Today is the holiday of Shavuot that celebrates the Jewish people receiving the Torah at Har Sinai.
In synagogue, we commemorate this momentous occasion with the reading of the Ten Commandments. At our service, there was also a separate beautiful reading of the commandments for the children followed by a “blowout” dairy lunch with endless amounts of every type of cheesecake.
At the services today, I had the chance to witness something very powerful that I believe will stay with me the rest of my life and that I wanted to share with you.
A father was sitting next to his little son of just five years old. The father was holding a Chumash (Torah) and showing it to his son to teach him. The father then tells his son that today is Shavuot when the Jews received the Ten Commandments.
The son asks innocently about the Ten Commandments, “What is that?”
The father goes on to explain that these are the commandments that G-d gave to the Jews (when they were redeemed from slavery in Egypt). He enumerates just two examples: keeping the Shabbat and honoring your mother and father.
The son asks, “What are the other commandments?”
The father hesitates either not knowing any of the other commandments or simply unable to remember any more of them on the spot. And all of a sudden, the little boy starts wailing to his father:
“Daddy, why do you know only two, why?
The father was visibly taken aback, and stumbled for words trying to remember the other commandments. Presumably a little embarrassed that he couldn’t, he apparently didn’t know what to say to the little boy.
At which point, I turned to the father and said in a whisper, “Do not kill, Do not steal…” And the father nods to me, and then turns to his son and repeats: ” Do not kill. Do not steal.”
And the son smiles, and then sort of starts banging his hands on the Chumash seemingly for more. Then pointing to a chart of the Aleph Bet (Hebrew alphabet), he starts reading the letters with his father.
I’ll tell you this whole thing could’ve brought tears to anyone’s eyes: The father passing down the Ten Commandments/Torah to his little boy; yet the father does not know it or is unable to remember them at the same time that he is trying to teach his child how fundamental to life and important they are to keep; followed by the sons’ cries of why the father can recite only two of the commandments…it was all really earth-shaking!
Moreover, it was almost exactly like it says in the Torah (Exodus 13:14):
In the future, when your son asks you, ‘what does this mean?’ You tell him, ‘With a mighty hand, the L-rd brought us forth out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
And of course, we know the story continues that G-d brought us to Sinai and gave us the Torah, and spoke the Ten Commandments.
While certainly many of us can’t recite all Ten Commandments on the spot, as someone joked after services to me: “I think I can only get to around eight,” we all must know the importance of being able to answer our son when he asks, “What does all this mean?”
Knowing Torah and the commandments is critical not only for ourselves in order to keep them and do what is right, but also we must know them in order to teach our children and pass on a fully lit torch of Torah to future generations of Jews, so they too can faithfully serve G-d, and in their own right be able to carry on the critical mission of being “a light unto the nations.”