennia ago, would remain on the lips of children who no longer speak the language in which they were said, who don’t understand the Book in which they are found, and who fail to recognize who uttered them?
Those magnificent, soul-stirring words were spoken by the Prophet Isaiah. But most of us recite that passage by rote. It’s part of our morning prayers but we’re in a hurry to finish and therefore never give a second thought to the awesomeness of it all.
We Jews should rejoice in our heritage. We are living proof of G-d’s Word. Studying it, living by it – that is our precious calling. Can there be a greater privilege than that?
We want our children to have self-esteem. We take them to therapists. We give them VIP training not just in their studies but also in sports, music, the arts, etc. But can there be a greater generator of self-esteem in children than their knowing they were chosen to be the guarantors of the Torah?
May G-d give us children who carry with pride this sacred calling and may He grant us the wisdom and privilege to be parents who glory in this holy mission.