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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And G-d saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and every product of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Once a non-observant family sent their daughter to a religious kindergarten because it was very close to their home. They decided that it was preferable to send the child to a kindergarten nearby, even though it happened to be religious, rather than send her to a distant one which was more suited to their secular lifestyle.
One Friday, the child came home and announced, "My teacher said that tonight you have to light Shabbos candles."
The mother became angry and said, "In this house we do not light candles, and that is final!"
But the little girl persisted, saying, "But my teacher said you have to!"
"Leave me alone," replied the mother. "I refuse to light candles!"
The girl would not give in, and told her mother, "If you won't light Shabbos candles, then I will."
At this, the mother became enraged and warned her daughter that she would be severely punished if she dared to disobey.
Nevertheless the girl refused to listen, and went by herself to the local grocery store to buy candles. Not aware that Shabbos candles are sold in a box, the child asked for two candles. The grocer, knowing that her parents were not observant, said to himself, "Why is she asking for candles? They don't light Shabbos candles. Why would they want to light two candles? They must have a yahrzeit in the family." And so he gave the girl two yahrzeit candles.
The girl went home, closed the door of her room, and lit both candles. Suddenly her mother came into the room and saw the two yahrzeit candles burning. "What is this?" she asked in astonishment.
"You did not want to light," explained the child, "so I decided to light for you. One for you and one for Daddy."
The mother knew what a yahrzeit candle represented, and when she heard that her daughter had lit one for her and one for her husband, she shuddered in fear. Somehow she sensed that something of deep significance was happening. The next day she went to the synagogue to pray. From then on she began to light Shabbos candles every week, and gradually the whole family became observant.
The little girl was persistent in not listening to her mother. Although in this story the results were positive, ordinarily a child's resistance leads to deep conflict. Parents must learn how to handle such situations constructively.
"And every product of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."(1) From sunrise to sunset there was no benefit from those people. As the verse says, 'With the earliest light rises the murderer; he slays the poor and needy, and in the night he becomes like a thief.(2)What are our Sages referring to when they say that from sunrise to sunset there was no benefit from the people of that generation? Why do our Sages tell us that it is difficult to overcome the yetzer hara because the Creator called it "bad?" What is the significance of the fact that the evil inclination renews its strength daily? Why did G-d combine burial with His plan of creating man? Why would man not have rebelled had he been created in heaven? Why does G-d emphasize His regret in having created man, and what does this teach us?
From sunrise to sunset there was no benefit from those people. The yetzer hara is difficult to overcome, since even its Creator called it "bad"...
The expression "from sunrise to sunset" refers to the twenty-four hours which make up a day. In those days people were not active at night. G-d would not have done anything so drastic as bringing a Flood upon the world had He not seen that nothing positive would come from that generation. Generally, people possess both positive and negative traits, sometimes doing good and sometimes doing bad. But in that generation there was no such concept as acting righteously, since everyone was devoted to doing evil.
Our Sages say that it is difficult to overcome the yetzer hara, which the Creator called "bad." At the same time, G-d sympathizes with our spiritual tests. He understands that the yetzer is trying constantly to cause us to stumble and to do things that will bring upon us punishment. By giving in to it, we are falling into its trap, since we will eventually have to pay for our sins. Not only does it try to convince us to do evil, but it itself is also evil, and when we give in to it, the consequences will be terribly bitter for us, and we will come to experience deep regret that we allowed it to influence us.
It is most significant that the evil inclination renews its strength daily. A person might think that if he was once successful in overcoming his yetzer hara, then he has won and is free from this particular battle for the rest of his life. But this is not the way it works. No matter how many times a person has succeeded, the yetzer will try again and again to make him stumble. But in truth this is not such a negative phenomenon. It can give zest to life, for otherwise our lives would lack the challenge of fighting the yetzer hara, a challenge which gives meaning to our lives, and when we triumph, it represents a tremendous victory.
G-d said, "It was a good thing that I had prepared burial for them."
Why did G-d include burial in His plan of Creation? Burial represents death. Man feels remorse and tries to improve himself only because he is aware of his impending death. Since man must confront the yetzer hara throughout his life, he must have an effective means by which to overcome its power. The midrash seems to imply that if a person were to live forever, the commands of the Torah alone would not be enough of a deterrent.
