|Back to this week's Parsha||
by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
|Archive of previous issues|
Each of the children of Israel will encamp by his own flag which will bear the ensigns of their fathers' house: encircled opposite the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp.
When the famous Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, the rosh yeshivah of Baranowitz, visited America to raise funds for his yeshiva, many people came to see him for advice or a berachah.
Among them was a German Jew, who told the rabbi, "I have a son of fifteen, and I think the time has come for him to leave the yeshivah and go learn a trade. I am doing this because our Sages say, 'It is better for the Torah to be combined with derech eretz.'"(1) From the man's words it was obvious that he was not asking for advice, but rather seeking the rabbi's consent for what he was planning to do.
Since Rabbi Elchanan knew that the German Jews were very adamant on the issue of teaching their children a trade, he spoke to the man especially gently and courteously. "You are certainly right that Torah should be combined with derech eretz, and not only that, but Torah without work will cease in the end.(2)
"But amongst all the mitzvos, what do you think is the relative importance of a person performing a bris for his son? Our Sages say, 'Milah is so great that it has the same importance as all the mitzvos of the Torah.'(3) In spite of this, what is the law when the baby's older brothers have died as a direct consequence of having a bris? The law is that you cannot give the baby a bris. So you see that in spite of its tremendous importance, it is forbidden to do the mitzvah now, and if the father has it performed it is considered a sin, since he is endangering his child's life.
"Now I am sure that you will agree with me that the mitzvah of teaching your child a trade is not nearly as great as the obligation to perform a bris. Therefore, consider that we find ourselves in an age where 'the older brothers have died' due to this same mitzvah of learning a trade. The facts are that in these circumstances there is a strong precedent which shows that when a son is sent at a young age to learn an occupation he forsakes the mitzvos. This sort of damage is at least as severe a threat to life. Our primary goal in this world is spiritual. This means that if one's spiritual life is threatened, we should be at least as concerned as if his physical life were in peril. These days, you find everywhere children forsaking the Torah and mitzvos as soon as they leave the yeshivah."
The Jew heard what Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman had to say, but refused to accept his advice. He took his child out of the yeshivah, and sent him to learn a trade. In the middle of that year, the child became ill and died. Sadly, it was as if the rabbi's words had proven to be literally true, when he compared the situation to that in which "the older brothers have died due to the bris."
This father was determined to educate his child contrary to the advice of Rabbi Wasserman. He was mistaken to presume that he had no need to take the advice of someone with superior vision and foresight. Only by carefully considering the advice of a person learned in Torah can we be confident that we are pursuing a course likely to succeed in educating our children properly.
The verse says, "He has brought me to the cellar of wine."(4)
Why did the angels escort G-d when he appeared on Mount Sinai to give the Torah? Why did they come with flags? Why were the Jewish people jealous of the angels' flags? How is the Torah comparable to wine? What is the connection between flags and love? Why did G-d wait until the Jewish people requested the flags, rather than make them on His own initiative?
When G-d appeared on Mount Sinai, two hundred million chariots of angels came down with Him...
When G-d appeared on Mount Sinai, the angels which escorted Him demonstrated to everyone G-d's great glory. G-d's appearance on Mount Sinai was the only time He revealed Himself to the entire nation so that everyone heard His voice. The angels' task is to praise G-d and glorify His name, as we find in our daily prayers, yotzer ohr and kedushah. At the time when He openly spoke to the Jewish people, He became more exalted than ever before. So the angels had more reason to praise and venerate Him, and so they appeared in their millions.
Flags represent uniqueness and pride. Every country has its own special flag, and each is proud of its unique identity and character. Similarly, the angels have unique tasks in praising and glorifying His name. Their flags represented the pride they felt in the uniqueness of their tasks.
When the Jewish people saw them with their flags, they, too, desired flags.
Why were the Jewish people jealous of the angels' flags? The angels had taught the Jewish people to be proud of their role as servants of G-d and to realize that no two tasks were the same. Every Jew has a special task in life that no one else can replace. Our Sages say, "Just as their minds are not the same, so too are their faces not the same."(11) Every person has a different potential due to his personality, natural talents, strengths or weaknesses, and the circumstances of his life. This is what helps make him unique.
This lesson of enthusiasm for service was learned through the descending of the angels with their flags. The angels have no yetzer hara and yet are proud of doing G-d's will. How much more so should we human beings be, since we face a daily struggle with the yetzer hara. Each person deserves a flag since he has triumphed in his own personal struggle against his yetzer.
The Torah is comparable to wine, in the sense that it shares with wine a unique characteristic. Normally when a beverage ages, it loses its taste or spoils entirely. But wine improves with age. The same is true of learning Torah. Our Sages say, "Old wine can be compared to the minds of elders."(12)The more a person learns, the wiser he becomes, and the more he improves as an individual. Just as the wine improves with age, so do the minds of those who learn Torah.
