Torah tziva lanu Moshe, morasha kehilat Ya’acov.
The Torah is an
inheritance of the entire congregation of Jacob! You are not less Jewish than
the male 49 percent of the nation of Israel! Never let anyone ever tell you
Your mother and I love you very, very much. In you, our
daughter, our lives have new meaning. You represent the culmination of our
lives, and the lives of your grandparents and all of your ancestors since our
first father, Abraham, walked this land.
You now join your siblings as a
member a new generation of Jews, born free in a sovereign Jewish state. For you,
the galut, the exile, will be but a theory – a fun place to visit, never a
I envy that.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, you will
never appreciate that fact, and therefore it will fall to me to help you
understand what a great merit you have to be born here, as the Psalmist said,
“Of Zion it shall be said, ‘This one and that one were born of her’” (Psalms
It is also my responsibility and privilege to teach you how to be a
Jew. As the first step toward that goal, it is vital that I teach you how to be
I want you to remember something that I fear some great rabbis
sometimes forget: Derech eretz kadma l’Torah. Being a person of integrity and
honor comes before keeping the Torah.
To that end, I must impress upon
you the meaning of Jewish peoplehood. In everything you do, it is our hope that
you will put the Jewish people first. Nowhere in our sources do we ever refer to
ourselves as Emunat Yisrael, the faith of Israel, or Dat Yisrael, the religion
of Israel. We are always called Bnei Yisrael, Am Yisrael, Beit Yisrael, Adat
Yisrael, Klal Yisrael or Knesset Yisrael. Jewish peoplehood must come first. Do
not forget that!
Accordingly, one does not fulfill their obligation to read the
Shema prayer by proclaiming that God is one. It is demanded of us to say “Shema
Yisrael” first. Before we can get into the theology of God’s unity, we need to
hear each other and open a dialogue with one another. It was because we forgot
that fact that we were exiled from here 1,944 years ago – and we will lose this
state and its opportunities if we don’t internalize this lesson very, very
Now, I don’t expect you to be perfect; I know how far I myself am
from reaching that goal. But I do expect you to never stop trying. “It is not
upon you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it” (Mishna
Know that there really is a God who takes a personal interest
in you. Judaism is a religion that never demands an abdictus intellectus, an
abdication of the mind, but there is one thing that you should never let the
explorations of your mind take away from you: your emuna peshuta, or simple
faith, in a personal God. I can’t explain it, nor can I do a good job defending
it. I can only tell you as a father to a daughter that I have experienced God in
my life. He is real, and I hope you will experience Him in yours.
we joke that your mother is Superwoman, the truth of the matter is that she is a
real lady, in every sense of the word. Mommy and I have spoken about it, and
have come to a division of labor. It will be my job to get you to Olam Haba (the
Next World), and her job to get you to Olam Hazeh (This World). I will teach you
how to make the proper blessings over your food, and she will teach you how to
hold a fork, fold a napkin and eat properly. I will introduce you to the world
of our sages, and she will introduce you to the world at large. It is our
philosophy and belief that both are necessary. We want you to feel as
comfortable in the beit midrash (study hall) as you do in university.
will share with you something I learned from my rebbe, “You have to be frum, but
you have to be normal!” If the two ever should come into conflict, you pick
We are here today after 4,000 years of history because
we always favored being frum over being normal. As a teacher of Jewish history,
I can tell you that we Jews transcend history – because we never acted like the
rest of the world. It is those people who acted like history who became history.
You are better than that!
I would like to share a couple of ideas that I have
picked up from others throughout my life. It is my hope that by sharing them
with you now, you will have a head start in life:
• Pray. Even if you have
nowhere to do it but on a bus on your way to work. Pray as if everything
depended on God, and work as if everything depended on you.
that when we pray we talk to God; when we learn, God talks to us.
Learn. Because education is the progressive discovery of our own
• Love your fellow Jews as you would yourself. (If you succeed
in doing this, tell me how.)
• Do not make the acquisition of material goods a
goal or a barometer of any measure of your life. Work not to make a buck, but to
make a difference.
• Finally, treat your mother like she is a queen. For
it is she that makes you a princess. It is my hope and blessing to you that you
grow to Torah, huppa and good deeds.The writer is a doctoral candidate in
Jewish philosophy and currently teaches in many post-high-school yeshivot and