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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Behar

Making Your Children Happy

And if your brother shall become poor, and his hands shall fail, you shall support him: though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with you.
(VAYIKRA 25:35)

During the Second World War, there was a little girl in Jerusalem who was already two and a half years old and still unable to walk. Her younger sister was showing signs of starting to walk, while she herself made no progress whatsoever. The parents were very worried and took her to the best doctors, but were unable to find a remedy. One doctor was especially pessimistic and said, "When hair grows on the palm of my hand, this little girl will walk."

The great tzaddik, Rabbi Shlomo of Zehvil, lived in Jerusalem at that time and the girl's mother decided to go to the rabbi and implore him to pray for the child. As it was wartime, food was very scarce, and everything was rationed. Since it was customary for one to bring a gift to a chassidic rabbi when one came to see him, the mother did the same, despite her dire situation. In the market she bought some lentils, flour, and dried fruit and brought the food to the rabbi as a present. Then she begged him to bless her daughter with a complete recovery.

The rabbi heard her story and that she was a descendant of the famous Rabbi of Brezhen. But his response was, "I would like to help you, but there is nothing I can do."

When the mother heard this, she understood the severity of the situation, since even this great tzaddik was unable to abolish the decree in heaven against her daughter. She began to sob hysterically and did not stop imploring him to bless the child. "Yes, you can help me," cried the mother. "A tzaddik's prayers are always answered."

The rabbi thought for a while and then he said to her, "There is a known method of getting your prayers answered, and that is to go to the Kosel for forty consecutive days."

She answered, "Rebbe, how can I, a young woman with many small children, go forty days to the Kosel?" Her responsibilities to her family made it impossible for her to leave the house every day.

"But what can I do?" replied the rabbi.

"Go instead of me!" pleaded the mother.

The rabbi thought for a minute and said, "All right, I agree to go for you." With this he sent her home with a blessing.

When she came home she told her husband about her visit to the rabbi. Exactly on the fortieth day, when the child was sitting on a chair, and her younger sister was crawling near her on the floor, she suddenly started walking normally, just like any other child. From that day on she progressed like a normal child. She later grew up, got married, and had a large family.

The rabbi, despite his many responsibilities, traveled to the Kosel forty consecutive days to make the sad heart of a stranger happy. How much more so should we desire to make our own children happy and strive to find the right ways to accomplish this.

"A poor man and an afflicted man met."(1) In this verse, "A poor man" refers to someone without any property, while "an afflicted man" here refers to someone with moderate wealth.

The poor man said to the wealthy man, "Give me a mitzvah" [meaning a donation, which is a mitzvah for the wealthy man]. He gave the poor man a donation. The above verse concludes, "G-d will enlighten both of them." This means that both have gained. The poor man has gained something earthly, and the rich man has gained entrance to the World to Come.

A wealthy man and a poor man met. The poor man said to the wealthy one, "Give me a mitzvah." He did not give the poor man a donation. "G-d creates everyone," which concludes the above verse, refers to the idea that He who made a person rich can also make him poor, and vice versa.

Not only did the rich man not give a donation, he even made fun of the poor man saying, "My poor friend, why don't you trouble yourself to work hard and earn a living? See how fat you are in your thighs, your feet, and your neck. This is due to your sitting around and not exerting yourself to earn a living."

G-d says to the rich man, "Not only did you fail to give of your own wealth, but also on the part that I demand be given to the poor man, you have put an ayin hara [evil eye]. Therefore in the end the following verse will come true for you, "He will give birth to a son, and there is nothing in his hand."(2) This means that the rich man's son will not have anything which the father had. "But those riches perish by evil adventure."(3) This part of the verse teaches us that the loss of wealth will be at a bad time. Therefore Moshe warns Israel and says to them, "And if your brother shall become poor and his hand shall fail, you shall support him."(4)
(YALKUT 665, par. "Vayechi")

Why is the wealthy man called "an afflicted man?" How can the verse compare the benefit reaped by the two men, as it is written, "G-d will enlighten both of them," when it seems clear that the wealthy man has profited much more by gaining entrance to the World to Come? Why in the end of the second story is the rich man punished by losing all his wealth? The poor man became rich as a consequence of the wealthy man's refusal to help; how is it clear that he deserved to receive this money? What does the wealthy man mean by saying that the poor man is fat? What does G-d mean when he says that the wealthy man puts an ayin hara on what the poor man was given? Why does the punishment of the rich man include that his son will also lose his wealth? What do our Sages mean when they say the wealth shall be lost at a bad time?

