By the end of September, we'll be reading the final chapters of the book of Deuteronomy. Moses will remind the people of the covenant God has made with them. God has not only made this covenant with the "people standing here today," he'll explain, but also with "the people not here today." He'll be talking about future generations: us. And our children.
This notion that future generations are beholden to the promises of their ancestors might not fit with our modern sensibilities, but to me it's a profound reminder that what we do now -- or don't do now -- will matter in some way, somehow in the future. Our actions (and inactions) do have consequences, some of which are immediate, and some of which we'll never even live to see.
For parents, this might feel especially overwhelming and exhausting. It's just so much responsibility, which can be terrifying. At some level, it might even feel like a burden. But we do have another option.
We can remind ourselves of another Jewish value, tikkun olam, which means repair the world. We can believe it is our duty to work with God to finish the work of God's creation, meaning that it's incumbent upon us to do our part -- small or large -- to make the world a little better than we left it. We can remember that we're not doing it just for us; we're really doing it for our children and their children.
There is a story about an old man who is planting a fig tree by the side of the road. A stranger walks by and laughs at him: “Why are you bothering to plant that tree? You’ll never live long enough to eat its fruits!” The old man replies, “My ancestors planted fig trees for me. And now I am planting this fig tree for my children and grandchildren."
What constitutes a fig tree in our modern world? Slowing the effects of climate change? Finding the cure for currently incurable diseases? Of course. But how about getting to know your neighbors and smiling at strangers. Tipping the barista. Holding the door open for the man behind you. Making eye contact with the woman standing on the corner holding a cardboard sign and saying, "Good morning." When your children see you going out of your way to behave in kind and considerate ways, they learn how to respect and value others and their life experiences. They internalize these lessons, which they then model for their children. And, thankfully, hopefully, the cycle continues.
As this new school year begins, and as your children continue to grow, take time to acknowledge, and feel joy in, all the fig trees you're planting for them. It's easier than you think.
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