April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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Torah Web Presents Rav Yaakov Neuburger and Rav Aryeh Lebowitz: ‘Where Are We Failing Our Children?’

Questions regarding the responsibilities parents have to their children was a recent topic at a pair of lectures at Congregation Beth Abraham, in Bergenfield, on February 20.

Torah Web, which offers audio and video divrei Torah focused on contemporary issues to worldwide audiences, hosted Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger, mara d’atra of Congregation Beth Abraham and rosh yeshiva at the Mazer School of Talmud Studies at Yeshiva University alongside Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, mara d’atra of Beis Haknesses of North Woodmere as well as director of semicha at RIETS.

Both speakers began their presentations by rephrasing the topic to a more positive rendering of “the contemporary challenges of positive parenting within the Torah-observant Orthodox Jewish community.” Introduced by Rabbi Neuburger, Rabbi Lebowitz cogently outlined the three subjects of his presentation that affect a positive parent-child relationship:

(1) Emphasis on materialism

(2) Enrollment in secular colleges

(3) Lack of interest in pursuing careers in chinuch and the rabbinate

These are three facets of the core issue: How do we as parents model our optimal Jewish ideas and ideals to our impressionable children?

In his inimitable humorous style, Rabbi Lebowitz pointed to the damage of accentuating materialism as an integral part of a Jewish lifestyle. As a currently widespread example he referred to the prevalent posting of opulent holiday vacations on social media. That is what children internalize.

Weaving his address with anecdotes of an obsession with unfiltered postings of photos and videos of extravagance and indulgences, Rabbi Lebowitz humorously questioned the messages that are being conveyed to our children as they are inundated with the constant pursuit of materialism.

Citing Biblical and colorful midrashic references to wealth, booty and rewards, he suggested that there are higher goals to which a Jewish parent should aspire and continuously communicate to impressionable children. His references included Torah learning, spiritual engagement as well as positive character development.

Rav Lebowitz shared a conversation he overheard after the recent midwinter vacation. Children were bragging about the luxurious accommodations of their Caribbean hotels, in comparison to those of their friends, never once boasting about the “quality time” they spent with their parents.

“What kind of expectations do our children grow up with?” he posed.

In response to his hypothetical question, Lebowitz recalled a visit to his beis haknesses by a generous, Orthodox Jewish philanthropist, who told the congregants, “I grew up in a very rich home. My parents had no money. But our home had an overabundance of love, kindness and Torah. That’s what I saw and felt as I was growing up.”

Reminding the audience of the verses in Shirat HaYam that are recited daily, he pointed to the description of the Egyptians sinking to the bottom of Yam Suf. Both Moshe Rabbeinu and Miriam highlighted the fact that “gold-laden horses and their riders were tossed by the waves of the sea.” The Egyptians persistently held on to the “gold-laden horses” even at the risk of losing their lives. Despite the danger, they clung to their material possessions. In contrast, the wives of Bnei Yisrael also refused to let go of their precious, gold jewelry because they realized the folly of contributing it to molding an idolatrous Golden Calf. What a contrast of priorities!

Thus, when young people overvalue money and materialism, they echo their parents’ concern that they should grow up wealthy. This singular concern is the motivation of both the parents and their children to vie for admission to prestigious secular colleges. “It’s not because they think that the world does not have enough hedge fund managers, doctors, lawyers or stockbrokers,” joked Rabbi Lebowitz. “It all goes back to this emphasis on materialism.” He poignantly emphasized this reality and alerted his audience to the fallacy of this concern: “Parents are ready to sacrifice 12 years of expensive yeshiva education and risk their children’s spiritual growth at the cost of a secular college diploma.”

Rav Lebowitz concluded with the matter of careers in chinuch and the rabbinate. He alerted the audience to the dire need for qualified teachers and rebbes in the Modern Orthodox community. He highlighted the irony of parental complaints about importing these educators from Lakewood while dissuading their own Modern Orthodox children from pursuing these professions. “However,” said the rabbi, “the bigger irony is that Lakewood is short of qualified educators to meet their needs because their children vie for higher goals of materialism as well.”

Concluding his presentation, the speaker sounded an alert and alarm. “When we combine the three topics of “materialism, secular college and dearth of mechanchim and rabbanim, we must imagine the consequences. If these aspirations will not be checked we must be prepared for our freshmen on a prestigious secular college campus to decide one day to skip minyan and the next day to skip donning tefillin, or for our daughter who decides one day to date a non-observant boy and next week to date an altogether non-Jewish boy.”

