A few years ago, a colleague of mine came up with what he thought was a fantastic idea. His wife was running a highly successful Hebrew school for the children of his congregation, and every week he would watch as dozens of parents milled aimlessly about the synagogue entrance, standing around, doing nothing for 90-odd minutes, waiting for their kids to finish learning. He decided to found a Hebrew school for adults, where parents could also practice reading, learn about Judaism and stimulate themselves intellectually, all in the time they’d otherwise be wasting.

It didn’t work. People just weren’t interested. It was almost as if their attitude was, It’s important that my children be Jewishly educated, but leave me out of it. Hebrew school is just something you force your kids to attend, in the hope that someday, when they’re adults, they’ll force their own children. Most parents wouldn’t sign up, and even those he badgered or guilt-tripped into attending spent most of their time slacking off at the back of the classroom: behavior they’d never countenance from their children.

It didn’t work. People just weren’t interested.

It doesn’t make sense. These were the committed ones, who recognized the importance of Jewish education for their kids and were even willing to pay good money for the privilege. You’d have thought that they’d be the first through the door to supplement their own knowledge. But clearly, that which they prized for their progeny, they valued less for themselves.

I saw an even more drastic example of this disconnect between personal accountability and parental expectation when I was approached by a young man mystified by his parents’ reaction to his recent engagement to a non-Jew. He was in love and looking forward to settling down with the woman of his dreams, while they were going to pieces at what they were describing as an act of betrayal and abandonment.

I was approached by a young man mystified by his parents’ reaction to his recent engagement to a non-Jew.

“I don't understand them,” he told me. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen them show any concern at all about Judaism. They don’t speak, act or do anything Jewish from one Yom Kippur to the next, and suddenly, out of the blue, they’ve turned into the Hebrew militants!?”

I hate to say it, but the boy has a point. It’s almost impossible to preach convincingly without practicing as well. Kids recognize the “do as I say, not as I’m doing” approach, and they’re ever ready to punish us for phoniness or false pietism.

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, G‑d commands Moses to teach Israel the rudiments of faith: “That you may tell in the ears of your son, and of your grandson, the things I have done in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that you may know that I am the L‑rd” (Exodus 10:2). Tellingly, it’s insufficient just to “tell your sons and grandsons” about G‑d and Judaism; you too must “know that I am the L‑rd.” Don’t preach it, live it. We can’t be satisfied with sending our kids to learn; we must personally engage with our religion, and strive to grow as Jews.

We all want the best for our children, and hope they make the right choices in life. It’s just that too often we’re unwilling to expend the effort to model the behavior that we expect of them. Intuitively we know that there are no shortcuts in raising kids to care, but it’s just easier to pay lip service to an ideal rather than pay the real price of personal commitment.

Yet G‑d promises us that if we put in the hard yards while our children are young, and keep up the good work throughout a lifetime of engagement and growth, then we have a chance that future generations will live up to our expectations and accompany us on our journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.