Honoring Parents and Leaving a Legacy

Leaving a legacy is one of the deepest needs that a human being has. Nobody wants to feel that their life was a waste. We all need to know that our presence on this planet has made a difference. Even Captain Kirk, portrayed by William Shatner (no comment on the man's acting abilities), in his final Star Trek movie, is motivated to make the ultimate sacrifice because he will have "Made a difference."

The legacy parents dream of is for their children to succeed and even surpass them. Parents want their kids to live the good values that they teach them. So how do we do it?

The way that Abraham, our patriarch, did it. His legacy was the Jewish people itself. And his method was the method of "walking." Let me explain.

There are lots of aspects of our lives that people can remember. Our legacy, or legacies, can come in so many fashions. Some people want to leave a financial legacy, others wish to leave property, still others wish to leave things they have created, lessons they have learned, rules they have lived by. It's all good, it's all legitimate. But, and pardon my being morbid, what will they write on the headstone?

Do you know what it says on the headstone of Mel Blanc, creator of Bugs Bunny? Yes, believe it or not, this is what he asked them to write: "That's all, folks." When I first heard that, I had a deep laugh and thought it was very superficial. Then, I thought about it some more. And I decided that it is a fantastic legacy that that man gave us.

Yes, he gave us laughter. He made generations of kids smile and be happy. He brought joy into the world, and that is a great legacy. That epitaph, "That's all folks," is one he and his descendents can be so proud of!

Abraham's legacy was the legacy of faith. He taught us to believe, to persevere, to stand up for our values even if it's dangerous to do so. That is the "what" of Abraham's legacy. What is his "how?" How did he make his legacy stick?

Through walking. In the Bible, Abraham walks everywhere. That word is mentioned in connection to his name countless times. "Walk forth out of your birthplace," "and Abraham walked to his journeys," "rise up and walk throughout the land." And many more.

Walking means three things. The first thing is perseverance. Walking is a repetitive motion, step after step after step. Whatever the legacy and values you seek to transmit, you can't live them today and forget them tomorrow. They have to be the very way that you walk, they have to be something you repeat and repeat all the time. That is the first way people will watch you and learn from you.

The second thing walking means is physically doing it. It means, as the expression goes, walking the walk, not just talking the talk. A legacy can't be taught intellectually alone, it must be demonstrated in our lives. Then it will stick.

The third thing walking means is being present. When we walk, we go places. We are physically present in the lives of our children and grandchildren. We show up, we are there. We are not long-distance legacy givers. Legacies delivered long-distance don't fare nearly as well as legacies that are transmitted while holding hands.

And that is the best way to teach kids to respect their parents. When the parents commit themselves to an elevated legacy, and live that legacy day in and day out, walking the walk, and with close connection to their children, respect will come naturally. Respect comes from expecting it, not by force of force, but by force of values and love and honesty.

The Jewish Army and the Jewish Family

In the book of Numbers, the Israelites are to be counted by tribes and family. We are given a detailed list of the exact numbers. That, by the way, is the source for the name of the book! The census was conducted by illustrious men, the leaders of their tribes. Why was all of this necessary?

The commentaries say that it was preparation for battle. The Israelites were going to enter into the land, and needed to have a proper army. They were to face two challenges: the danger of battle, and the ethical challenges of warfare. In order to meet both of these challenges, family was critical. The family background of each soldier made all the difference. How?

Firstly, we all need the "merit of our forefathers." By counting the individuals and acknowledging their family heritage, the merit of their forefathers is being stressed. Does this mean that having a righteous ancestry means that I will be OK in every case?

I don't think so. Merit of the forefathers is not the same as a monetary inheritance, for example. It's not that we get a bank account filled with money. It's more like getting a safe filled with money, that we can only access if we know the combination. If we have forgotten it, if we don't live according to the ethics of our ancestors, their merit is inaccessible to us.

So to start with, each soldier must examine their values and learn from the role models of his upbringing. Then, if his ancestors were worthy, he will gain extra reward for following in their footsteps. This may be what he needs to be protected from the dangers of battle.

The second aspect is extremely relevant, especially in today's world. It relates to war crimes. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that the leaders of the tribes were to exclude from the Army anyone who came from a dysfunctional family background. The concern was that they would commit war crimes and atrocities. When you put someone with a violent and unstable nature in the extremes of battle, they can morally self-destruct.

The historian Richard Ambrose contrasts the way American soldiers treated the Europeans they conquered at the end of the second war, with the way the Germans did. The Germans, as we know, were brutal and barbaric. The Americans, by and large, were exceptionally civil and decent. Why?

Because they were fighting for a value, and that value was human rights and dignity. That value was freedom. The German was fighting for power and conquest, and once he had it, he allowed every base instinct to express itself in brutality. The American saw himself as a liberator, and treated the people, even the Germans, as beneficiaries of freedom. He treated them decently.

Israel has the most ethical army in the world. That is not to say that there aren't soldiers who commit crimes. Unlike any other army, Israel investigates, and prosecutes when these things happen. The codes of combat, and the basic values of the Israeli soldier, are so high that no other army in the world can compare it to them. That is why it is the height of hypocrisy for some of the world's greatest human rights violators to accuse Israel of war crimes.

They might as well revive the blood libel of the Middle Ages. These accusations are completely false, and are not coming from those who support Israel and its right to defend itself.

A Jewish army must be holy. It must let the values of their ancestors guide them and protect them, both from their enemies and from their own struggles. We are proud of the IDF.