Picture of the author
Picture of the author

Children, Please Make Some Noise!

Did Our Parents Brainwash Us?

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

    1481 views
  • May 10, 2023
  • |
  • 19 Iyyar 5783
  • Comment

Class Summary:

It is a strange Midrash: G-d demanded that the Jews offer guarantors for the Torah, and at the end He accepted only the children as guarantors. But why? When you lend me money, you ask me to provide you with a guarantor, out of fear that I may default on the loan.

But how about G-d? What exactly was He worried about? If the Jews accept it, it is because they want it. And if they don’t, how can a guarantor help? He will practice Judaism for them? And why would G-d refuse our forefathers and our prophets and yet accept the children? Just as they can turn their back on the Torah, so can our children?

At a public address during the holiday of Shavuos 1952, a little more than a year after he assumed leadership of the fledgling Chabad movement, the Lubavitcher Rebbe offered a homiletical and humorous interpretation to the above Midrash. He introduced his answer by saying that in America everyone loves to give “derashos”—exciting and hermetical speeches. So he will attempt to do the same. In the Rebbe’s “sermon,” he captured one of the deep sentiments of American and world Jewry at the time, in the early 50’s, one that still is heard often in our circles, yet now with the hindsight of 20-20 we can, at last, appreciate its relevance.

The first annual Bronx Youth Poetry Slam was held in May 2013 at the Kingsbridge Library in the Bronx, NY. When a young Jewish boy, Ethan Metzger, stood to recite his poetry titled, "My Parents Brainwashed Me," no one expected the words that came out of his mouth. The video of his poem went viral within days. Ethan’s poem captures why G-d wanted the youth as the guarantors for Torah.

The essay tells the story of Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl (1903–1957), an extraordinary rabbinic scholar and activist, who became renowned due to his secret negotiations with the architect of the Final Solution, Adolf Eichmann, trying to save Hungarian Jewry from extermination. The speech he gave in his shul Slovakia during the first Jewish holiday after the Holocaust, ought to serve as a call to all of us as individuals and communities what is the number one priority of our people in 2023.

Dedicated by the Julie and Randy Diamond Family in honor of our children and grandchildren

Why the Tears?

The local Hebrew School decided to observe Chanukah with a special ecumenical celebration, and invited everyone in the neighborhood, of whatever background, to participate in any way they thought appropriate, or to just come and observe, and have some home-baked cookies washed down with grape juice or heavy super-sweet wine.

There were speeches, dramatizations, and miscellaneous musical performances. At one point Mrs. Goldberg, in the third row, wiped away a tear as her little Miriam scratched out a hesitant rendition of "Havanu Sholom Aleichem" on a shiny new violin. Mrs. Goldberg noticed that a man seated next to her also had tears running down his face.

"Isn't it wonderful", she said to him, "to know that our heritage will be carried on by the next generation!"

"I suppose so," he said, "but I'm not Jewish."

“So why the tears?"

"I'm a musician…"

The Guarantors

There is a fascinating Midrash describing a peculiar conversation between G-d and the Jewish people before the greatest historical event—the giving of the Torah at Sinai, 3335 years ago (in the year 2448 since creation, 1313 BCE). [1]

מדרש רבה שיר השירים א, כד: אמר רבי מאיר, בשעה שעמדו ישראל לפני הר סיני לקבל התורה, אמר להם הקדוש ברוך הוא: אלעיקי אני נותן לכם את התורה?! אלא, הביאו לי ערבים טובים שתשמרוה ואני נותנה לכם. אמרו לפניו: רבונו של עולם! אבותינו ערבים לנו. אמר להם: אבותיכם צריכין ערבים. למה הדבר דומה? לאחד שהלך ללוות מן המלך. אמר לו: הבא לי ערב ואני מלוה אותך. הלך והביא לו ערב אחד. אמר לו: ערבך צריך ערב. הלך והביא לו ערב שני. ואמר לו: ערבך צריך ערב! כיון שהביא לו ערב שלישי, אמר: תדע כי מפני זה, אני מלוה לך. כך בשעה שעמדו ישראל לקבל התורה, אמר להם: אני נותן לכם תורתי, הביאו לי ערבים טובים, שתשמרוה ואתננה לכם. אמרו: אבותינו עורבים אותנו! אמר להם הקדוש ברוך הוא: אבותיכם יש לי עליהם... אמרו לפניו: רבונו של עולם! נביאינו ערבין לנו. אמר להם: יש לי עליהם. אמרו: הרי בנינו עורבים אותנו! אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: הא וודאי ערבים טובים על ידיהם אתננה לכם. הדא הוא דכתיב: (תהילים ח) מפי עוללים ויונקים יסדת עוז... לפיכך, צריך אדם להכניס בנו לתורה ולחנכו בלימוד שיאריך ימים בעולם..

