Of the many stereotypes which Jews have, one of the best known is that of being smart. Wherever Jews have lived throughout the centuries, education was always a central value. As many people know, according to Jewish tradition, if a town only has sufficient resources to build either a synagogue or a school, the town must build…………..a Chinese restaurant. Seriously, though, the money should go for the school. It is critical to teach the next generation about the Jewish people’s history, faith, traditions, and rituals. Without these tools, it is very difficult to keep the religion moving forward.
Based on a homiletical interpretation, there is a hint to this imperative in Parashat VaYigash. In the wake of his youngest brother, Benjamin, being “caught” with Joseph’s goblet, Judah pleads for Benjamin’s safety. Judah implores the still-disguised Joseph that he, Judah, cannot possibly return to his father Jacob in Canaan without Benjamin, as Joseph has ordered. He offers himself as a prisoner in place of Benjamin, “and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father unless the boy is with me?” (44:33-34).
Commenting on the last phrase, “…how can I go back to my father unless the boy is with me?,” R’ Meir’l of Przemyślany (1780/1803-1850, Galicia [now Ukraine]) was particularly passionate. How, indeed, he said, can we appear before our Father in Heaven if “the boy” (i.e., Jewish youth) is not with us, as well? In other words, in order to be fully ready to stand in judgement for our deeds after 120 years, we must ensure that we have done our part in advancing Jewish education. If we have studied about the Jewish faith ourselves, this is all fine and good. But R’ Meir’l reminds us that our concern cannot only be for our own spiritual well-being. As the sage Hillel reminds us, “If I am only for myself, what am I?” We must continue to lengthen and strengthen the Jewish chain of tradition.
So how can we ensure that “the boy is with us” when we stand before our Father in Heaven? If we have a strong enough Jewish education ourselves, we can offer to tutor someone of a weaker background on a weekly-, bi-weekly-, or even monthly basis ourselves. Speaking from personal experience as a career Jewish educator, I can attest that the satisfaction and happiness gained from this is immeasurable. For those who cannot do the teaching themselves, perhaps consider donating to the local Jewish day school, or sponsoring a lecture series. Or contribute to the tuition costs of a high school graduate who wishes to spend a year of study and/or travel in Israel.
However we choose to support Jewish education, may God guide our paths towards using our time, efforts, and funds in the right way. By doing so, we can be certain that when it is our turn to stand in the dock before the Supreme Judge, and we are asked about what we did to perpetuate the Jewish faith, we can proudly point to our educational achievements and say, “Father, I have brought the boy with me.”
(Based on ב. יאושזון, מאוצרנו הישן – בראשית, p. 235)