The age we live in presents challenges that may be unprecedented. Trying to raise children in this age of unbelievable advances in technology and the unique circumstances that come along with it, can seem like an impossible task. With all that the proverbial street has to offer our children, all the empty enjoyments of this world that call out to them, we are often left to wonder how we can expect to keep them true to the eternal values of the Torah.
The answer to that dilemma is simple. The way to raise children to go in the proper way is the same as it always was. While the conditions we raise them in vary, the way we ought to approach chinuch does not.
Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, famously said (and wrote many times, both in Igros Moshe and Darash Moshe) that when children see parents or teachers who sacrifice so much for Yiddishkeit (as was the case in early 20th-century America), they get exactly the opposite lesson of that which the parents are trying to convey. Instead of trying to emulate their parents’ self-sacrifice, these children are more likely to question the sacrifice and wonder whether or not they, too, can hope to achieve what their parents did. They might conclude that for them, a life without said sacrifices is needed, and in turn they might abandon Torah and mitzvos.
The proper way to instill Torah values into our children, says Rav Moshe, is to show them that we don’t see ourselves as sacrificing anything at all, that what we do is worth so much more than anything we are “giving up.” If we live our lives that way, our children will get the idea that what we are doing is indeed something they could easily emulate — and something they would want to emulate.
There is, however, something important to clarify about this idea.
Showing our children how “geshmak” our way of life is does not mean showing them which worldly pleasures are also okay to partake in while living a Torah life. While there is no denying that there is a time and place for such enjoyments, if that is the focus of our efforts, the only logical takeaway would be that those things are enjoyable. What is important to show our children is that we find Torah and mitzvos themselves to be the most enjoyable things in our lives.
This thought came to my mind recently with the passing of a great man with whom I was zocheh to have crossed paths. Harav Moshe Rabinowitz, zt”l, who was niftar just two short weeks ago, was a person who most embodied this idea.
As a young bachur, I had the zechus to interact with Rav Moshe during the summers he spent in Camp Silver Lake, and the lessons I learned from him are everlasting. I’m willing to bet that anyone who encountered him at any point in his life feels the same way.
If you were to ask anyone who was in Camp Silver Lake in those years (and I actually did this over the last week!) which member of the hanhalah was the most “geshmak,” Rabbi Rabinowitz would be the near-unanimous choice.
But it wasn’t because he did the things that are usually associated with “geshmak” people. He didn’t take us on trips; there were others who did that. He didn’t make barbecues with us — there were others who did that as well. I don’t think he ever partook in a kumzitz with the bachurim. So one might wonder why it was that everyone who met him felt that way about him.
The answer is really very simple: He was the most geshmak because he was living his life of Torah and mitzvos — and feeling that the way he lived his life was the most fulfilling thing possible. He didn’t need the trips, the barbecues and the peripheral enjoyments to enjoy life; he had Torah and mitzvos, and that was the most geshmakeh thing possible.
And we may not have realized it, but we felt it.
And that is perhaps the most important idea which we must keep in mind when we seek to impart our values to our children. The enjoyment we find should be in Torah and mitzvos, not only in other things. In that way, we can hope to show them what a truly enjoyable life is.