This past week, I was speaking to a few medical professionals about the specific cultural practice of brit milah (circumcision) from a Jewish perspective, and how it differs from a routine medical circumcision. One of the nurses asked me to explain the origin of the practice and the centrality of brit to our religion.

I started off my crash course in milah by discussing our forefather Abraham (the first Jew to be circumcised—and at age 99!) and his son Isaac (the first Jew to be circumcised at eight days old). I described how all Jews throughout history, and in every circumstance, have universally circumcised their children. The group was fascinated to learn how even otherwise unobservant parents are so dedicated to this one mitzvah that they will, if necessary, arrange for a mohel (trained circumcisor) to fly in, just to ensure that their precious newborn child has a kosher brit.

They were even more blown away when I told them the story of my wife’s great-grandfather Rabbi Yitzchak Raskin, who was a mohel in Leningrad in the dark years of Stalinist Russia and, despite knowing the risks, repeatedly risked his life to perform circumcisions. And, indeed, he was ultimately arrested by the Soviets and executed for his “crimes.” When he was being led, manacled, out of his home, the final words he addressed to his children were, “Kinderlach, ir zolt gein in di veggen oif vos men nemt mir avek.” “Dear children, you should dedicate your lives to that for which I am being arrested.” While I was telling this story, there was an audible intake of breath from those present, and one doctor even screamed out “No!” in surprise.

At the time, I was somewhat surprised by the visceral reaction. However, thinking about it later, I realized that I had grown up hearing stories of faith, courage and self-sacrifice. My grandparents lost most of their families in the Holocaust. Every family had its own story of murdered relatives and miraculous escapes from oppression. There were people in every synagogue with numbers on their arms.

But to someone from a different cultural background, you can well imagine that the fact that someone would be willing to risk his life for an act of faith, or—knowing the consequences—encourage his children to do the same, would be considered extraordinary.

In this week’s Parshah, we learn that one who comes in contact with a corpse becomes ritually impure. The topic is introduced with the words “This is the Torah, [when] a man dies . . .”1 The Talmudic sages creatively interpret these words as an inspirational message that “the Torah will survive only through those who sacrifice their lives for it.”2

Not everyone is called on to die for the Torah, yet how many of us are willing to live our lives as if we were? Virtually every Jew alive today is the progeny of someone who was willing to risk his or her life for Judaism. And whether there will be Jews following in the path of Judaism tomorrow depends on the sacrifices we make today.

I sincerely hope that my kids will never see me led away from our home for keeping mitzvahs, but I’m embarrassed to consider what they actually see me doing with my time now. Do I prioritize Torah and actively seek out opportunities to do mitzvahs, or do I waste time on inanities and inessentials?

As Jewish parents, we want our children to stay Jewish, marry Jewish and bring us Jewish nachat (pride). And although we can say whatever we want to our kids—asking them, nudging them and begging them to go in the ways of Torah—our kids understand actions more than words, and learn our real priorities by watching.

When our children see that we are willing to sacrifice anything and everything for a mitzvah, then we can guarantee that they will follow in the path of Torah and Judaism, and that mitzvahs will be kept by future generations forever.