Rabbi Meir said: When the Jews stood before Sinai to receive the Torah, Gd said to them: "I swear, I will not give you the Torah unless you provide worthy guarantors who will assure that you will observe it."

The Jews responded, "Master of the world, our fathers will be our guarantors!"

"Your guarantors themselves require guarantors!" was Gd's reply.

"Master of the world," the Jews exclaimed, "our prophets will guarantee our observance of the Torah."

"They too need guarantors. Bring proper guarantors and only then will I give you the Torah."

As a last resort, the Jews declared, "our children will serve as our guarantors!"

"They truly are worthy guarantors," Gd replied. "Because of them I will give you the Torah."

This Is Not a Loan?

There is something enigmatic about this Midrash.

When you lend me money, you ask me to provide you with a guarantor, out of fear that I may default on the loan. But how about G-d? What exactly was He worried about? If the Jews accept Torah, it is because they want it. If they want it, they will keep it. And if not—how would a guarantor help? He will practice Judaism for them?

And why would G-d refuse our forefathers and our prophets and yet accept the children? Just as they can turn their backs on the Torah, so can our children?

At a public address on the second day of Shavuos 5712 (Shabbos, May 31, 1952),a little more than a year after he assumed leadership of the fledgling Chabad movement, the Lubavitcher Rebbe offered a homiletical and humorous interpretation to the above Midrash.[2] He introduced his answer by saying that in America everyone loves to give “derashos”—exciting and hermetical speeches. So, he will attempt to do the same. In the Rebbe’s “sermon,” he captured one of the deep sentiments of American and world Jewry at the time, in the early 50’s, one that still is heard often in our circles, yet now with the hindsight of 20-20 we can, at last, appreciate its relevance.

The Three Options

The Jewish people loved Torah and thus accepted it. Torah is music to the Jewish ear, a symphony to the Jewish soul. The righteousness, the depth, the delight, the goodness, the purity, the innocence, and the brilliance of Torah wisdom speaks to the deepest recesses of the Jewish mind and heart. Yet G-d knew that life is filled with turbulence and pressure of all sorts—financial, social, and emotional. There is so much to do and so little time, so much going on, so much stress, anxiety, confusion. Faith and Religion may be cute and charming, but in the reality of life, it is easily pushed to the waysides, not due to evil intent, but because of pain, apathy or ignorance.

So G-d tells the people of Israel: I do not want the Torah to be abandoned. I am sharing with you My most intimate, precious gift. Who will ensure its continuation in Jewish life?

So the Jewish people say: “Our forefathers—our elders—will be our guarantors.”

My Old Man

What the Jews meant, the Rebbe explained, is that our elders, our Jewish senior citizens, will keep the faith going. After all, they are retired with plenty of time on their hands; they do not have the burden of paying 25k for their child’s tuition. So together with playing golf and cards, why not a little Judaism too?

Besides, older people tend to be more nostalgic. As they prepare for their future, they tend to crave a connection to the past. Religion is good for them, said the young Jews to G-d. It gives them purpose, meaning, hope, community, social standing, and something to do. So, said the young busy Jewish entrepreneurs, our old men and women will hold on to the religion. They will guarantee it. They will come to shul, stick around for the sermon, stay for the kiddush, and maybe even pop in for a Torah class.

