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My Parents Brainwashed Me?

Friday, 22 May, 2015 - 11:51 am

You know the story of the mother who goes to the Rabbi. “Rabbi! You have to help my son. He went crazy.”

“What happened?”

“He put a kippa on his head,” the mother cries. “What else?”

“He now dons Tefillin in the morning,” she sobs. “He is insane.”

“What else?”

“He only eats kosher. Insane!”

“Is that all”?

“No,” she weeps. “It’s much worse.”


The mother says: “He wears Tzitzit. He stopped eating shrimp, lobster and crab. Rabbi! Please save him. He’s crazy!”

The rabbi responds, “I do not understand you. You are coming to ME for help, yet I do all the same as your son!”

The mother answers, “No, no, Rabbi. You get paid for doing all these things, but my son—he really means it!”

There is a fascinating Midrash describing a peculiar conversation between G-d and the Jewish people before the greatest historic event—the giving of the Torah at Sinai 3,328 years ago.

Rabbi Meir said: When the Jews stood before Sinai to receive the Torah, G-d 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 G-d'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," G‑d replied. "Because of them I will give the Torah."

There is something amiss about this Midrash. When you lend money, you ask for a guarantor out of fear that the recipient may default on the loan. You want to ensure you get your money back. The bank may put a lien on your assets to ensure that even if your cash flow dries up, they will be able to exact payment from your assets.

But what about G-d? What was He worried about? This was not dealing with a monetary loan, but the giving of the Torah. If the Jews accepted it, it is because they wanted it, which means they would keep it. Why the need for a guarantor? 
And why would G-d refuse our forefathers and our prophets, yet accept the children? The children, too, can turn their backs on the Torah!

The Rebbe explains the Midrash thus: G-d told 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?"

The Jewish people answered: “Our forefathers—our elders—will be our guarantors.”

What the Jews meant, 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. Beside, older people tend to be more nostalgic. As they prepare for their future, they often crave connections to the past…. Religion is good for them, said the young, robust Jews to G-d. But G-d said no.

He didn’t like that option. In G-d’s view, Judaism is not only for the old. It is also for the middle aged. Judaism is not only there to instill hope when one ages; it represents 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 don't need G-d or faith.

So the Jewish people said to G-d, "Okay, the prophets, our Rabbis, spiritual leaders, Torah scholars—they will hold on to the religion."

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 even health insurance. If he does a fine job preparing entertaining sermons, we may even give him a 30-year contract. 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 has lots of time on his hands. While we labor away, he sits in his office and figures out some good jokes and anecdotes for his sermon. So we will tell the Rabbi to prepare not only that, 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 in only the Rabbis, says G-d. Rabbis may teach Judaism, but they do not own it.

A poor Jew finds a wallet with $2,000 in it. At his synagogue, he reads a notice stating that a wealthy Jew has lost his wallet and is offering a $50 reward to anyone who returns it.

Quickly, he locates the owner and gives him the wallet. The rich man counts the money and says, "I see you have already taken your reward."

The poor man responds, "What are you talking about?" 
The wealthy Jew continues, "This wallet had $2,050 in it when I lost it."

The two men begin arguing, and eventually they come before the Rabbi.

Each man presents his case. The poor man speaks first, then the wealthy man speaks and concludes with, "Rabbi, I trust you believe me."

The Rabbi says, "Of course." The rich man smiles, and the poor man is devastated. Then the Rabbi takes the wallet out of the wealthy man's hands and gives it to the poor man who found it. 
"What are you doing?" the rich man yells angrily.

The Rabbi responds, "You are, of course, an honest man, and if you say that your missing wallet had $2,050 in it, I'm sure it did. But if the man who found this wallet is a liar and a thief, he wouldn't have returned it at all. Which means that this wallet must belong to somebody else. If that man steps forward, he'll get the money. Otherwise, it stays with the man who found it."

"What about my money?" the rich man asks.

"Well, we'll just have to wait until somebody finds a wallet with $2,050 in it!"

The Jewish people were desperate. They had thought they could get away with guaranteeing the elderly; then they were sure that the rabbis would 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 the Jews came up with once last solution that would work for them, and not interfere 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 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 children will learn a little bit about Chanukah latkes, Purim, and a song about dipping the apple in honey. We don’t even mind if they are given a genuine taste of Torah, Mishnah, Talmud, Jewish law, Jewish spirituality—as long as they can grow out of it.

To their shock, G-d said: "Yes! I’m in. It's a deal!"  Why? 
The Rebbe explains this with something so beautiful and moving: When our children get a taste for authentic Judaism, when they 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. 

G-d knows children. He knew that if the children would be involved and entrenched in Judaism, our people and its faith would endure forever.

Our entire future depends on our children. As a community, our greatest passion must be to allow for every 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.

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

The first annual Bronx Youth Poetry Slam was held in May of 2013 at the Kingsbridge Library in the Bronx. When a young Jewish boy, Ethan Metzger, stood to recite his poem 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 had 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 smirked.

“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 I would react... 

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 as whether I gave it my all.

"My parents perverted my way of thinking…

"They contaminated my childhood with models and maxims and lessons 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 millions of 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."

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



Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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