Our Minds Are Like Parachutes by Lauren Shaps


Photo credit: Karen Cook

Hey to the Chevra,

Here in Canada, spring has sprung. The gardeners, bikers, and boaters are out in full force. Whatever their passion, you can be sure that their kids are alongside – little ones in tow at the garden show, coasting precariously in the bike seat, or almost hidden in their oversized life jackets. Fast track 20 years and chances are, those little ones will still be bikers, boaters and gardeners. Children learn much more from what we do than what we say. They learn most from the activities we share. Anyone who says "I'll let my kids decide about religion when they are adults" has no understanding of how our every move socializes our children in one way or another.

That's why I'm always perplexed by the pushback I hear from some Jewish parents. Offer the opportunity to learn a little more, be a bit more engaged and they will say loud and clear, "I'm not 'that type' of Jew. I'm fine with my Judaism."

Is this a new theme that comes with the comforts of modern-day life? Today, there are very few societal pressures to be any sort of Jew. We are welcomed, mostly warmly, into mainstream society. We can have our bagel and eat it too. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomi Yitzchaki, 1040-1104, France) points out that this is far from a new phenomenon. There are people on the path of growth, and then there are those who have sealed their minds and their parachutes long before takeoff.

This week \, we read the parasha of Bechukotai, which includes promise of blessing, if we keep the commandments. Then, it warns us of what will happen if we turn away from G-d and His Torah. "If you despise my statutes and if your souls abhor My laws so as not to fulfill all My commandments, thereby breaking My covenant …” (Vayikra 26:15).

Rashi asks an interesting question. Does it make sense that such strong words like despise and abhor are used to refer to abstract concepts such as statutes and laws? Does anyone say, "I hate the very thought of kashrut or sukkah?" Rashi suggests that this loathing refers not to the laws themselves, but to the people who practice the laws, because it is people who get our blood boiling. The Torah is predicting the easy slide down this slippery slope. A person who doesn't learn eventually won't keep Jewish practices, which leads to despising those who do, hating rabbis and teachers, and even to preventing others from keeping Jewish practices.

The holiday of Shavuot is around the corner. Take a little trip through time. Imagine G-d giving the Torah at Mount Sinai, surrounded by Moses and the Jewish people – men, women and children. G-d says, "Here's the manual for quality of life, committed relationships, a just society … but it doesn't work if you don't open the book. In fact, it has minimal impact if you don't make it central to your life." The concept of a manual, a text, even one written on parchment, was completely earth shattering 3,300 years ago when the Torah was given. A belief system with a foundation of literacy and education remains unique in parts of the world even today. No wonder we are called "The people of the Book."

In Jewish life, clergy are teachers. Jews don't need a rabbi to be born, get married or laid to rest. Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch (1808-88, Germany) explains that the purpose of every good teacher is to make him or herself redundant. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (Great Britain) writes that Abraham was chosen because he would teach his children.

Do our kids learn from what we say or what we do? What message do our children get if we send them for bar or bat mitzvah lessons, but never attend a class ourselves? What do they internalize when we are disdainful of those who make the choice to continue to learn, to grow and to keep their Judaism the focal point?

Shavuot is one of those neglected Jewish holidays. It doesn't have a shofar, a sukkah, a menorah or matzah on which to pin its identity. The theme of Shavuot is Torah. With fabulous spring weather upon us, we come to a choice point, a fork in the road. Do we open the cottage or the siddur (prayer book)? Do we run the marathon or run to services? Do we take a step that broadens our knowledge base, deepens our understanding, and connects us to the Jewish people, to rabbis and Jewish educators? Or, do we slide the slope that Rashi describes, turning our disdain toward not only Jewish life and practice, but toward those who embrace their Judaism with pleasure and passion.

If we engage our children not by preaching, but through practice, and if we nourish our Judaism through learning and doing, then we will indeed be worthy to receive the Torah and transmit it to our children and our children's children. Because, when it comes to Judaism, our minds are like parachutes: they only work if they're open!

Shabbat Shalom,



Lauren is a JWRP City Leader and full-time adult Jewish educator. She works closely with her husband, Rabbi Zischa Shaps, and they are blessed with five children. 

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