But G-d said no.

He didn’t like that option. Because, in G-d’s view, Judaism is not only for the old. It is also for the middle aged, for the body-abled busy, successful, ambitious, robust, driven people who think they own the world, or are coming close to it. Judaism is not only there to instill hope when one get becomes and frail; it represent the deepest truths of life and love for people of all ages, in all situations, under all circumstances, even when you think you’re on top of the world and you need not G-d or faith.

It’s The Rabbis Job

So the Jewish people said to G-d: Okay, “the prophets—our neveim—will be our guarantors.” Our Rabbis, spiritual leaders, Torah scholars, they will hold on to the religion. (The term “nevieim” comes from the Hebrew word which means preaching, “prediken” in German.[3] Thus, the Jews were saying, our preachers, rabbis and teachers, they will do the job.)

We, said the young successful Jews to G-d, will pay the Rabbi a nice salary; we will get him a house, a car, and health insurance. If he does a fine job preparing entertaining sermons, we may even give him a 15-year contract. And he will sit in his study all day and night and study our holy texts. Our dear Rabbi is a wonderful, pious Jew; he will guarantee the continuity of our religion.

Besides, the hard-working Jews argued to G-d, the Rabbi anyway got lots of time on his hands. While we must labor away, he gets to sit in his office and figure out some good jokes and anecdotes for his sermon. We will tell the Rabbi to prepare not only a good joke and some commentary on current events, but also a little bit of Torah, and all will be good.

But—to the dismay of us good rabbis—G-d did not “fall for this one” either. Somehow G-d sincerely believes that Torah was not made only for Rabbis. Judaism belongs to every single Jew. I am not interested only in the Rabbis, says G-d. I want every Jew. Rabbis may teach Judaism, but they don’t own it.

Last Resort

The Jewish people were now desperate. They thought they would get away by guaranteeing the elderly among them; they were sure that the Rabbis will satisfy G-d. Now what? They were clever enough not to tell G-d to forget the whole deal. But they were not ready to guarantee themselves!

So our clever Jews came up with once last solution that would still work for them, not interfering too much with their daily lives:

"Our children will serve as our guarantors!"

Our little young innocent children—we will send them to a Jewish pre-school, to a Talmud-Torah, to a cheder, a yeshiva, maybe even a Jewish day school. When they are young, we are fine if they study a little bit of Torah. As long as one day they can grow up and move on, we don’t mind if our kinderlach will learn a little bit about Chanukah latkes, haman taschen, and a song about dipping the apple in the honey. We don’t even mind if they are given a aste of Chumash, and Jewish rituals—as long as they can grow out of it.

To their shock, G-d said: Yes! I’m in. You got a deal!

Why?

I will quote my Rebbe in his original Yiddish words:

אויף די ערבות האט דער אויבערשטער מסכים געווען, ווארום אז די קינדער וועלן קליינערהייט גיין אין תלמוד תורה אדער אין ישיבה, איז אויך אז זיי וועלן עלטער ווערן, וועלן זיי ניט וועלן ארויסגיין פון ישיבה און וועלן בלייבן לערנען. נאך מער, די קינדער וועלן אזויפיל ריידן און אריינריידן אין די עלטערן, ביז זיי וועלן פועלן אויך אויף די עלטערן אז זיי וועלן אנהויבן לערנען תורה און מקיים זיין מצוות.

The Rebbe said something so beautiful and moving: When our children will get a taste for authentic Yiddishkeit, when they will absorb some of the love, depth, majesty and light of Torah—they will ultimately never leave it. They will remain hooked for life. What is more, they will pass on their love for Torah to their parents too.

Our Most Urgent Calling

As Jewish leaders and sociologists wonder about the secret for Jewish continuity, the Midrash quotes G-d’s simple remedy stated more than 3300 years ago: It is the children!

G-d knows children best. This is why He knew that if the children will be involved and entrenched in Yiddishkeit, our people and its faith will endure forever.

