Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Shoftim

As you read this, we are driving Rachel to college for her first year. We are excited for her and for us (now empty nesters) –and at the same time, reflective and reminiscent. Judiciously, one cannot have and raise children and not be excited to see whether or not our teaching/mentoring/parenting helped create a human being filled with love, growing in wisdom, bent on justice, and focused on humanity. These are exciting times.


Maybe I have been doing the Rabbi thing too long, but I find myself starting to think in terms of how life and the real world collide (or perhaps I am finally coming to grips with my Rabbinic voice). As I get to spend a lot of time thinking about the children we raise and the humanity and competence they espouse, we read the Torah portion Shofim. “Shoftim v’ shofrim …” “You shall raise Judges and guardians amongst your people.” We are raising our children to play these roles in our society. So, I am taking my child to school so that she can take the next steps along her journey to leadership and guardianship of society.


Living this dream reminds me once more that while Torah is not a history or mandate, it still holds an equivocal place in helping us make sense of the world.


So, my thoughts for this week are really simple. As a student of history, I know that whenever people separate and destroy relationships over politics, the world falls apart. One of the things I love learning from our children (the next generation of guardians) is that they are far more concerned with each other’s dignity than each other’s politics. We, as adults, are training them otherwise, but I watch as children from whatever family, culture, race, gender, orientation, ethnicity or religion engage each other in meaningful ways. They play together, study together, eat together, etc. without reserve …until we teach them to have reservations. From South Pacific “You have to be carefully taught to be afraid.”


As a man of faith who believes that one source of creation bears responsibility for us all – why do we teach our children to hate each other? TJ Leyden is a former Neo-Nazi skinhead. I haven’t seen him in years, but he left a lasting impression on me. He taught us that he learned from his toddler that he had messed up. His young child was screaming the “N” word at the television one night. “Where did you learn that?” “From you.” He left the movement, joined with the Wiesenthal Center and tours the nation-defining the problem and helping to deprogram youth caught up in hate groups.


What kind of guardians are we raising when we teach that families can be ripped apart, that leaders can ignore each other’s dignity, and that governance simply does not matter if you don’t agree with the rules? More alarmed am I at the hate-programmed voice of the future than I am about today’s growing madness. If we are serious about making Torah live, then we need to raise our next generation of leaders in ways that bring the world back together. Accomplishing this task will mean that we have to do a little research before posting cool sounding fake news. We need to listen to people, especially when they espouse beliefs different from our own. We have to help people succeed in life, even when they don’t agree with our politics or religious tradition. We must educate all children to respect the diversity of cultures in our communities (not just their own). If we are to succeed, Torah obligates us to grow our empathy so that we can feel even beyond our comfort zones. Faith commands that we learn to pray; not the words of the prayer book or hymnal, and not the impromptu words that admonish us before every football game, meeting, or group meal. We must pray – in every sense of the word – to whatever form of higher power/consciousness we understand – that we gain hearts of love, understanding, celebration, and wisdom. If we raise the next generation of scared hate/power mongers, we fail every religious tradition and fail our children and our future. Choose life. Shabbat Shalom.