Parshat Vetchanan: Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11; Isaiah 40:1-26.
Some of my favorite conversations with my children happen in the car. Buckled into their car seats, looking out the windows, they ask the best questions. Those car rides provide me with opportunities to hear what they are wondering about or answer their questions.
This week’s Torah portion reminds us of our responsibility to teach our children, to connect them with their past, to link them with previous generations, to our Jewish values and our traditions.
In these chapters of Deuteronomy, we first read of Moses pleading with God to let him into the Promised Land. When God refuses his request, Moses commands the Israelites to pay attention and to obey God’s laws so that they are worthy of the land they are about to receive. Moses reminds the People of Israel of the Ten Commandments and the covenant they made at Mount Sinai. And it is in this Torah portion that the most famous of our Jewish prayers is found: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.
Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, author of The Torah: A Modern Commentary, writes that the Shema as a “precious gem … a diamond set into a crown of faith and proven true and enduring in human history.” Our ancient scholars have much to say about the meaning of the Shema, but despite their differing understanding, they all agree that its message is central to who we are as Jews. That when we say, “Shema Yisrael, Hear O Israel,” every Jew, regardless of time or space, is reminded that they are a part of this community, with all the responsibilities that come with it.
V’shinantam l’vanecha — teach them to your children
In fact, many of those responsibilities are listed in these chapters of Deuteronomy. The words of the words of V’ahavta follow, serving as a guidebook, an instruction manual of how we can practice Judaism. These verses are a reminder that we are commanded to teach our children our rituals, our traditions, our memories. Commentator Pinchas Peli explains that the V’ahavta is not concerned with us teaching our children simply by passing on information, but through the sincerity and passion of our personal example.
I will keep having car conversations with my children, and I will keep imparting my knowledge. But I will also share my passion for Judaism with my children, inviting them to celebrate with me, to learn with me and to keep asking their questions, wondering about the world.
Rabbi Arianna Gordon is the director of education and lifelong learning at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.