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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler

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Parshas Vayechi


Training Children to Tell the Truth

Yehudah, you are the one your brothers shall praise; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's children shall bow down to you.
(BERESHIS 49:8)

Rabbi Simchah Kaplan, the rabbi of Tzefas, told the following story, which he had personally witnessed.

When he was learning in Yeshivas Mir in Europe, he lived with a family who had an only son.

One Friday morning, as Rabbi Kaplan was about to leave for the yeshivah, he saw the master of the house getting ready to go to the market on some business. On his way out, Rabbi Kaplan heard the man's wife say to him, "Today is erev Shabbos. Return early!

When Rabbi Kaplan came back from the yeshivah in the early afternoon after minchah, he noticed that the wife was at the window waiting for her husband to return, and she was mumbling to herself, "Very soon it will be Shabbos. So soon."

This puzzled Rabbi Kaplan, since it was quite early in the day and there still remained many hours before Shabbos.

Seeing Rabbi Kaplan's puzzlement, the wife turned to him and said, "I must tell you our family's story, and then you will understand my great concern.

She began to tell him that for many years she and her husband had had no children, until finally she gave birth to a son. Unfortunately, the boy did not develop properly, and this caused the parents great anxiety. The local doctor suspected a heart defect and advised the family to take the boy to a famous doctor in Vilna for a diagnosis.

After a battery of tests, the doctor in Vilna told them, "This child does not have a chance of living more than a few years, and there is no cure for his illness. Go home and accept this reality.

Brokenhearted, they left the doctor's office. They returned to their hotel room, and there the wife began to cry hysterically and refused to be comforted.

People in the hotel who heard of their problem said to them, "Since you live in Mir, it is worth your while to pass through Radin on your way home. The Chofetz Chaim lives there. Ask him for a blessing and he will surely help you.

Upon hearing this, they immediately traveled to Radin. To their deep disappointment, they were told that the Chofetz Chaim was ill and very weak, and he was not accepting visitors.

While they were standing there and wondering what could be done, their salvation came from heaven. The husband of the Chofetz Chaim's granddaughter came out of another room, and when he saw them he greeted them warmly. This man had been a guest in their home in Mir and so he "owed them a favor. He agreed to help them, and brought them straight to the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim was sitting in a chair holding the book of Ezra in his hands.

After the parents told the story of their son's illness to the Chofetz Chaim, he sighed deeply and said, "What can I do to help you? I do not have any money. How else can I help you?

The mother once again began to cry hysterically, and the grandson said, "But he is an only child!

The Chofetz Chaim calmed the mother and addressed her affectionately, saying, "My daughter, accept upon yourself to be prepared for the Shabbos early.

"What do you mean? the woman asked.

"I mean, answered the Chofetz Chaim, "that at midday on erev Shabbos you should already have a tablecloth on the table, and the candleholders should be ready, and from the time of the lighting of the candles you must not do any work at all, no matter what the circumstances.

When he uttered these words, the woman immediately made a commitment that she would do exactly as the Chofetz Chaim had said.

As soon as they arrived in Mir, there was an improvement in the boy's condition. Slowly he began eating more and developing like other children his age. They went with the child to their local doctor who had originally sent them to Vilna, and he was astonished at his progress. He could not contain his excitement, and he gave the couple money from his own pocket so that they could go once more to Vilna to see the famous doctor.

When they arrived in Vilna and the doctor examined the child, he said, "Are you trying to play a prank on me? This is not the same child you brought the last time you came to me.

"No, doctor. We have only one child and this is him, they told him.

"So what did you do? asked the doctor. "Did you go to Vienna to the world famous medical center?

"No, we did not, they replied.

"Then where did you go to get such results? the astonished doctor inquired.

They said, "We went to the Chofetz Chaim and he gave us his advice.

The doctor told them, "We doctors have the ability only to try and repair what needs physical healing. If there is something wrong with the heart, we can attempt to fix it. The Chofetz Chaim, however, can create something from nothing, for previously your son's heart was in very grave condition.

The wife finished telling her story to Rabbi Kaplan, and said, "From that day on we always complete our preparations for Shabbos very early. Now you can understand why I am worried that my husband has not yet returned.
(MORESHET AVOT II, p. 164)

The woman's prayers were answered because she made a solemn commitment to be ready for Shabbos early. We must train our children to commit themselves to following the Torah, and they too will reap the benefits and will be showered with blessings from Above.