Everyone Gains From a Mitzvah

The poor man has gained something earthly, and the rich man has gained entrance to the World to Come.

Even when a person enjoys considerable wealth, he is still called "an afflicted man." The reason for this is that no matter how much wealth a person has, he is afflicted with a craving for more. Our Sages say, "He who has one hundred, wants two hundred."(5) Therefore, he is called "afflicted," since this describes his feelings. He is disappointed with what he has and finds himself constantly dissatisfied.

How can the verse compare the benefit reaped by the two men, as it is written, "G-d will enlighten both of them," when it seems clear that the wealthy man has profited much more by gaining entrance to the World to Come? The poor man gains more than it appears. Firstly, he gains the material things he so desperately requires. When he has hunger pains or shivers with cold, satisfying these needs is of the utmost importance to him. Secondly, the poor man enables the wealthy one to gain entrance to the World to Come, and therefore he will receive a sizable spiritual compensation. If he had not asked for a donation, the wealthy man would not have had the opportunity to give one. Therefore, even though in human eyes it seems that the wealthy man has performed a far greater mitzvah, the Torah teaches us that those who cause the mitzvah are no less important.

The Punishment for Stinginess

Not only did the rich man not give a donation, he even made fun of the poor man, saying, "...See how fat you are in your thighs, your feet, and your neck."

Why in the end of the second story is the rich man punished by losing all his wealth? A person's wealth is only given to him as a deposit entrusted to him by G-d. When he does with it as he is supposed to do, the wealth remains his. Our Sages say, "The salt of money is to give away part of it."(6) Just as meat spoils and is lost without some preservative such as salt, so too a person's wealth departs if he does not give away part of it to charity. By not using the preservative of money, tzedakah, the wealthy man risks losing all his wealth.

The poor man deserves to become rich simply because the wealthy man refused to help him. We learned above that a poor man is considered partially responsible for the rich man's actions because he came and asked him for money. If we apply this principle to the case where the donation is not given, then the poor man is in the same sense also responsible. Now he is an indirect cause of the rich man's loss of wealth. Since he is culpable, he is given the wealth as a test to see whether he can do any better. It is easy to despise a wealthy man for not giving, but when a poor man is put in his place, he will soon find that giving appropriate tzedakah is a great challenge.

What does the wealthy man mean by saying that the poor man is fat? Being fat is a physical sign of satiety and abundance according to the Torah, "You have become fat and have become thick. You have become covered with fat, and you have left G-d who created you."(7) This verse is a reprimand to the Jewish people. Instead of thanking G-d for the blessing of feeling satisfied and at ease, they leave Him and disobey. In the above midrash the wealthy man is saying to the poor man, "Although you have no money, at least you have the leisure which I lack. You have found a certain tranquility, whereas since I must constantly exert myself to become rich, I do not have that leisure." The drive for wealth can be all consuming, so one must guard against being robbed of peace of mind as a result of having too much money.

An "Evil Eye"

G-d says to the rich man, "Not only did you fail to give of your own wealth, but also on the part that I demand be given to the poor man, you have put an ayin hara."
...The rich man's son will not have anything which the father had.
...The loss of wealth will be at a bad time.

What does G-d mean when he says that the wealthy man is giving an ayin hara to the very little that the poor man was given? Since the wealthy man does not receive satisfaction from his own wealth, he denigrates whatever little the poor man has, wishing to drag him down. His jealousy for the poor man's tranquility prevents him from giving with a warm heart.

When our Sages say that the rich man's wealth shall be lost at a bad time, they mean that just as the wealthy man is ready to buy something he greatly desires he will lose his wealth. This is a greater disappointment, since one sees his dreams shattered at the very moment they are about to be realized. Poor timing is part of the punishment. Not only will he suffer a depletion of wealth, but he will also lose it at the time when he most craves it.

Why does the punishment of the wealthy man include his son losing his wealth? Wealth in people's eyes is often equated with happiness. Part of the satisfaction of being rich is that a person believes he has done everything possible to insure the happiness of his children. Hence, one of the greatest disappointments a wealthy man can feel is to be unable to help his children financially. This pains him even more than simply becoming impoverished, and so this shows the severity of his punishment for not giving.

