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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And the L-rd said to Moshe, Gather to me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. And I will go down and I will speak with you there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon you.
During the last years of the reign of Czar Nikolai, the Jews suffered a great deal. Many families were caught up in the so-called "Enlightenment" and sent their children to study in universities where they had no connection with the Jewish way of life. Their parents continued to observe the Torah, but because they were wealthy, they gave in to the temptation of educating their children in a way which eventually caused them to stray from religious observance.
The Czar's secret service was aware that the Communist movement planned to take over Russia. Therefore they followed anyone they suspected might belong to the Communists, and many families were sent to Siberia and sentenced to hard labor in below-freezing conditions, until they would eventually perish.
In those days a renowned rabbi arrived in the Russian city of Minsk to arrange some important community business. During his stay, he was hosted by one of the wealthy and honored leaders of the community. After the rabbi had been there a short while, his host found him packing his bags, although he knew that it was not yet time for him to leave.
"Rabbi," inquired the host, "have you finished all your business so quickly? Or perhaps you have found something disagreeable in my home?"
"Yes," answered the rabbi, "I cannot bear to remain in your home any longer." The host was deeply insulted and asked, "What is it that I have done wrong, that you are leaving?"
"Let me ask you a question," began the rabbi. "What would you do if you heard that your son was being followed on suspicion of being a Communist sympathizer?" Upon hearing these words, the host became terribly frightened, and he responded to the rabbi with his teeth chattering, "What do you mean? I would give the shirt off my back to save my son."
"Tell me," continued the rabbi, "Is your son learning in Paris? Is he desecrating the Shabbos?"
"G-d forbid," replied the host, "he does not desecrate the Shabbos."
The rabbi continued, "But who are his friends? Are they not desecrating the Shabbos? See how blind you are! When there is fear of physical danger, you are willing to give the shirt off your back. But when there is real danger of spiritual damage because of the atmosphere in Paris, you are not worried at all! That is the reason I can not tolerate being in this house any longer."
With that the rabbi left the home of his host.
The host believed that he was giving his son a great gift by paying for his education in Paris, but in reality he was contributing to his son's spiritual destruction. We must learn how to give to our children in the right way so that they will truly gain in spiritual terms.
"And I will go down and I will speak..."(1) This is to teach you that the day of the appointment of the elders was a day of happiness for G-d, just as the day of the giving of the Torah, as it is written, "for on the third day G-d went down."(2)
Why is the day of the appointment of the elders a day of such great joy for G-d? In what way is it comparable to the day the Torah was given? Why, in the parable of the king and his orchard, is the king disturbed about the guard's unwillingness to guard alone; whereas we said earlier that G-d was overjoyed that the elders were appointed? What is meant by saying that Moshe will have to give the elders what they need for their task? How could the midrash conclude that Moshe was lacking nothing, when it had just said that Moshe must give them what they need, because G-d was not going to do so? How can a person possibly give what he has to others and yet lack nothing?
...The day of the appointment of the elders was a day of happiness for G-d, just as the day of the giving of the Torah...
The giving of the Torah was meant for everyone, for it does not belong to a single individual, no matter how great he may be. The more people learning Torah and studying its laws, the happier G-d will be. Therefore, when it was decided that not only Moshe would have the great wisdom of the Torah and be able to judge and guide the Jewish people, but that another seventy elders would also participate in this task, this caused G-d great happiness, since this was exactly His goal when He originally gave the Torah.
Rashi(4) mentions that G-d's acquiescence in appointing seventy elders to rule with Moshe was in response to Moshe's complaint, "I am not able to bear this people alone."(5) G-d would have preferred that Moshe alone judge and guide the people.
We learn from this that had Moshe not complained, he alone would have been the people's judge and guide. This would have been the ideal situation, even though G-d desired that the Torah be studied and practiced by as many people as possible. It made a great difference whether a person learned directly from Moshe or from an intermediary (one of the seventy appointed elders). Moshe was at such a high spiritual level, that if everyone would have had direct contact with him, the influence would have been much greater than if they had contact with the elders.
This was the reason G-d did not Himself suggest that the elders be appointed; rather He left everything in Moshe's hands. Even though He was as happy with the request as on the day He gave the Torah to the Jewish people, this happiness was secondary in comparison to the enormous influence that would have resulted had the Jewish people been able to learn directly from Moshe.
Therefore the king in the parable is disturbed that the guard is not willing to do his task alone. This is comparable to G-d's wish that Moshe be the sole judge, and He only agreed to have others participate after Moshe complained.
"...If you wish to share the task with others, you will be the one to give them what they need for the task."
The midrash's statement that Moshe would have to give the elders what they needed for their task can be explained as follows. Since Moshe had to appoint the seventy elders, he also had to train them to share in fulfilling that task appropriately. This is one way of understanding our Sages' words.
Another is that since Moshe had ruach hakodesh, divine inspiration, which was a helpful tool in judging the Jewish people, he was requested to pass this on to the newly appointed elders. This, of course, is something we cannot properly understand, since ruach hakodesh is not an object that one can pick up and hand over to someone else.
This leads to the next question. If Moshe, and not G-d, must give them what they need, how can a human being give to others and yet lack nothing?