"Yehudah, your brothers will admit to you [that you shall be the king (Seforno)].(1) Rabbi Tanchum the son of Chanilay said, "When Yaakov admonished Reuven and Shimon, Yehudah's face became pale, since he was afraid that he would be admonished because of the incident with Tamar.(2) Immediately Yaakov called him and pacified him, as it is written, "Yehudah, your brothers will admit to you [that you shall be the king].

This is what the verse means when it says, "He who offers a sacrifice with confession does Me honor.(3) This verse applies to tzaddikim, who conquer their evil inclinations, and they confess their wrong doings. For all who sin and confess they were wrong are allowed to enter the World to Come, as it is written, "He who offers a sacrifice with confession does Me honor.

And so we find that Yehudah admitted that he had sinned in the incident concerning Tamar. G-d said to him, "You saved Tamar and her two sons from being executed by fire. You saved Yoseph from the pit, as it is written, "And Yehudah said to his brothers, `What profit shall we have if we kill our brother?'(4) I swear that I shall save four of your children. One I shall save from the pit Daniel since you have saved Yoseph, and three I shall save from the fire Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah since you have saved Peretz, Zerach, and Tamar.

On the other hand, G-d curses a person who does not admit his wrongdoings. So we find that when Cain killed his brother, G-d said to him, "Where is Hevel, your brother?

He answered, "Master of the Universe, Hevel and I have brought a gift before You. You accepted his gift, but you rejected mine, causing me great disappointment. How can You ask me where he is? You certainly know, since you guard all human beings.

G-d said to him, "I shall let you know where he is [meaning: of course I know that you murdered him].

Cain said, "Master of the Universe, is my sin too great for you to bear?(5) My sin is not greater than the sin of the six hundred thousand who in the future will cause You to be angry in the desert. And when they will say, `Forgive our sins,' You will immediately forgive them, as it is written, `And G-d said, "I have forgiven as you have asked." ' "(6)

At that time G-d said, "If I shall not forgive immediately, I shall be closing the door on those who wish to repent. G-d immediately waived half of his punishment. We can derive that it was half, since in the beginning G-d said to him, "You will stray and wander in the land.(7) And since he did not repent entirely, it is written, "And he dwelled in the land of Nod.(8) This word, "he dwelled, means "wandering, and refers to the fact that he was now "wandering but not "straying. G-d had originally wished to punish him with both "wandering and "straying. Thus we might suggest that the phrase "na vanad refers to a more severe exile than would have been the case had there been only one, rather than two, adjectives used here.
(YALKUT 159)

Why did Yehudah fear that he would be admonished because of the incident with Tamar? Why is Yehudah's reward that he shall be the king? How do we learn from the verse that the reward for confessing one's wrongdoings is entrance into the World to Come? Why is this so? What is the connection between Yehudah's mitzvos and the rewards his descendants received?

Why did G-d ask Cain where Hevel was, when He knew very well that he had been murdered? What was the relevance of Cain's reply that he had been greatly disappointed, when that was not an answer to the question asked? How did Cain know that his sin was not greater than the sin in the desert? How can Cain's repentance be accepted, when he admitted his sin only after a direct confrontation with G-d?

Yehudah's Fear of Tamar

When Yaakov admonished Reuven and Shimon, Yehudah's face became pale, since he was afraid that he would be admonished because of the incident with Tamar.

For all who sin and confess they were wrong are allowed to enter the World to Come, as it is written, "He who offers a sacrifice with confession does Me honor.

The Torah tells us that Yehudah was afraid to let Tamar marry his son Shelah, because he feared that Shelah might suffer death just as his other two sons had after they had married Tamar.(9) Rashi(10) says that he was making an excuse, for in reality he had never intended to let her marry Shelah, because of this fear. This may have been Yehudah's sin, since he was preventing his daughter-in-law from remarrying.

Although his actions seemed justified, since he believed that his two sons had died because of her, they were in truth unjustified, because it was not Tamar who had caused them to die, but rather their own sins. According to Jewish law, it is dangerous to marry a woman after she has been twice married and widowed.(11) But the law also states that if their deaths were not her fault, then she may marry again.(12) Here the cause of their deaths was explicitly written in the Torah,(13)and therefore Yehudah was not justified in refusing to allow Shelah to marry her.

Yehudah's reward for admitting the truth was that he would become king, because one of the greatest temptations of a king is pride, and the Torah warns the king against this.(14) The person most fitting to become king is one who has overcome this temptation. Yehudah demonstrated this quality very well. This may be the reason Shaul too was chosen to be king, since he was full of humility. This is shown by the fact that when he heard that he was to become king, he hid among the utensils.(15)

Humility was also the greatness of Yehudah, for he was able to admit his mistake. Therefore, his proper reward was to become king, since he was able to withstand the temptations of this exalted position.