Our entire future depends on our children. As a community, our greatest concern and passion must be to allow for every single Jewish child to receive a powerful, loving, passionate, authentic, and inspired Jewish Torah education. If your child loves Judaism, our eternity and our eternal link to Torah is guaranteed.

It is about time that we create a “Mega Fund” to guarantee an intensive Jewish education for every Jewish child. It is about time that teachers and pedagogues in Jewish schools be paid reasonable living wages. It is about time to shower our educators and principals with utmost respect. If our children don’t have quality teachers and receive a quality education, how can they be guarantors of a Jewish future?

No other faith has attached a higher value to education and to teachers of Torah education. “For I love him,” G-d says about Abraham in Genesis,[4] “because he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of G-d to do charity and justice.”

The Talmud relates a story,[5] that Rabbi Judah the Prince sent Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Assi and Rabbi Ami on a mission through the towns of Israel to establish teachers in every place. They came to a town where there were no teachers. They said to the inhabitants, “Bring us the defenders of the town,” “Niturei Karta.” They brought them the military guard who often terrorized the inhabitants. The rabbis said, “These are not the protectors of the town but its destroyers.” “Who then are the protectors?” asked the inhabitants. They answered, “The teachers.”

My Parents Brainwashed Me

The first annual Bronx Youth Poetry Slam was held in May 2013 at the Kingsbridge Library in the Bronx, NY. When a young Jewish boy, Ethan Metzger, stood to recite his poetry titled, "My Parents Brainwashed Me," no one expected the words that came out of his mouth. The video of his poem went viral within days. Ethan’s poem captures why G-d wanted the youth as the guarantors for Torah:

One day I was in school, in class,
Explaining my Judaism
When this person has the audacity to exclaim,
“You know you’re only Jewish because your parents force you to be.

 

I mean, it’s all fake. You don’t pray to God because you want to,
You pray to God because your parents made you think you have to.
You don’t keep any of the laws of your own free will,
Your parents just made you feel guilty if you didn’t keep them.”

My classmates smirk.

“Your parents brainwashed you your whole life,
Made you think you were doing God’s work,
But they were just imposing restriction upon restriction;
You don’t have any real conviction of your own.
You don’t really know anything about anything.”

A silence swept over the class and
I could sense all my friends look at me
As to how angry I am…

The more I thought, the more I realized
That this student actually had a very valid argument.
I thought to myself,
“You’re absolutely right. My parents did brainwash me.

From the time I entered this world, my parents brainwashed me.
As early as I can remember, my parents were brainwashing me
To have respect for other people, for their belongings, for myself.

When I was little, they corrupted me into thinking that
I need to treat everyone else how I would want to be treated,

No matter what. My parents programmed me to believe that I should stand up for someone if that person were being picked on And that I shouldn’t be a bystander if
I could stop bullying from taking place.

My parents brainwashed me?

Yeah. My father twisted my infant brain in such a horrific way
That he made me value my integrity, and
To make matters even worse,
He led by example.
And my mom? She incessantly told me as a child
Again and again and again to ‘do the best you can; ’And that idea has become so ingrained in my mind.

That I don’t define success as whether I get an ‘A’, but whether I gave it my all.

My parents perverted my way of thinking…
They contaminated my childhood with models and actions about
Love and Faith and Character, and
Yes, Religion, too.

And I’m sorry for you that your parents
Really didn’t infect your DNA with any of these ideals.”

But, I didn’t say any of that.
Because my parents also polluted my conscience
Into believing that I shouldn’t judge someone until I walked a mile in their shoes
Which makes me think that God must run marathons each day.

Quite frankly, I don’t have the stamina for that. But here’s what I did say, “You can call it brainwashing if you want. That’s fine.

I call it: Teaching.

Reb Michael Ber

I want to share with you the story of Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl (1903, Debrecen, Hungary – 1957, Mount Kisco, New York), an extraordinary rabbinic scholar and activist, who became renowned due to his secret negotiations with the architect of the Final Solution, Adolf Eichman (yimach shemo), trying to save Hungarian Jewry from extermination.[6]

Reb Michael Ber Weissmandl was born in Debretzin, Hungry, and moved in 1931 to the city of Nitra in Western Slovakia, to study under the great Rabbi of the city, Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Ungar, whose daughter, Bracha Rachel, he married in 1937.