To prevent such tragedies, Rav Lebowitz said that parents must rejoice and celebrate more intense Torah values and accomplishments. Parents must exhibit to children their own growth in religious observance and joy in our own Torah accomplishments. “Otherwise, our weak values and fluctuating morality will become dangerous standards of behavior for our offspring,” he said.

An equally motivational and inspirational message was presented by Rabbi Yaaov Neuburger. Commemorating the petira of his beloved mother, a”h, who passed away a mere three months ago, Rav Neuburger recalled a visit to his late mother’s cemetery in Toronto.

Observing the headstones, the rav noticed many that had the usual inscriptions to the deceased on the front, while on the back was a listing of relatives who perished in the Holocaust. Pondering the juxtaposition, he recalled the midrashic description of the inscribed writing on the tablets God carved at Mount Sinai on which the letters were “miraculously suspended on both sides of the tablets.”

The message of those engraved tombstones was: miracles. The stones bearing the names of parents and grandparents who died as martyrs of the Shoah, carved back to back with the names of their children who found the strength to overcome the devastation and despair of European Jewish destruction, are testimony of Divine miracles. No other rationale can explain the faith of survivors who experienced inhumane cruelty and yet continued to live a life immersed in Torah, mitzvot and chesed.

Parents and children who continue the pursuit of the same heritage, the same values and ethics, cannot be taken for granted. Their proud survival can only be attributed to miracles that were affirmed through a bonding commitment to Jewish tradition.

Subtly, Rabbi Neuburger intimated that this “miracle” should echo in the heart of every parent and resonate in every parent’s mind. Otherwise, how can we explain the proliferation of enrollment in yeshivas across the world? Only miracles explain the tenacity and perseverance of the past generation that witnessed the annihilation of their parents and yet invested themselves in shuls and schools that perpetuate Orthodox life today. But the miracles were not the sole answer. They were sustained by commitment and efforts, devotion and persistence to uphold and maintain the minhagim (traditions) that were the heritage of long-gone grandparents and parents.

The rav then posed an obvious question. Why did God find it necessary to resort to this miracle of imprinting the Tablets in a manner that will be sustained on both sides? Why couldn’t Moshe Rabbeinu simply turn them around for everyone to see and behold?

Rabbi Neuburger suggested that God wanted to point out to us that in the future there will be generations that will inevitably read the Torah through different eyes and prisms. One generation will read it through a robust appreciation of Western culture, and another generation will read it through the worst cruelty humanity can inflict. There will be generations that will study the Torah through the precariousness of a world that was taken from us and the inhumanity of losing its homes, towns and villages. Then there will come the next generation that will read the Torah through relative calm and safety. Following it will come a generation when all communication will be face-to-face, verbal expression combined by body language. This generation will have to transmit the Torah to those who primarily communicate through texting and email, which is devoid of so much human interaction and expression. They may be followed by a generation that will develop the extreme concept of leisure, which may be followed by a generation infused with painful stress.

Later, there will be generations that will rebuild the study of Torah from nothing, followed by a generation that will have to figure out how to maintain its dedication to and excitement with Torah in times of greater comfort and affluence.

Against this evolutionary progression, concluded Rabbi Neuburger, there is only one constant that connects all the various generations, each reading and interpreting the Torah from its unique vintage point. That common denominator is b’nes hayu omdim, the miracle behind the suspended letters of the Ten Commandments. The fact that each of these generations succeeded in communicating the Torah to the next generation, which perceived it so differently, can only be attributed to a stream of Divine miracles that God performed in order to make this transmission happen.

Capitalizing on these sequences of miracles, Rabbi Neuburger continued to elaborate on the awareness and responsibility of cherishing and recognizing them and passing them on to our children. He demonstrated this commitment with a story about YoYo Ma, the extraordinary composer and cellist of Chinese descent. The child prodigy attended the Juilliard School and continued to excel throughout his adult life, during which he recorded more than 90 albums and received 18 Grammy Awards.

This artist once related a story about a symphony concert at which he performed. Every note was executed flawlessly. But, in evaluating his performance, he realized that despite the standing ovation, it was perfect but boring.

“Achieving perfection may not be the route to go. You must achieve expression. Similarly, this should be our goal in teaching and transmitting God’s Divine shirah, His Torah. Our emphasis, like that of YoYo Ma, should be on instilling in our children an innermost expression rather than mere perfection. That’s how we should optimally achieve the divine call of writing Hashem’s song and conveying it to the ears and mouths of Bnei Yisrael,” said Rav Neuburger.

By Pearl Markovitz


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