At the foot of Mount Sinai, as the Jewish people stood eager to receive the Torah, a fascinating dialogue with God took place.
“I swear,” the Midrash relates God as saying, “I will not give you the Torah,” “unless you provide worthy guarantors who will assure that you will observe its laws.”
“Our forefathers!” replied the Jews, eager to receive the Torah.
But God declined. “Your guarantors themselves require guarantors!” was God’s reply.
“Our prophets. How about them?” they offered.
Again God rejected their offer.
At last the Jews declared, “Our children will serve as our guarantors!”
“They truly are worthy guarantors,” replied God. “Because of them I will give you the Torah.”
This raises some questions.
Why were children accepted as guarantors and their elders rejected?
Would it not make more sense to have the senior rabbis and intellectuals who can fully grasp the depth and meaning of the text be the ones to carry the tradition through the generations? Why choose children, with their minimal interest and understanding of Jewish life?
I’d like to suggest two answers to this.
First, children have a unique way of approaching learning. A child isn’t shy to ask questions when seeking to learn and understand, but he or she is aware that his or her wisdom and knowledge is limited and therefore (occasionally) accepts what the parent or teacher says. While questioning, understanding, and finding deeper meaning in the laws, stories, and conversations discussed in the Torah is important, the Midrash may be telling us the particular importance in approaching Torah the way a child does, with simple faith and acceptance.
A second point the Midrash is teaching is that it is the children – not the senior rabbis with graying beards, nor the community leaders and activists – who have the opportunity and the strength to actively preserve the Torah and strive to live by its ideals and values.
Empowering the next generation of young adults to come to develop a passion for active Jewish life and an appreciation for the meaning and backgrounds of our tradition is not just one among many tasks for the Jewish community; it is our most central one.
In the time I spend with youth and teens in my community, I am made aware of this reality constantly. These young men and women are tomorrow’s leaders of the Jewish community and the world. It is so very important that we imbue in them the beauty of the tradition and practice that make up what being Jewish means. We must constantly engage them on their level, find creative and intelligent ways to pique their interest, and ignite the innate spark found in each neshama or soul.
This coming Wednesday morning, as we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, Jews around the world will gather in shuls to hear the Ten Commandments just as they were given on Sinai from the Divine.
For this reason, the Lubavitcher Rebbe made a point of encouraging everyone, especially children, to come to synagogue on Shavuot and hear the Ten Commandments. Being present when the Torah is read is not simply recalling history but making sure we hear the Torah’s message of living a committed and connected Jewish life.
Go ahead, find a synagogue in your area. Bring your family out and celebrate with your children and family this wonderful – though sadly often under-celebrated – holiday. May you and your family receive the Torah anew with much happiness.