One of the more famous ideas attributed to the great Rav Moshe Feinstein is his explanation for the phenomenon of observant parents whose children are not observant. Rabbi Feinstein was addressing this phenomenon in the middle of the 20th century, but his explanation remains relevant today. Rav Moshe said that often times the greatest predictor whether children will follow in the traditions and observance of their parents is the attitude that the parents conveyed about living an observant life. If the child would hear a constant refrain from the parents that “it’s hard to be a Jew”, then there was a greater risk that the child would be turned off and leave his/her parents’ ways. However if the child got the impression from his/her parents, through words and attitude, that “it’s great to be a Jew”, then the child would be proud and excited to follow in those footsteps. Rabbi Feinstein suggested that we learn this lesson from our Parsha, Nitzavim. The pasuk states: “This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses [that I have warned] you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live.” The typical way to understand the underlined clause is that the Torah is explaining a cause and the effect. If you choose life, then we will receive the blessing that our offspring will live and thrive. Rabbi Feinstein wonders why the Torah promises us a blessing if we follow the Torah, when this sentiment (in the negative) was already stated in the previous pasukim (17-18): “But if your heart deviates and you do not listen, and you will be drawn astray, and you will prostrate yourself to other deities and serve them, I declare to you this day, that you will surely perish, and that you will not live long days on the land….”
Rav Moshe therefore suggests an alternate reading by taking out the comma in the phrase. “So that your children will live” is not the effect of our choosing life. Rather it is a description of the attitude we must bring to our choice of life. We must choose Jewish identity and Jewish observance in a way that attracts and entices and excites our offspring to do the same. For a parent, choosing a Torah lifestyle is an important and laudable step, but it is not enough. We must live that lifestyle in a way that is attractive and inspiring to our children. No one said parenting was easy. But it is worthwhile. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt’l said that his greatest achievement in life was raising his children to be committed Jews who contribute to the Jewish community. That outcome doesn’t happen by itself. It requires a lot of effort- and a lot of prayers to Hashem.