Weissmandl was a scholar and an expert at deciphering ancient manuscripts. He was the first author to demonstrate the biblical codes. To carry out his research of these manuscripts, he traveled to the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England, which gave him connections to the Western World to be used later during the hellish years of the war.

As the Nazis were well on the way to exterminate every Jew of Europe, Rabbi Weissmandl entered into secret negotiations with the SS in Slovakia. As a result of a handsome ransom, he managed to postpone the deportation of Slovakian Jewry to the death camps for almost two years. Seeing the effects of the bribery and knowing that as the Germans were suffering defeat they desperately needed money and merchandise, this Hungarian Orthodox Rabbi led secret negotiations with the SS to reduce the murder of Jews. This negotiation which was later named the “Europa Plan,” called for the payment of 2 million USD for 1,000,000 Jews. Reb Michael Ber worked day and night to get the money, but to no avail. Slovakian and Hungarian Jewry were deported and decimated.

In 1944, Weissmandl and his family were rounded up and put on a train headed for Auschwitz. He was separated from his family. Knowing full well the fate of the Jews who are taken to Auschwitz, Rabbi Weissmandl escaped from the sealed train by sawing open the lock of the carriage with an emery wire he had secreted in a loaf of bread. He jumped from the moving train, breaking his leg in the process, and hid in a secret bunker in suburban Bratislava. His wife and children perished in Auschwitz.

After the war, Weissmandl returned to his city of Nitra, where he once lived near his father-in-law who hid during the holocaust and died from starvation in his hiding place in 1945.

Please Make Noise

This was the first Jewish holiday after the war. Many surviving Jews who returned to Slovakia, to the city of Nitra, came to shul for the holiday services. It was a packed shul. Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl got up to speak, and this is what he said:

My father-in-law Rabbi Ungar would traditionally get up at the pulpit and say these words:

“My dear Jews! It is important to keep decorum in the synagogue. I am going to ask all the adults to maintain utmost respect in our shul. And I am going to ask all of the children to please sit quietly and behave appropriately. If you wish to make noise, you may not do so in the Sanctuary. Children, it is important to remain silent throughout the services…

“This is what my father-in-law would say each year. But, today”—said Reb Miachel Ber—“I am going to make a different very announcement.

With tears streaming down his face, and a choked-up voice, he declared: “If there are any children here in shul, please make noise! Please make a commotion. Kinderlach, if any of you are still here with us in the world, I beg you, through a ruckus!”

The shul was silent. No children survived. The shul had only adults who survived the camps, no children.

And Reb Michael Ber could not console himself. Arriving later in the United States, having lost his family and having been unable to save even Slovakian Jewry, he was so distraught that he would pound the walls and cry bitterly on what had befallen his people. Later he remarried and had five children, founded a Yeshiva on a farm in Upstate NY, and built an impressive Jewish community in NY, but died in 1957 at the age of 54 from a broken heart.

Let’s Hear the Ruckus

80 years ago, there were few children left to make noise. Seven decades later, thank G-d, we have a shul filled with children.

ברוך שהחיינו וקיימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה!

I want to ask our children to make noise, to make a ruckus. Let us hear your sounds of laughter, your giggles, and your running around playing with each other.

The Ponovizher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman (1886-1969), who himself lost his wife and children and community in the war, once remarked: “An orphan is a child without parents; an orphaned people is a nation without children.” Let us make sure today that we do not remain an orphaned people. Let our children generate excessive Jewish noise. Let the sounds of our children studying Torah, celebrating Yiddishkeit, singing, dancing, laughing, and enjoying—resonate in each of our homes and in all our communities.