This concept is stated explicitly in the Torah. Because they ate from the tree of knowledge, Adam and Chava were driven out of Gan Eden. We are told that if a human being were to eat from the Tree of Life, he "may live forever."(7) This teaches us that once Adam had invited the yetzer hara into his being through his actions and was able to chose evil instead of good, he became subject to death.
This is related to the reasoning that man would not have rebelled had he been created in heaven rather than on the earth below. In heaven there are none of the temptations that cause us to sin here on earth. A person sins because he is made of earthly components and has an evil inclination within him that tempts him with imaginary pleasures. But if man had remained in heaven he would have been made of the same components as the angels, who are never tempted and consequently never sin.
When Moshe ascended to heaven to receive the Torah, our Sages relate(8) that the angels did not want to relinquish the Torah, and they tried to justify this by claiming, "How can one born from a woman, who is flesh and blood, come here to receive the Torah?" The angels argued that since man is made of earthly components he is much more likely to sin. They advocated leaving the Torah in heaven where its observance would be guaranteed. This was similar to G-d's reaction to the profusion of sin He had found in the generation of the Flood. He regretted that He had not left man in heaven with the angels, where he would not have been beset by all the earthly temptations.
This regret which G-d expresses for having created man teaches us that when we give in to our yetzer hara, we are subverting the entire purpose of Creation. We were created only to do His will. We should consider this carefully, and realize the seriousness of our actions when we transgress.
As we see from the midrash, the evil inclination is an integral part of man, since he was born in this world and is made of flesh and blood. Therefore we should always remember that it is perfectly normal for a child to do the wrong thing sometimes when he listens to his yetzer hara. The Torah testifies that a child is subject to the yetzer hara from a very young age, as it is written, "The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth."(9) As such, we must understand that it is only normal for a child to be mischievous.
It is important for us not to lose control of ourselves. If the child sees that we have lost our tempers, he will not take what we are saying seriously. Before you reprimand your child, be sure that you have cooled down and are speaking rationally. Only then will your child be able to listen to you.
Sit down and explain to him what was wrong in what he did. But don't tell him only what was wrong; tell him also what would have been the right thing for him to do. This will insure that he will know next time what is right. Speak to your child calmly, and try to have him explain what he did wrong. For instance, if he played ball and broke a neighbor's window, ask him why he thinks it is wrong to play ball near windows. If he did not go to the grocery store in spite of your numerous reminders, ask him to explain why he must do something the first time he is asked. In this way you will be getting him to participate in the educative process and the impression will be deeper and will last longer.
Do not take no for an answer. For instance, if you ask him to do something, do not let him cajole you out of it. You cannot allow yourself to be wishy-washy, or he will always try to slip out of doing his tasks. Stand behind your words, and do not back down. Show your child that you are his authority figure, and there can be no two ways about it.
Some children run to their mother if their father gives them a punishment, or to their father if their mother punishes them. Back up your spouse and show solidarity. If you try to alter the punishment which your spouse has set, the child will not take that punishment seriously, since he will feel that he can always receive clemency from you.
Even if there is a disagreement between you and your spouse over how to educate your children, do not let the children feel it. Children need to feel that there is complete harmony between their parents. When they see their parents fighting with one another, they will become insecure. They will feel torn between their love for each parent, and they will not know what to do. When a child sees that his parents love and respect one another, he will feel secure and happy.
Children who come from homes where there is fighting are bound to have emotional problems. For the emotional stability of a child comes from having loving parents, who love not only him but also one another.
Children cannot be fooled. They have an intuitive sense of the truth. If you do not get along well with your spouse, your children will feel this. Since the basis of successful emotional development in children is peace and love between the parents, this must be the prevailing atmosphere in the home.
You are capable of being an excellent parent. This is so because if G-d gave you a task, He has also given you the capability of fulfilling that task. However, if you have the attitude that you are a failure at parenting, that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, change your attitude to one of conviction that you are a successful parent. Tell yourself several times each day that you are a good parent who knows how to educate his children and is full of patience. Once your attitude is positive, you will see that it will be much easier to succeed.
Since you know that your children are not angels, you will be prepared to deal with whatever they do. You will find the inner strength you need to cope with any problems that might arise. You can act with self-confidence, since you know that you are a wonderful parent who will have wonderful children.
Internalize these positive messages by repeating them to yourself many times, until they become an integral part of your personality. Every person who is successful believes that he can be so. By internalizing this belief you will become the best parent you can be.
1. Bereshis 6:5
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network