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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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I also will do this to you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and fever, that shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, and your enemies shall eat it.
Rabbi Elimelech was a great talmid chacham who lived in a small town in Eastern Europe. His life was dedicated to learning Torah, and he let nothing interfere with his learning. Despite his great diligence, he lacked a source of income and was extremely poor.
The time came for his daughter to marry. His wife and relatives approached him and said, "It is wonderful that you learn so much Torah, but it is your duty to marry off your daughter. You must find some way to obtain the money for her to marry!"
After much persuasion, he finally agreed to travel to a wealthy relative and ask him for financial help for his daughter. He ordered a wagon and packed his bags for the long journey. When everything was ready, he said goodbye to his family and kissed the mezuzah; yet he continued to linger there.
Fifteen minutes went by, and he was still standing by the mezuzah. His family and the wagon driver watched him, unable to understand what he was doing. Finally, he went back into the house, took off his coat, and sat down with his gemara, opening it to the page he had been learning.
His wife began to cry and said to him, "What are you doing? How much time have I spent convincing you to go to your relative, and now you kiss the mezuzah and return to your learning! What happened to you?"
"I will tell you what happened," answered Rabbi Elimelech. "The gemara says, 'When you are about to travel, ask the advice of G-d and go.'(1) So I kissed the mezuzah, which has G-d's name on it, and I asked G-d for His advice.
Then I suddenly thought, 'Here I am, about to travel to my relative, who may help me or he may not. How can I close the gemara and stop learning for something which is doubtful? But right here is my Father in Heaven, who will certainly help me. All I have to do is ask Him.'
"So I said to Him, 'G-d, You can help me without my having to travel.' I received the answer, 'Go back to your learning, and I will help you.'"
After a short while the minister of the town came to visit Rabbi Elimelech and said to him, "I have to make a long journey. In my possession are very valuable boots and other valuable articles that I received as an inheritance from my father. While I am away, I am afraid that my house will be robbed, so I have put all my valuables inside these boots and have brought them to you for safekeeping, since I know that you are completely trustworthy. Not only that, but if, G-d forbid, something happens to me and I do not return, I would like to give you all these articles as a gift, since I have no children, and I do not want anyone else to have these things."
The minister went on his way, and on the road he was attacked by armed robbers and killed. Thus all the valuables belonged to Rabbi Elimelech. He was now able to marry off his daughter, without having to travel, and he was also able to help many other poor families.
G-d helped Rabbi Elimelech in an extraordinary way so that he could help his child. We must also pray that G-d will enable us to help our children in spiritual as well as material ways.
"And you shall sow your seed in vain, and your enemies shall eat it."(2) If you sow and nothing grows, what are your enemies going to eat? The answer is that you will sow in the first year and nothing will grow, but the next year your seeds will bear fruit, but the enemy will come and eat what you have planted.
Why is it much worse when the enemy consumes our produce in a year of successful harvest which comes after a year when the harvest has failed? What is meant by saying your sons and daughters shall be lost through sin? Why does the king put all his energy into doing evil to us? Why is death worse from within when our enemies surround us? Why is it worse for wicked Jews to rule over us rather than gentiles?
...You will sow in the first year and nothing will grow, but the next year your seeds will bear fruit, but the enemy will come and eat what you have planted.
It is much worse when the enemy comes in a year of plentiful harvest, because the taste of success is much sweeter when it comes after a failure. It is appreciated much more, since the person who has experienced failure knows how sad it has been in the past and now happiness fills his heart. That is how the Torah portrays the curses we shall receive when we stray from the right path. We will forfeit the special happiness of success which comes after failure. The loss of the harvest is nothing compared to the loss of the happiness that comes with success after failure.
This is a lesson for us not to be disappointed when we fail at something. We must remember that our eventual success will be even sweeter, since it comes after failure.
[This] refers to one's sons and daughters, who will be lost through sin.
Why are we told that sons and daughters will be lost through sin? One of the worst trials in life is for a person to see his children stray from the right path and become absorbed in sin. This is a constant source of pain and sadness instead of the pride we hoped to feel in our children. This terrible anguish is included in the curses of the Torah delineated in this parashah.
Since our children's failure is forewarned here in the Torah, it is obvious that it is caused by our own sins, and their failure is our punishment. The Torah is telling us that their failure is avoidable. The first thing a person must do to ensure his children's success in adhering to Jewish values is to pray for them. The Torah is showing us how to ward off this terrible punishment by asking G-d for mercy.
In the very blessing we recite before learning Torah every day we find that our children's success is mentioned. "And shall we, and our children, all know His name." This is also mentioned in the prayers towards the end of the morning service, in Uva Letzion, when we say: "Let us not strive in vain, and let us not give birth to confusion."
In his sefer, the Ben Ish Chay related the story of a tzaddik who had died and came in a dream to a friend of his. The friend saw that he was suffering and asked him the reason for this. The tzaddik replied that he had once recited the words, "Let us not strive in vain, and let us not give birth to confusion" without the proper concentration, and therefore he was now being punished. This teaches us what a great responsibility we have towards our children to pray constantly that they will succeed in Torah and yiras shamayim.
