Rabbi’s Corner

Taking a cue from the midterm elections

Rabbi Yossie Shemtov
Rabbi Yossie Shemtov

By the time you read this column, results of the 2014 midterm elections in the United States will already be announced, reported, chewed over and, depending on your political affiliation, celebrated or bemoaned.

“Every single thing that a person sees or hears, is an instruction to him in his conduct in the service of G-d,” said Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the 18th century mystic who founded the Chasidic movement.

So there must be a lesson waiting for us to discover beneath the political attack ads, the diligent campaigning, the great sums being raised and the passion that politics — and let’s hope the ideas and the issues themselves — draws out of people.

One reason people spend so much research and energy into politics is because they know what’s at stake. That often leads a disagreement over an ideal to quickly be labeled “a war on (fill in the blank).”

In contrast, there’s another arena where lives and futures are at stake, although this arena does not enjoy the same hype nor is it treated with the same sense of importance as politics. I am referring to the education of our children — specifically, the Jewish education of our children.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, we learn about a spousal disagreement between Abraham and Sarah, the patriarch and matriarch of the Jewish nation, respectively. You know what it was about? The education of their child.

When Sarah discovers that her stepson Ishmael is corrupting her son Isaac, morally and psychically, she demands that Ishmael be sent away. Abraham is displeased with the request, according to the commentator Rashi.

Sarah, who was superior to Abraham in prophecy, correctly identifies the critical role of education and refuses to comprise on it. She wants the very best for her son even if it comes at a cost. G-d himself ends up intervening on Sarah’s behalf.

“Just as wearing tefillin every day is a mitzvah,” the fifth Chabad rebbe, Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneersohn, once said, “so too is it an absolute duty for every person to spend a half-hour every day on the Torah education of children.”

Every Jewish boy and girl deserves and ought to be provided with a Jewish education. Whether they have gone to a public school or a Jewish institution, our children are entitled to more.

Taking a cue from the political jargon, let us declare a “war on ignorance.” Let us make sure that each child is provided with the best possible Jewish education — if they have none, let us provide some. And if they have some, let us offer them more. Education is an issue we can’t afford to remain oblivious to.

In 1969, my grandmother Ester Golda Shemtov published a 55-page book titled “Mindy Gets Her Reward: Other Stories for Children.” Her brother Chenoch Hendel Lieberman drew the illustrations.

One story told of a Jewish mother living in communist Russia who hired a teacher to educate her son in Torah. He would come in disguise as a shoe repairman. While he taught, the mother would sit outside on the lookout for strangers.

If a suspicious person came by — and those suspicions were often justified — she would signal to the teacher and her son, they would hide their holy books and pull out old pairs of shoes that the teacher would try to repair.

Years later, we learned that the story was a true tale of my grandmother, my late father and my dear uncle.

It was a different world back then —when the story happened and when it was written. Yet it provides a shining lesson about a parent’s commitment and self-sacrifice to educate her children, and it resonates decades later.

Rabbi Yossie Shemtov is the regional director of Chabad Tucson and senior rabbi of Congregation Young Israel.