As we prepare for Yizkor on Shavuos, let us remember all the children who perished, and let us promise them that the lively voices of Jewish children will never ever be silenced again. As we recite Yizkor for our loved ones, for our parents, grandparents, and all our family members who are no longer with us, let us vow to them that their sacrifices will have an eternal future, for our children will once again become the guarantors for G-d’s Torah on this very Shavuos of 5783-2023. The voices of their innocent souls declaring Shma Yisroel and Torah Tzivah Lanu Moshe, will resonate forever.

With such guarantors, we will be in business for eternity.

Bring all the Kids

Now, at last, we can appreciate the Jewish tradition to bring all Jews to the shul on Shavuos to hear the Ten Commandments as they are read on this holiday.

When the Torah is read in the synagogue on Shavuot, we experience anew the Sinaitic transmission of the Torah by G‑d. Just as the Sinai event was attended by every Jewish man, woman and child, if even one child was missing, G-d would not give the Torah to His people,[7] so too, every Jewish person should make every effort to be present in a synagogue this year on Friday, May 26, 2023, as the Ten Commandments are read from the Torah.

This is deeply meaningful. As I was growing up I recall how the Rebbe would suggest each year that we make an attempt to have every child, even infants, present at that moment—that shaped us and continues to shape us for eternity.

 ______________

[1] Midrash Rabba, Song of Songs 1:4

[2] Sichas Shavuos 5712, Toras Menachem vol. 5. Part of the talk was published in Likutei Sichos vol. 2, p. 572-573

[3] See Rashi to Exodus 7:1

[4] 18:19

[5] Yerushalmi Chagigah 1:6

[6] I heard the following story from Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein. I would be thankful for anyone who points out to me its original source.

[7] Midrash Rabah Devarim 7:8. Cf. Mechilta Yisro 19:11

Please leave your comment below!

    Shavuos Essay

    Rabbi YY Jacobson
    • May 10, 2023
    • |
    • 19 Iyyar 5783
    • |
    • 1481 views
    • Comment

    Dedicated by the Julie and Randy Diamond Family in honor of our children and grandchildren

    Class Summary:

    It is a strange Midrash: G-d demanded that the Jews offer guarantors for the Torah, and at the end He accepted only the children as guarantors. But why? When you lend me money, you ask me to provide you with a guarantor, out of fear that I may default on the loan.

    But how about G-d? What exactly was He worried about? If the Jews accept it, it is because they want it. And if they don’t, how can a guarantor help? He will practice Judaism for them? And why would G-d refuse our forefathers and our prophets and yet accept the children? Just as they can turn their back on the Torah, so can our children?

    At a public address during the holiday of Shavuos 1952, a little more than a year after he assumed leadership of the fledgling Chabad movement, the Lubavitcher Rebbe offered a homiletical and humorous interpretation to the above Midrash. He introduced his answer by saying that in America everyone loves to give “derashos”—exciting and hermetical speeches. So he will attempt to do the same. In the Rebbe’s “sermon,” he captured one of the deep sentiments of American and world Jewry at the time, in the early 50’s, one that still is heard often in our circles, yet now with the hindsight of 20-20 we can, at last, appreciate its relevance.

    The first annual Bronx Youth Poetry Slam was held in May 2013 at the Kingsbridge Library in the Bronx, NY. When a young Jewish boy, Ethan Metzger, stood to recite his poetry titled, "My Parents Brainwashed Me," no one expected the words that came out of his mouth. The video of his poem went viral within days. Ethan’s poem captures why G-d wanted the youth as the guarantors for Torah.

    The essay tells the story of Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl (1903–1957), an extraordinary rabbinic scholar and activist, who became renowned due to his secret negotiations with the architect of the Final Solution, Adolf Eichmann, trying to save Hungarian Jewry from extermination. The speech he gave in his shul Slovakia during the first Jewish holiday after the Holocaust, ought to serve as a call to all of us as individuals and communities what is the number one priority of our people in 2023.

    Related Classes

    Please help us continue our work
    Sign up to receive latest content by Rabbi YY

    Join our WhatsApp Community

    Ways to get content by Rabbi YY Jacobson
    Connect now
    Picture of the authorPicture of the author