"I am going to stop paying attention to all my activities, and I will put all my energy into doing evil to you."
The more energy a king uses to punish his servants, the harsher the punishments will be. He will devise additional punishments that he had not thought of before. That is the meaning of the midrash's parable, "And I shall turn my face towards you."(8) G-d will place his focus on punishing us and may appear to be terribly cruel when we deserve it.
The midrash explains the verse that "death shall kill you from within, while from without your enemies shall surround you" to mean that a person naturally runs away when disease is spreading and people are dying around him. He does not wish to stay in a perilous situation, for he fears that the disease might kill him just as it has killed so many others. Running away is his only chance to survive. But when enemies surround his city and there is no escape, the chance of death is much more certain. He feels like a cornered animal, since there is no way to avoid the fate that has befallen so many others.
It is much worse when a wicked Jew rules over us than a gentile, because a Jew knows our hidden secrets and we can keep nothing from him. He understands our mentality, and can anticipate our actions and all our plans. Thus there is no escape from his iron hand. A gentile, on the other hand, is a stranger and does not always understand everything about the Jews. Once again we see that the more severe punishment is the one in which we are trapped from within and from which there is no room for escape.
As we have discussed, there are ways we can prevent our children from being lost through sin. The most important way is to pray constantly that they will be successful in Torah. The Chayei Adam(9) writes, "It is correct and fitting for every person to pray every day especially for his needs and his sustenance, that the Torah shall not be removed from his children and his children's children, and that all of his descendants shall be true servants of G-d, and no one who has been disqualified (pasul) shall be among his descendants; and (he should pray for) all that he knows in his heart that he needs." It is clear from his words that our children should be our first priority when we pray.
But prayer alone is not enough. We must give our children the support they need to withstand the temptations that surround them. That support is given through love and affection.
A noted educator, Rabbi Yechiel Yaakovson, interviewed several boys who had strayed from the path of Torah. They had left home and were no longer observant. The rabbi said to them, "Please give me some advice. I do not want my children to give up their heritage as you have. Tell me what I can do to avoid this?"
The reply was, "Your children will never stray like we did. We have been in your home and we have seen how much you love your children, and how much time you have for them. Our parents do not love us and never had time for us, so we did whatever we wanted and not what they wanted us to do."
Obviously, the parents of these boys must have loved them. But they did not have the time or the common sense to demonstrate this to their sons. When a parent is constantly working or learning and not devoting time to his children, he is jeopardizing their spiritual survival. Children need to see clearly that their parents are interested in them and want them to succeed. They must understand that they have their parents' unconditional love. A hug and a kiss and words of approval are like bread and water to a child. He cannot live a normal life and be healthy in mind and spirit without them.
A couple once came to me and told me that they were having a serious problem with their ten-year-old son. They had discovered that he was a thief.
When I asked them to elaborate, they related that their son had gone with the family for a walk to the park, and said suddenly, "See what I have found next to this tree. A hundred-dollar bill!" The child then gave the money to his mother, and asked her to keep it for him until he decided what to buy with it.
The mother was unsuspecting, but not the father. When he heard the story, he went to the drawer where he kept his money and discovered that exactly one hundred dollars was missing. Now they knew for sure that their son was a thief, and they desperately sought my advice.
I told them that their son was not such an experienced thief, otherwise he would not have revealed at all to his parents that he knew about the money. Then I asked them to tell me more about their daily schedule. They told me that the mother works in a bank every day until three o'clock in the afternoon. When she comes home she is very busy with this son and three younger children, as well as having to prepare food and tidy up the house.
I said to the mother, "I think that I have found the real thief. It is not your son, but it is the time you are stealing from him, and the love and attention that he so desperately needs from you, due to your busy schedule. Since he does not find the warmth and love that he needs at home, he is looking for something to fill his life, and that is why he wants money to buy new and exciting toys. Give your son some individual attention every day, and he will not need the money or the toys." It was obvious from the mother's expression that she had discovered the solution to her problem.
Rabbi Yaakovson suggests that the best times to show your love to your children are:
1) Before they go to school, so they will have your loving support for the trials that await them in the outside world.
2) When they come home from school
3) As they are going to bed, so that they will fall asleep calm and relaxed.
This is a wonderful idea, since it spreads our love throughout the day. It is like davening three times a day, to be sure that we do not forget our connection to G-d. Here, too, we are reminding ourselves of our connection to our children.
These are times when our children need us the most. When the child is about to leave the house, he has the whole world to confront, which is frightening for a child. By being at his side at this crucial moment, we are giving him the encouragement he needs to be confident and successful.
When he comes home, he wants to tell us what has happened during the day. It is therefore extremely important for us to be there for him and to greet him and be ready to listen. Listening to him at these moments demonstrates that we care about his success and are interested in everything that goes on in his life.
And finally, tucking him into bed is the crucial moment before he falls asleep in the darkness of the night. This can be a frightening time for a child, and when he has the warmth and reassurance of his parents, he can fall asleep much more easily. He has a better chance of having sweet dreams if he gets a goodnight kiss from a loving parent.
Constantly pray for your children's success and give them all the support they need. The results will bear fruit and bring happiness to both parent and child.
1. Berachos 29a
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network