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The Defining Haircut

The Defining Haircut

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The Talmud tells us that before Jacob agreed to travel to Egypt, he sent ahead his son Judah to establish a yeshivah, a Torah academy, in Goshen, the Egyptian territory where Jacob and his sons would settle. Knowing that his descendants would face challenging times in Egypt, Jacob realized that only a proper Jewish education would give them a strong Jewish identity, enable them to withstand all difficulties and persecutions, and insulate them against the threat of assimilation.

Education means instilling within our youth integrity, kindness, and Jewish valuesFrom the Jewish standpoint, education is not so much the imparting of data and information as much as instilling within our youth integrity, kindness, and Jewish values. Information alone – even the holy teachings of the Torah – would not have preserved the Jews throughout the difficult years of Egyptian slavery. It was the code of conduct and ethics that were taught in the yeshivah that truly distinguished them from their immoral and cruel taskmasters.

Unfortunately, many of today's "institutes of education" are actually "institutes of de-education." While they impart to their students much important and necessary information, the underlying principle of moral relativism that they espouse throws in doubt all the vital ethics that we strove to implant within our children. Nothing is more destructive than the trendy notion that right and wrong are inherently subjective.

This fact of life increases the importance of providing our children with a rock-solid and concrete set of Jewish values. This education begins at home but is given crucial reinforcement by sending our children to Jewish schools that teach the same values – schools that would make Patriarch Jacob proud.

The very first value we wish to teach our children is the importance of a fierce pride in their beautiful and unique heritage. We are different and unique. We are privileged to be G‑d's "ambassadors of light" to a dark and difficult world, a privilege that countless of our grandparents died to protect. And despite all the hardships, pogroms and persecution that we have endured, we are thankful that we are the Chosen People.

The first value we teach our children is the importance of a fierce pride in their beautiful heritageThis idea is demonstrated by the Upsherin, the traditional "first haircut" ceremony held on a boy's third birthday. This ceremony that marks the start of the child's education is highlighted by leaving peyot, the distinctively Jewish side curls, and the child starting to wear a kipah and tzitzit (four cornered fringed garment). We thus tell the child, "You are yet young and have much to learn. But the first lesson we wish to teach you is that you are a Jew and must never be embarrassed to act and dress as a Jew. Your nation has the most glorious history, a history of teaching the entire world ethics and morals, and an even more magnificent future awaits our people. Come what may, always be a proud Jew!"

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Pessy October 25, 2015

Upsherin at the gravesite of rabbi shimon? Why the tradition of upsherin in meron? Reply

Anthony Michigan January 7, 2015

The imparting of values in education Though I couldn't be considered Jewish ethnically speaking, I have grafted in through marriage and faith. What I see in this article is the truth that has been staring educators in the face for years (especially in the public sector). While I believe myself to be a man of both faith and keen understanding; I have been burdened in my life as a school teacher, because the secular model of education is all about information. Administrators and bureaucrats will talk about things like emotional intelligence and character education, but at the end of the day these very essential skills/values/principles/morals are quickly put on the back burner to make way for high-stakes testing and one size fits all education. Sadly, the difference these values make is incredibly tangible when the students graduate into the real world and lack drive, ambition and purpose. Great article. Reply

Hagit Manhattan, NY November 30, 2014

Well written This article was funny and well written !!!! Reply

Alex Brussels, Belgium January 5, 2010

very clear, correct and inspiring message! thank you for your great work, chabad.org always guides us through our jewish life cycle. Reply

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