Congresswoman Grace Meng Responds To Jewish Community

 A few weeks ago, our family celebrated the upsherin (first haircut, at the age of three) of our twins, Gavriel and Michael. Before their official haircuts, we took them for the “first cutting” and to receive brachos from our rebbe Rabbi Chaim Schabes, my uncle Rabbi Yaakov Cohn, and the Nikolsburg Rebbe. Needless to say, the cutting and brachos of their grandparents were special and meaningful, too.

After their haircuts, we took them to the Yeshiva of Spring Valley, the elementary yeshivah of my youth and our sons’ elementary yeshivah (as well as, b’ezras Hashem, the twins’ future yeshivah) to the class of Rabbi Dovid Malin. Rabbi Malin is a special rebbe with endless love and warmth. Together with his class, he reviewed and sang the Alef Beis with Gavriel and Michael, as they happily licked honey off lollipops dipped onto a chart with each letter. That was followed by a lovely s’udah for family and friends in our backyard. It was a very special event.

The twins received quite a few adorable gifts. But there was one that really excited me. My sister and brother-in-law, Shoshana and Daniel, gave them a toy talis-and-t’filin set. From afar, the t’filin look real, which is why I had to explain to visitors why there were t’filin strewn all over the couch and living room floor on Shabbos!

During my youth, I couldn’t wait until my bar mitzvah, when I would be able to start putting on t’filin. I still have a clear memory as an 11-year-old sitting on my bed thinking my bar mitzvah is never going to arrive!

During my youth, whenever I came across a string or long thick cloth, I would roll up my sleeve and wrap it around my arm seven times. I would make it tight enough and keep it there long enough for it to leave a mark on my arm, just as I saw on my father’s arm each morning when he removed his t’filin. I was excited that Gavriel and Michael had a toy set that they could play with. I would have loved to have such a thing when I was a kid. Yet, to my surprise, they were completely uninterested in the talis-and-t’filin set.

Later that night, I realized why.

The pasuk states: “The hidden is for Hashem our G-d, and the revealed is for us and our children forever” (D’varim 29:28). One of the homiletic explanations of the pasuk is that it is an allusion to an important educational principle. Children are always watching their parents and teachers. Far more than from what we say, our children learn from the things we do. In general, a person shouldn’t flaunt his avodas Hashem and shouldn’t show off his religiosity. But there is one notable exception. One should make sure his children witness how he serves Hashem so they can absorb and internalize his values. (Of course, that doesn’t mean one should be disingenuous; but the things he does anyway, he shouldn’t hide from them.)

That is what the pasuk is alluding to: “The hidden things are for Hashem” – if our children are not aware of the virtuous acts we perform, they will not be able learn from them, and those actions will remain known only to Hashem. But “the revealed ones” – the things our children witness – “are for us and our children forever”; not only will it make an impression upon them, but hopefully will inspire them to follow that example so that their children will learn to perform them, as well.

I realized that Gavriel and Michael have never seen me wearing my talis and t’filin (except perhaps at their bris milah; but I assume that’s a suppressed memory). That’s why they had no interest in wearing their own “talis and t’filin.”

In this situation, it was a good thing that they never saw me in my talis and t’filin, because I daven in shul every morning and they haven’t yet attended shul on a weekday morning. However, the incident served as a good reminder that when it comes to our own children, our need to be humble is somewhat mitigated. Our children need to see and hear about the wonderful things we do so that they can learn from them.

[I should add that, within a few days of Gavriel and Michael seeing how excited I was about the “talis and t’filin,” they began to take a greater interest in them. Although they wouldn’t allow me to show them how to properly put them on, they began to wear them in their own way. This is a good reminder that what excites us will excite our children. But that’s a whole other discussion.]

We often hear discussions about our children giving nachas to us. But we also need to give our children reason to have nachas from us.

*****

I indeed have much nachas when I hear stories about my grandparents and learn about the special roots I have. My Savta was a person of love and devotion, from a family (the Gold family) that was and is fiercely devoted to avodas Hashem. All her descendants are the beneficiaries of that. May her neshamah have an aliyah.


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ, Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Looking for periodic powerful inspiration? Join Rabbi Staum’s new Whatsapp group “Striving Higher.” Email for more info.