My Favorite Rashi

My Favorite Rashi

Living, as he did, in a town with 40 churches and no operating synagogue, I would imagine my stepfather was the only man around with his favorite Rashi.

It happened by accident- I wasn’t planning on lecturing him on on Chumash. But my parents had spent considerable time that week arguing about the validity of me becoming observant. There was too much at stake for me to say nothing.

After one argument, I quietly asked my stepfather if he’d like to see something neat. He sat down next to me and we opened my little Stone Chumash to my favorite Rashi. I’d only just discovered him, but I was hooked. It was his comments on Parshas Chaya Sara, when Ephron and Avraham Avinu (our patriarch) are navigating the purchase of the Ma’aras HaMachpela. There is a point at which the vav in Ephron’s name is taken away, recalled, at just that point when he cheats Avraham Avinu out of 400 silver shekels. Rashi states that it is because he ‘said much and did little’. In behaving dishonestly towards Avraham Avinu, he had caused a lack in his own self. No more vav.

My stepfather sat there a minute looking at Ephron’s name, the before and after versions. He never again argued against me becoming observant, nor did anyone else in his presence. He didn’t say much, but I know that something had clicked. The precision of the Torah, and G-d’s clear desire for human integrity, hinted at something that he respected too much to refer to as religion. Until that point, he had always thought highly of Jews. Now he thought highly of Judaism, rules and all.

Now that I’m raising a child of my own, I often think about that Rashi. In fact, I’ve been sharing it with my son since he was 3, and it is his favorite Rashi, too. Perhaps it is because integrity is such a rare commodity these days that we cling to stories and people who illustrate it. It is a healthy anecdote to the world around us to remember how the Torah, and G-d, view those who say little and do much (such as Avrohom, who received an additional letter) versus the opposite.

I have realized something else over the years, as I think about that Rashi and my ‘chavrusa’ (partnership) with my stepfather, the tremendous Kiddush Hashem’ we can achieve simply by valuing honesty. 

I’ve realized that even when you change worlds entirely, as ba’alei teshuvah (returnees to observance) do, you still carry the influence of your parents with you in so many ways. What we gravitate towards, and what resonates within us most deeply, is almost invariably either that which reaffirms the good we’ve experienced or lifts us above the negative. Either way, it is connected to where we come from. I realize how great an impact I am having on my son’s inner world with every detail of how I choose to live, an impact that will, in part, determine which Rashis he most cherishes. Then I think about what I want my son’s value system to be and whether I’m really living up to it. It’s a sobering thought.
We are practically bombarded these days with classes, panel discussions, and workshops on talking to our teenagers (which I hear today means anyone over age 9), on improving Jewish education, on the decline in certain standards in our community, etc. What we seldom find the energy to admit, though, is that the real answer to these problems is that we must work on ourselves. For sure, we still need to learn how to communicate with kids as they grow up. We need to give our schools the support they need- financial and otherwise- to thrive, and we need to look for new ways to educate children for whom standard methods aren’t working.

But the first and last answer is- dauntingly enough- that we have to raise the standards we set for ourselves, and then get there. A great deal of our success in raising observant, Torah abiding children- children who value their spirituality, modesty in both behavior and dress, and everything else that Torah has always stood for, rests on how consistently we demonstrate that we value those things.

While there are no guarantees, if we strive to reach high enough, and do it with obvious joy, we’re at least giving our kids the ability to soar.

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