One of the families in the congregation I was privileged to serve had four children. Three followed in the ways of their parents while the fourth, a teenage son, did not. Although he was not behaving in a hostile manner, he declared himself an atheist and didn’t want the family imposing its values upon him.
He absented himself from family Sabbath meals, watching television in his room. He politely insisted that he had a brain to think out his own approach to life.
They consulted me. I advised them to spend two weeks agreeing with him that he alone could think through his own life philosophy. What is more, they were to acknowledge his right to his personal beliefs.
Once their son knew they respected his independent thinking, they should explain that there is a gigantic gulf between beliefs and actions. His beliefs were his, but while he lived under their roof, they would exert influence over his actions.
Needless to say, actions included speech. My congregants were concerned about their son influencing his siblings.
“But surely I have freedom of speech?” asked their son. “Constitutionally, yes”, they answered. But while they were thrilled to have him stay part of a united family, that meant voluntarily acquiescing to restraining his speech. Just as freedom of speech doesn’t translate into a right to a radio or TV forum, it also doesn’t include the right to say anything one wants in all settings.
Shortly afterwards, my congregants reported back to me that their son listened to their argument and accepted it. This brought welcome tranquility to their formerly troubled family.
These parents had often heard me say that the best way of gaining understanding into how the world really works was through the secrets of ancient Jewish wisdom. They wanted to know where in Scripture this permanent principle appeared.
When Moses presented the Israelites with the God-centric worldview of Sinai, they responded enthusiastically on three separate occasions. The first two times, they responded ‘together’ or in ‘one voice’.
1: And all the nation responded together and they said, ‘All that God has spoken we will do’…
2: And Moses came and told the nation all of God’s words and all the rules, and the entire nation answered in one voice, and they said, ‘All the words that God has spoken we will do.’
Both these times focused on actions; doing. However, #3 is different.
3: And he (Moses) took the Book of the Covenant and read it into the ears of the nation, and they said, ‘All that God has spoken, we will do and we will hear.’
This time, in addition to action there was an element of hearing. Hearing implies internal understanding. In terms of our personal relationship with God, we each appreciate Him in our own way. For this reason, the verse does not mention that they responded in one voice.
All Israelites heard the words and understood the covenant in individual ways but they all agreed to a group code of conduct. In Hebrew that code is called HaLaCHaH.
People with different beliefs can live together in harmony as long as they agree on standards of behavior. That is a central theme in the Constitution of the United States of America. That is also how successful corporations and other organizations operate. Common belief within a group is wonderful and converts it into a crucible of creativity, but it is not essential. What is critical is a common code of conduct.
Parents can’t impose God on their children. They can serve as models and create an appealing environment in which faith can flourish. But like the children of Israel, each individual must forge his or her own faith relationship. However, demanding certain actions is necessary for both families and businesses to remain cohesive.
This principle is one of those used by my colleague, Noah Alper, in creating a successful business. As his faith grew, in a departure from his family’s atheism, his actions, both personal and in business, changed. He chronicles this journey providing applicable business lessons for all, in his book Business Mensch, which we are delighted to make available to you.