Rabbenu Yonah explains(6) that there is a great difference between physical and spiritual acquisitions. A physical object can only be possessed by one person at a time. For instance, if your neighbor has a beautiful house or car, these belong to him, and you lack that house or that car. The person who does not have it might be full of envy and might feel animosity towards his neighbor, since he covets what his neighbor has. This is what the verse means when it says, "For desire one seeks alone."(7) When it comes to desire, if someone else has the same desire for the same physical object, only one of them can possess it, and the desire of the other will remain unfulfilled.
But when it comes to spiritual acquisitions, there is no question of jealousy when one has them and the other does not. For example, if one person knows a gemarah, this does not prevent another person from knowing the same gemarah. Everyone can have the same spiritual gain, and one person does not lose anything as a result of the other's acquiring it too. With Rabbenu Yonah's explanation in mind, the words of the midrash become clear. Although Moshe was training the elders and giving them of his wisdom, he was not losing any of that wisdom because of this. These are spiritual properties and are not lost to the owner if he shares them with others.
This principle is also exemplified by the words of our Sages: "I have learned much from my rabbis, more from my friends, and most from my students."(8) When a person teaches others, the material becomes clearer to him as he teaches it to others. He must understand the material he teaches so well that he can explain it to his students. This causes a teacher to gain great clarity in understanding the Torah.
Just as investing in your disciple does not cause you any loss, but rather brings you gain, the same applies to teaching your children. Time spent with them is an investment that will always reap rewards. A child who sees that his parents love him and are willing to give him their attention will respond with a great desire to do the will of his parents.
You may have contact with your child in many ways. You can study together what he has learned in school, or you can play a game together. What is important is that the child gains from the involvement of his parents, for this assures him that they care whether or not he succeeds. Without loving, caring parents, a child's chances of success in life are uncertain. A child is full of self-doubt and fears of the big world. He needs the reassurance that only his parents can give him when they show confidence in him.
There was once a poor, black father who lived in Atlanta, Georgia. He wanted to spend time with his son and show him how much he loved him. But he had no money and could not take his son to any place of entertainment, nor could he send him away for a vacation.
Finally, he had an idea. He took his son to the airport where there was a shuttle train-transporting passengers from one wing to the other. They sat up front where they could see the train entering the tunnel and all the lights and action. The father commented on everything they saw, and explained it all to his son. And so they rode the free airport shuttle for hours. Finally when the father asked his son if he wanted to go home, the son replied, "No, Dad, this is so much fun!"
You can send your son or daughter to Europe for a vacation or to Switzerland to climb mountains, but the sad fact is that those who have gone on these extravagant vacations have not turned out to be talmidei chachamim or excellent human beings. For if you give them such trips you are giving them only your money, which is nothing compared to giving of yourself, as the poor father in the story tried to do. Your money cannot buy a child real happiness, but your time and attention can.
We have no idea how much the smallest attention means to a child. A rabbi once wrote a halachic article and decided to share it with his son in yeshivah. He faxed the article to the yeshivah's office. Someone was given the fax to bring to the son, and noticed what an interesting subject was being discussed in the article. So, he asked the son if he could borrow the article after he had finished reading it. Word soon spread in the yeshivah about the interesting article and many requested to read it.
Later, the son mentioned to his father, "Dad, you have no idea how much that fax meant to me. It showed me that you think about me and want to share your ideas with me even though that I am far away." All the attention the son received enabled him to feel self-confident and proud of his father.
Many children have hobbies. They collect stamps, dolls, cards, or are interested in sports. They may discuss their hobby with their friends, and it takes up a lot of their time.
A parent should not neglect his child's interests. He must participate either by taking part in what his child is interested in or by listening. This is an excellent way to gain your child's love, since he loves these things, and he sees that you are also interested.
Go with your child to a stamp show or play ball with him, even if you have no great interest in doing these things. By going with him, you are gaining his trust. This is an excellent way to get him to listen to you. Because you have given him your time, he will feel obligated to repay your kindness.
By being with him and taking an interest, you will also be able to supervise what he is doing. Sometimes hobbies can lead to unsuitable friends or other bad influences. But if you participate with your child, he will tell you what is going on, and thus you will be able to guide him on the right path.
Some people think that the way to keep their children happy is to "keep up with the Joneses," by buying them all the things the neighbors' kids have. They feel that otherwise the child will feel unjustly treated.
There is no need to buy our children everything our neighbors have. This only leads to envy, which is a sin. Instead, we should tell our children that we do not buy things just because others have them. We buy only what is necessary for us. Too many possessions can lead us to abandon the Torah, G-d forbid, as it is written, "And Yeshurun became fat and he kicked."(9)
Explain to your child how harmful envy is, as the verse says, "Jealousy causes bones to rot."(10) If our neighbors have something we do not have, this can serve as an opportunity for us to overcome feelings of jealousy, and we can succeed in that challenge.
It is important that you explain to your child that you have no intention of keeping him from having things. On the contrary, you love him very much and want him always to be happy, but buying what others have will not show him how much you love him, since this will be harmful to him.
By showing your child that you care and you want him or her to do well, you are giving your child the best possible incentive to succeed.
1. Bamidbar 11:17
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network