Just a Thought: For my newborn daughter

It is my hope and blessing to you that you grow to Torah, huppa and good deeds.

Torah reading 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
Torah reading 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
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 differently.
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 home.
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 87).
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 a mensch.
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 soon.
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 Avot 2:21).
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.
While 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.
I 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 being observant.
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.
• Remember, 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 ignorance.
• 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 midrashot.