One father to his son: Go out and change this country for the better.
Published in The Jerusalem Post, September 13, 1998.
Raising a child isn’t easy in a society that is increasingly uptight, egocentric, materialistic, and consumed by citizens who resent one another. How do you produce psychologically-confident, ethically-healthy children in a dog-eat-dog environment?
My wife and I ask ourselves this question as we celebrate this weekend the third birthday of our youngest son, Mordechai Chaim, may he live in good health for a full 120 years.
Last night, we cut Mordechai’s beautiful, blond curly hair for the first time (a crime I regret already). The ceremony with relatives and friends is a traditional, third-birthday coming-of-age ritual for little guys who are out of diapers, into nursery school to start their life-long quest for education, and old enough to begin understanding, a bit, the concepts of morality, heritage, and commitment.
The big-little guy, who is happily doing 60-piece jigsaw puzzles with ease, received his first pair of tzitzit, said the Shema Yisrael and Torah Tzivah Lanu Moshe prayers aloud for all to hear, and tasted the sweetness of honey smeared onto an Aleph-Bet chart. This latter custom, in keeping with the scripture that the Lord’s words should be “like honey and milk under your tongue”.
But sweetness aside, what of the rough Israeli world out there? Well, for what it’s worth, here’s a parental guide to you, little Mordechai, our dreams for you, as you navigate your way into adulthood:
1. Despite the new, grown-up look, try not to lose the natural innocence of youth. In this post-Zionist era, Israelis are far too cynical, negative, pessimistic. We’re busy deconstructing every hero of our proud past, as if we ought to be ashamed of what’s been achieved here. Don’t let that malaise get a hold of you.
It’s o.k. to love your land, your country and your people, so don’t take the negativist media too seriously. Patriotism isn’t a dirty word, and we’ll be proud to see you become a kibbutznik, a settler (oy!), a jet pilot (if God forbid, it’s still necessary), or, gulp, even a journalist – who is not embarrassed to write something positive about his brothers and neighbors.
2. Everybody in this country is automatically, crudely labeled and stereotyped — a terrible thing you need to avoid. Beware quick judgments made out of ignorance or antagonism. These are intellectually-flawed shortcuts designed to serve weak, fearful minds, and you can do better. Have the patience to withhold judgment, out of what should be an abiding, overriding concern for Klal Yisrael.
Your namesakes, the late, great Rabbi Mordechai Wulliger (who passed away just before your birth at 99), and Chaim Levine, both great-grandfathers, would not rest when other Jews were in peril or need, whomever they might be. Like them, you must help people. We look to you for civic initiative, a renewed volunteer spirit that overcomes the apathy and routs the rancor taking root in our bourgeoisie society.
3. Our politicians seem to think that anything not illegal is allowed and even moral. Not so. You and your generation have to fight against pervasive corruption in our society, which stems from preening over-self-confidence and a destructive impulse for self-promotion.
Yirat shamayaim, a little fear or awe of God, might go a long way in curing this disease. It will require you, first and foremost, to be careful and considerate in your relations with other people, and to shy away from ripping-off the next guy or the government. So be humble, and direct your actions in a way that others will admire.
4. This is hard, but try to be satisfied with what you have. Like the Mishna says: ‘Who is rich? He who is content with his share’. We Israelis seem to have forgotten this. You don’t immediately have to own the latest, most stylish and expensive clothes, or make purchase of the last word in American sport-leisure equipment your paramount goal.
Instead, seek to accumulate knowledge, with insatiable intellectual curiosity. And learn to be fulfilled each step of the way.
5. And finally, in our messianic, idealistic aspirations for your development, little Mordechai, we hope you will come to experience the spiritual side of this world, to discover the chassidic soul embedded in your lineage and the Divine secrets inherent in all reality. That your soul will be stirred by the splendor of nature, the sweetness of a niggun (religious folk tune), the beauty of art or an ever-so-deep midrash.
Thus, you may discover the holy, which at present is something I can’t quite explain to you. You’ll have to light upon that yourself.
No one person can single-handedly change the world, or even Israel. But we have high hopes for you, son, so go ahead and give it a try.