Show That You Care About Your Children

Just as the wealthy man wants his children to be happy, so does every parent. But how can we achieve this goal?

When a child is given everything he desires and is allowed to do whatever he wants, a parent might think that he is making his child happy. But in reality such a spoiled child will grow into a self-centered adult who cannot control himself. Only when parents create boundaries, which constructively restrain their children, can they hope to find happiness.

Insufficient care also increases the difficulties a child will face in trying to find happiness. Such a child will most likely also cause tremendous aggravation to his parents. Some parents think that they can busy themselves with their work, a hobby, or even learning Torah and thereby exempt themselves from caring for their children. This is a grave mistake.

A child is similar to a plant. Every plant needs attention: water, sunlight, weeding etc. Without the proper care, the plant will wither. The same is true for children. They need to feel that their parents care about them and are concerned for their well being. If they feel that their parents are too busy for them, even if objectively this is not true, then they will lack the love and support they need to develop properly. As a consequence, they may wither emotionally and spiritually.

Take Interest in Your Child's Interests

A parent must take a constant interest in his child. How was his day at school? How is he getting along with his friends? What does his teacher say about him? The child needs to know that his parents care whether he succeeds or not. They must show joy when there is success and disappointment and sympathy at a time of failure.

When a child has the loving support of his parents, he will develop the desire to succeed. When they are indifferent to him, he has no reason to make an effort. While he may not yet comprehend that he can become happy by pursuing his studies, he does feel it is important what his parents think of him. As a result, it falls upon a child's parents to encourage him in this and other areas which in the long term will provide a source of happiness. If they do not guide him, he will assume that he can do whatever he wishes. This is a difficult attitude to correct as an adult and creates many problems.

Even teachers will show more interest in your child when you keep in contact with them. If you never bother to ask about your child, why should the teacher take special interest in him? When you show that you care, the teacher instinctively cares more about your child.

Some parents do not even bother to come to PTA meetings. They claim they are too busy. But nothing in the world is more important than the education of your children, and this effort is unlikely to be successful unless you fully participate.

No Teacher Can Replace a Parent

A teacher cannot take the place of parents. Only parents can give their children the love and attention they need to grow to be successful mature adults. It is a grave mistake to think that sending a child to an excellent school takes away from the burden of being a parent. Teachers do not hug their pupils or sit and chat with them for hours. Their job is mainly to convey the information needed to be knowledgeable. They also try to instill manners and other quality traits, but the main responsibility of educating children belongs to parents.

When you attempt to transfer the responsibility to your children's teachers, then you are simply denying the truth and evading your own responsibility. Believing that teachers can take the parents' place is like walking blindfolded. Both parent and teacher are bound to stumble. Only through constant contact with the teachers can one expect his children to grow and become truly educated.

Do Not Teach the Teacher

A parent should always cooperate with the child's teacher. When the teacher suggests that the child needs a tutor, then you must hire a tutor. When he says that you must help him with his homework, then you should do just that.

It is very dangerous to believe that you understand better than the teacher. The teacher has been trained to understand your child's problems and has the correct approach to the child's educational growth. Telling your child's teacher how to teach is almost always a mistake.

Be especially careful not to criticize the teacher to your children. When you do this, you are destroying with your own hands all of the teacher's influence. Praise the teachers in front of your children. Tell your wife in front of the children how fortunate we are to have such wonderful teachers. This will give your child the incentive necessary to learn from and respect his teacher.

After the Teacher's Report

After conversing with the teacher, tell your child what the teacher had to say. Do not repeat only the criticism, but also the praise. In truth, the praise is more important than the criticism, since it will encourage greater improvement.

When the teacher does have criticism, be careful to preface this with praise. This will put your child in a positive mood to listen and he will then be able to hear the criticism as well. Be careful to show your child how much the teacher cares for him and wants him to succeed. Doing this will help your child accept what the teacher has to give him.

Do not hide that you spoke with the teacher, since that is extremely important for your child to hear. He needs to know that you made the effort of finding out about his welfare.

Give your child the important incentive he needs by always showing that you care about his learning and his yiras shamayim. Your child will respond positively and you will both benefit.

1. Mishlei 29:13
2. Koheles 5:13
3. Ibid.
4. Vayikra 25:35
5. Shaarei Teshuvah II 27
6. Kesuvos 66b
7. Devarim 32:15

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