We know from the verse, "He who offers a sacrifice with confession does Me honor,(16) that the reward for confessing one's wrongdoings is entrance to the World to Come. The verse implies that when someone admits he was wrong, he is honoring G-d. Entry into the World to Come can be obtained only by honoring G-d. Thus our Sages derived this connection of ideas from this verse.

The Reward for Admitting the Truth

...All who sin and confess they were wrong are allowed to enter the World to Come...

"I swear that I shall save four of your children. One I shall save from the pit Daniel since you have saved Yoseph, and three I shall save from the fire Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah since you have saved Peretz, Zerach, and Tamar.

Why is entrance into the World to Come a fitting reward for admitting one's sins? To enter the World to Come, a person must follow the truth. This world is called the world of falsehood, while the World to Come is called the world of truth.(17) This can perhaps be understood as follows: In this world we can pretend that we are righteous, for no one knows what is going on in our hearts. But in the World to Come the truth is known, and there we cannot fool anyone. Therefore, the more we adhere to the truth in this world, the better chance we stand to gain entrance into the next world.

Now we can understand what our Sages meant when they said, "For all who admit their wrongdoings gain entrance to the World to Come. When a person is willing to admit the truth and does not try to cover up his mistakes with lies, he is adhering to the basic principles of the World to Come, and thus he deserves to be a part of that world.

Yehudah's mitzvos were similar to the rewards his descendants received, since Yehudah's mitzvos were done with great self-sacrifice. He took it upon himself to confront his brothers and save Yoseph from their anger. He also admitted his mistake with Tamar, despite the great embarrassment this caused him. In this merit he had great descendants: Daniel, Chananya, Mishael and Azarya, who all excelled in self-sacrifice. They were all saved from danger in the same way that Yehudah had saved others from danger. This is to teach us that if we are willing to go out on a limb for others, we ourselves will benefit from this in the future.

Cain's Mistake

...When Cain killed his brother, G-d said to him, "Where is Hevel, your brother?
"You accepted his gift, but you rejected mine, causing me great disappointment. How can You ask me where he is?
Cain said, "...My sin is not greater than the sin of the six hundred thousand who in the future will cause You to be angry in the desert.
G-d immediately waived half of his punishment.

G-d of course knew very well that Hevel had been murdered by Cain. But He wanted to give Cain a chance to admit his mistake. Everyone makes mistakes, but it takes courage to admit them and to correct them. Hevel's life could not be brought back, but at least Cain could realize that he had made a terrible mistake, and could ask G-d for forgiveness. Since he had not come forward on his own, G-d gave him an opening by asking where his brother was.

Cain's reply, "You rejected mine, causing me great disappointment, was his excuse for having murdered his brother. He was saying to G-d, "How could I have avoided killing my brother after having suffered such great disappointment over the fact that You were not willing to accept my gift while You accepted my brother's gift? Instead of admitting his mistake, Cain justified it. A person cannot correct his wrongdoings until he is willing to admit that he has made a mistake, and Cain was unwilling to admit that he had made a mistake in killing his brother.

How did Cain know that his sin was not greater than the sin in the desert? The sin in the desert refers to the Golden Calf, where we find that G-d's reply is, "I have forgiven as you have asked.(18) Although the sin of the Golden Calf was a sin of idol worship and Cain's sin was murder, Cain believed that his sin was not as great, since it was done only by a single individual. The sin in the desert involved the masses, and thus Cain maintained that the impact of their sin was much greater than his own solitary sin. Cain may also have wanted to point out that the punishment the Torah assigns to the sin he committed is less than that of idol worship. For murder the punishment is execution by the sword,(19) whereas one who commits the sin of idol worship receives the punishment of stoning,(20) which is more severe, according to our Sages.(21)

By comparing his sin with the sin in the desert, Cain was in effect asking for forgiveness. He was saying, not only to G-d, but also to himself, that he was ready to overcome his hesitation and admit his mistake.

But how can Cain's teshuvah be accepted when he only admitted his sin after a confrontation with G-d? The reason is that G-d in His mercy did not tell Cain explicitly that he had sinned. Instead He said to him, "I shall let you know where he is. These words allowed Cain to admit his own sin after the prompting that G-d gave him. Nevertheless, it was not considered a whole-hearted admission of his sin, and thus G-d forgave him only for half of his sin.

Attaining Truth from Your Children

From the reward and praise that Yehudah received for admitting his mistake, we can learn how hard it is for a person to tell the truth. If this is true for an adult, how much more must it be true for a child. Children have very few resources to protect themselves from the "giants called adults, and telling a lie is something they can readily rely upon.

