We all want our children and grandchildren to be committed to a spiritual life. It is rare to find a family that is happy and satisfied when their child chooses a totally secular lifestyle without God playing a role. What can we do? How do we keep our children and grandchildren connected? While there is no one answer, perhaps what follows is an important piece of the puzzle.
“These are the generations of Noah, Noah was a righteous man…” These are the words that begin the Torah portion this week. The Torah begins with the phrase “These are the generations of Noah” which you would naturally assume would immediately be followed by a listing of Noah’s descendants beginning first with his children. Instead it is followed by a description of his character. In fact it is the second verse tells us that Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japeth. Why the gap between this first phrase and the listing of Noah’s sons?
The Bible is teaching us that the true first product of any human being is themselves. Children are second. Let’s take a closer look at the first verse and reinterpret it according to this premise. “These are the generations of Noah”-the descendants of Noah begin with Noah himself and who was Noah? “Noah was a man who was righteous and complete in his generations-Noah walked with Hashem.” A beautiful description of Noah-one that we would all crave.
When we focus more sharply we see three words assigned to Noah: man (ish), righteous (tzadik) and complete (tamim). What do these three descriptions imply?
Noah was first and foremost an ish, a man, or perhaps to use a better word that is very common amongst Jews, he was a mensch. Before you can be righteous and complete you must first be a mensch. A mensch is someone who behaves appropriately and treats others with respect.
Noach was also called a tzadik (righteous) which means that all of his actions were righteous and good.
Finally he is described as tamim (pure) which means that not only were his actions righteous but his inner world, his character was also refined. It is possible to be a tzadik and not a tamim-one can act in a proper manner but still have a flawed character.
With this beautiful introductory description of Noah the Torah then tells us that he had three sons. First Noah had to work on his own spiritual life before there was any chance of affecting the lives of his children.
This profound lesson unlocks one of the doors to successful parenting. If you want your kids to be passionate about spirituality, you must be passionate about spirituality first. If you want your children to value Torah then you must value Torah first. If you want your children to be kind and charitable then you must be kind and charitable. Religion cannot be lived by proxy through your children. The expectations that we have of our children and grandchildren begin with the realization that we are the first of our generation. It begins with me, with my commitment. By honestly trying to become a mensch, a tzadik and a tamim it will go a long way to creating future generations that will follow in our footsteps.