This week’s middah is “Be grateful for your freedom.” At Heschel, we observed Martin Luther King Jr./A.J. Heschel Spirit Week, acknowledging the unique relationship between these courageous advocates for freedom. In the parshah—Parshat Bo, we read that God freed us from slavery in Mitzrayim, “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”
This year, we observe MLK/Heschel Spirit Week at a time when the question of the freedom of the Jewish people is once again very real and present. How can we ensure that our people remain free from physical danger and harm, free from antisemitism, free to express our religion and culture, and free from the psychological and moral perils that come from living in a constant state of war?
These are questions anticipated by this week’s parshah—questions that our children are also asking, whether out loud or in their imaginations.
Our parshah, Parshat Bo, reminds us of our role as parents in responding to our children’s Jewish questions. The parshah raises many difficult questions concerning Pharaoh’s free will, suffering due to the plagues, the cost of freedom, and more. What has always fascinated me about this parshah is that it anticipates and welcomes the questions that children will ask. Chapter 12 of Parshat Bo, in the Book of Exodus, describes the rituals of Pesach that are to be done to remember the final departure from Mitzrayim. Immediately following the description of the rituals, the Torah states that in the future, “Your children will ask you, ‘what does this ritual mean to you?'” In other words: What does it mean to you to be Jewish?
How remarkable it is that, at the very moment the Torah describes the Pesach ritual, it also states that in the future our children will ask about the meaning and purpose of this ritual. Nothing could be more Jewish than raising questions concerning the meaning and purpose of what we, as Jewish people, do. In each generation, parents are challenged to explain to their children, “what this ritual means to you.” Davka, to you!
The Torah and Jewish tradition provide guidance on how to respond to our children’s questions. However, ultimately, each of us needs to be capable of answering these questions for ourselves and for our own children. It is to us that the question is posed.
This Shabbat, may each of us find the wisdom and words to explain to our children what living a Jewish life means to us, particularly in these challenging times, and especially so.