Thus it is important that we do not respond harshly when a child tells a lie. It is natural for a child to rely on a lie for protection, and this is also the case among adults. Thus a child cannot be expected to be a greater tzaddik than an adult. If a parent strikes a child for telling a lie, or deprives him of essential needs on account of this sin, this is not fair to the child, since he is a victim of the society he lives in. We must reserve harsh punishments for real "crimes that he is not expected to commit.

As parents, we must try our best to punish our children in appropriate ways, and not be overly harsh, so that their fear of punishment not drive our children to tell lies. If they do lie to avoid punishment, we must speak to them about the importance of truthfulness, bringing examples from stories of great men who sacrificed so much for the sake of truth, and point out that the punishment they might have avoided is simply not worth the consequences of lying.

Serve as an Example of Truth

We must be exemplary models of adherence to the truth so that our children will be able to emulate us. When you relate an incident from your day at work, be careful to be very exact in all the details. If you are in doubt about a certain detail, then you should say so when you retell the story. Never assume that what you are saying is true unless you have a clear source to testify to its truth. Once your child finds out that you exaggerate or that you are not exact in telling stories, you will find it extremely difficult to train him regarding telling the truth, since a child sees his parents as ideal people, and he seeks to emulate them.

Some parents give promises as a way of circumventing a child's pestering. For example, when the child pesters his father for a bicycle, he might say to him, "Next year I will buy you one. If a daughter tries to get a doll from her mother she is liable to say, "For your birthday I will get you one. If you do not actually intend to do so, you are getting yourself into trouble and also setting an example of lying for your child to see. Of course it is easier to put off the confrontation and worry about the promise later, when the time comes, but this is not the best way to educate a child. If you are not going to buy your child a bicycle or a doll, you might as well tell them the truth now. You will gain nothing by delaying telling the truth.

Praising the Truth

Try to bring stories from your daily experiences that show how you were careful to tell the truth. This is not bragging, but rather it is important that you set an example for the child from which he can learn. When he sees, for example, how you gave up a chance to make money for the sake of telling the truth, or how you could have saved a lot of money in shopping, yet you gave this up because you did not want to lie, he will be deeply inspired to do the same. In fact, if you fail to tell him about such exemplary experiences, he will be losing an important educational opportunity.

Whenever you hear of an incident about a rabbi or an acquaintance or relative who was careful to tell the truth, relate the story to your children and praise the person for his or her honesty. By showing where praise is due you are instilling in your children the importance of telling the truth. When you relate a story about someone's determination to tell the truth, this shows your children the weight you place upon telling the truth. Try to find stories that emphasize this trait and tell them to your children.

At least sometimes your child must be telling the truth. When he does so, make a big fuss over of it. "How true your words are! "You are so exact when you tell a story. "I love the way you are careful to tell all the details so precisely. When you praise your child for telling the truth, this makes it worthwhile for him to make the effort to stick to the facts, rather than to tell a lie, which is often easier. Everyone loves praise, and it is an important tool to use to help your children improve.

Give a Reward for Telling the Truth

You can give your child a reward for not lying. This way he will receive a tangible reward for his efforts. When he sees that it pays to tell the truth, he will exert himself, since he will be motivated to earn the reward. This of course is not the ultimate goal, since a person should be faithful to the truth for its own sake. But in training children, a reward is often needed until these character traits become part of his personality.

Never put your child in a position where he will be forced to lie. Don't say, "Did you break this window? This will make him afraid to admit to such an act. If you do suspect that he committed a major sin, be prepared to hear him lie. Yehudah, the son of Yaakov, was great enough to admit his mistake, but do not expect such greatness from a child.

Our patient training will eventually pay off. The more we are able to instill in our children the trait of telling the truth, the more we are helping them to find contentment in this world and to gain entrance into the World to Come.

1. Bereshis 49:8
2. Ibid. 38
3. Tehillim 50:23
4. Bereshis 37:26
5. Ibid. 4:13
6. Bamidbar 14:20
7. Bereshis 4:14
8. Ibid. 4:16
9. Ibid. 38:11
10. Ibid.
11. Shulchan Aruch, Even Haezer 9:1
12. Ibid.
13. Bereshis 38:9
14. Devarim 17:20
15. Shemuel I 10:22
16. Tehillim 50:23
17. Zohar I 192:
18. Bamidbar 14:20
19. Sanhedrin 76b
20. Ibid. 53a
21. Ibid. 49b

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