Jews regularly recite a prayer called the V’ahavtah, which comes from Deuteronomy and Numbers. The word V’ahavtah means “and you shall love,” and it entreats us to love God with all our heart and soul and with all our might. It goes on to teach us how we can embody these principles in our lives.
“Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Teach them to your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up … Inscribe them on the doorposts of your house … Thus you shall remember to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God.”
This prayer shows us that we must follow these moral guidelines no matter where we are or what we are doing. And we must teach our children that this is how to live life in a caring and compassionate way.
Rabbi Sidney Greenberg in his book, “Words to Live By,” asks us to consider if a stranger saw us or our children in our everyday activities, would they be able to tell from our actions that we were living with morally upright choices? He encourages us to always act as if someone were watching over our shoulder.
In the last few months, we have seen distressing situations in which people have been treating others in callous, hurtful and threatening ways, not caring that they are doing so in full public view. It seems to have become acceptable to threaten violence against someone simply because of a disagreement in viewpoints. Teachers, election workers, politicians, journalists and even health care workers are all receiving threats of violence, even death, to themselves and their families.
When people are being assaulted and harassed, and the media reports it day after day, one cannot help but think of our children who are watching and the commandment in the V’avatah that “you shall teach it to your children.”
What lesson are people teaching when they follow parents who are walking their small children to school and scream in their faces that wearing masks is equal to rape? Seeing those terrified children in tears and parents trying to shield them from such vitriol was heartbreaking.
In another incident, older students waiting to enter their school were told by adults, “Just go in. They can’t do anything to you if you don’t wear a mask.”
The faces of those kids were filled with confusion as their parents told them to ignore the school’s rules. What should they do? Listen to their parents or follow the rules of masking which will protect them? What a difficult burden to put on their young shoulders.
School board meetings have become so contentious over mask mandates that the National School Board Association has requested help from the federal government to deal with threats and actual violence erupting all across the country
Apparently, none of the people openly encouraging and perpetrating such harassment and violence seem to care that our children are watching. They aren’t concerned about what others might think of their behavior. Rabbi Greenberg’s admonition that they should worry about how others might see their actions doesn’t seem to register. Their lack of concern for our children is tragic.
We must begin to change the narrative in our culture so that disagreements are just that … a back and forth of differing ideas and that compromise is not a weakness. Remember that our children learn more when they watch what we do than what we say. If adults preach compassion and kindness but then treat others in a disrespectful and cruel manner, that is the lesson the children will learn.
All faith traditions have a version of the Golden Rule at their foundation. Treating others as we wish to be treated and teaching our children the importance of that principle can do so much to heal our world. When we respond to others with love and respect rather than anger, we pave the way to reconciliation. Anger is destructive to our very souls.
The Talmud teaches, “One who does not lose control of his temper is a beloved of God.”
May we learn to recognize that everyone is imbued with a holy spark, created in the divine image and treat them accordingly.
Repairing our world begins with us. Our children are watching.
Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is [email protected].