He [G-d] immediately demonstrated to them how much He loved the Jewish people by saying to Moshe, "Go and make flags for them as they have requested..."
What is the connection between flags and love? As mentioned above, the flag represents the uniqueness of each person. Distinctness is one of the reasons why G-d loves us as individuals. He sees our personal struggles and is gratified by our many successes. His love grows when He sees us meet the challenge of fulfilling the mitzvos, since this is how we prove our loyalty to Him.
G-d waited for the Jewish people to request flags, since He wanted to see whether we understood how special we are. He wanted us to recognize our accomplishments and take pride in them. G-d has no shortage of flags, but a person must show that he understands the gift of being unique. If he thinks that there are another thousand like him or that his role is not worthy of celebration, then he does not deserve a flag. The flag represents the recognition that a person has reached a certain level of understanding, and that he deserves his reward.
Every child is unique. You cannot expect from one child what can be expected from another. Each has his own individual talents, personality and struggles.
A parent should not say to a child, "Why are you not as good as your brother?" Nor, "Why can't you be as talented as that child in your class?" Statements like these may cause him to despair. He can never be someone else, so why make such an unrealistic demand?
You should rather expect your child to improve in a feasible way. Tell him that you are confident that if he tries he can do better. Don't ask him to be Moshe Rabbenu, but ask him to be himself in the best way he can. By letting him know that you believe in his potential to succeed, you are giving him the self-confidence he needs. By gently encouraging him to improve, you are setting a realistic goal, one he can accomplish.
Since every child is unique, try to find out in what area your child excels and compliment him on that. Show him that he is capable of being successful.
Once there was a boy of fifteen in a yeshivah, who was a failure in his learning. He was unable to learn gemara and also disturbed the class at every opportunity. The rabbis were at a loss as to what to do with the boy.
The father asked the mashgi'ach if there was anything at all positive in his son. The mashgi'ach answered that his davening was fine, but that was about the only thing he did well.
"Do me a favor," said the father. "Instead of criticizing him on his poor behavior and learning, ignore it and start praising him on his davening."
The mashgi'ach followed the father's advice, and the result was that the boy appreciated the praise so much that he made efforts in other areas as well, until eventually he became one of the best students in the yeshivah.
We can learn a great deal from this. We must look positively at our children in order for them to succeed. When we think of them negatively, they begin to see themselves in a negative light, too, and fall into despair. When we praise them, they wish to live up to our praise, and so they make positive efforts, which are bound to succeed.
Since every child is unique, it is important to find out what your child enjoys doing or studying and allow him time for that. Many parents decide that their son will follow in his father's footsteps and do not take into consideration the son's capabilities or personal preferences. Do not stifle your child, but let him develop according to his special and unique self.
In many instances, if the father is a doctor or a lawyer, he may try to influence his children to follow the same profession. The consequences can be disastrous. Even if the father is successful in his field, this does not mean that his son will necessarily be so too. A profession does not run in the family.
Forcing a child to enter a certain field against his will is cruel and can be counter-productive. We should try to help our children in life. By forcing them in a certain direction, we gain nothing, since they may discard all that we have invested in them, and choose another way of life altogether. We may discover too late that all we did for them was in vain.
It is a good idea to let your child find out about many different trades, to see which he likes and which he might have a special aptitude for. This way we will be certain that we are not depriving him of anything. Let him choose freely what he likes, so that when he comes to make his final decision, he will be sure to enter a field that he really loves and is good at.
In our day and age, many students become talmidei chachamim. There is a prevailing attitude that favors learning, and those who do not learn are considered to be almost failures in life. Many girls will not consider a shidduch with a boy who is working instead of learning.
Although it is wonderful if our children can become successful talmidei chachamim, we must remember that not everyone has the talents necessary for that. Our Sages mention that only one in a thousand becomes a posek.(13) This shows that not everyone has the exceptional qualities necessary for such a vocation.
On the other hand, our Sages tell us that this is the best field to teach your child, as the Talmud quotes Rabbi Nehoray as saying, "I discard all other professions, and teach my child only to be a talmid chacham."(14) It is not probable that the rabbi forced his son to be a talmid chacham, but rather he suggested it to his son as a first and preferable choice.
This is the correct attitude to have. We must instill in our children a love for talmidei chachamim, and a love for Torah. We should also provide them with the right schools and tutors to succeed in Torah. But if, after doing our best, the child chooses another field, we must accept it with understanding. Since we have done our job, we need not be disappointed that our children are not talmidei chachamim. If they become honest, G-d-fearing Jews, then we have nothing to be ashamed of. As long as they fulfill their potential, we have done our duty towards them. Just as everyone has his own flag, we must recognize the special talents of our children and give them the encouragement and the opportunities they need to develop and excel in their own special way.
1. Avos 2:2
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network