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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Ekev

What Are Your Children's Priorities?

And it shall come to pass, if you will hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you today, to love the L-rd your G-d, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. (DEVARIM 11:13)

Rabbi Yoseph Shemuel was the rabbi of the renowned city of Frankfurt on the Main. The fascinating story of how he acquired that post is recounted in the book, Chut Hameshulash.

Rabbi Yoseph Shemuel was a resident of Cracow, where he was very involved in the "Shomrim Laboker" society. He also tutored students, which was the main source of his livelihood.

In the year 5406 (1646), the rabbi of Frankfurt, Rabbi Yeshayahu Ben Rabbi Sheptyl Segal Horowitz, died. He had left behind him three very difficult halachic questions which needed to be answered. Before he died, he had asked that the community should find someone who was capable of answering these three questions, and that person should be appointed the new rabbi of Frankfurt.

The heads of the Frankfurt community designated three very learned and important rabbis. They were given the task of traveling around to search for someone who could answer Rabbi Yeshayahu's three questions in order to become the new rabbi of Frankfurt. The three rabbis accepted the assignment and set out on their search.

When they arrived in Cracow, a city famous for great Torah scholars, word spread of the three rabbis' visit. That day there was a bris of the son of an important member of the community, and the three were invited to participate in the festive meal that followed the bris. At the meal, an older brother of the newborn baby got up and gave a Torah discourse which had such depth that it answered exactly the three questions which the rabbis of Frankfurt had brought with them.

The honored guests of Frankfurt heard the discourse and were astounded. How could this young boy in one brush of the hand answer the very three questions of their beloved deceased rabbi, for which they had been sent to find answers? Realizing that such a young boy could not possibly have prepared such a complicated discourse on his own, they asked him who his rabbi was. The boy pointed to a man sitting in the corner of the room and told them that this was his rabbi who had taught him the whole discourse.

Understanding that this was the man who possessed such vast knowledge and wisdom that he could answer such complicated questions easily, the three rabbis realized that they had discovered Frankfurt's next rabbi. They asked the man to meet with them, and told him that they had a very important and urgent matter to discuss with him and that it would take some time. The man answered that he was very busy, since he taught children Torah and had no time to spare. Finally, after much persuasion, he made an appointment to meet them at a strange and awkward hour, when he did not have any students.

When the rabbis came at the agreed upon time, they explained their mission and asked him to accept the position of rabbi of Frankfurt. The man replied that he could not possibly accept such a position, since he taught children and was not able to leave them. Upon seeing this man's great piety, and that he was willing to forfeit such a coveted post as rabbi of Frankfurt for the sake of some children, they tried to persuade him that he must accept the position for the sake of the huge community that was in desperate need of his services. But all their efforts were of no avail, as he was adamant in his refusal. Seeing that there was nothing more they could do, they left the city to continue their search.

After the three rabbis had left Cracow since he had refused the position, Rabbi Yoseph Shemuel became critically ill, and he was near death. The chevra kadisha sat around his bed waiting for him to die. Rabbi Yoseph saw that his end was near, and thus opened his mouth and prayed to G-d, "Master of the Universe, if it is Your will that I go to Frankfurt, I am relinquishing my will before Your will." Once he said that, his illness disappeared and he soon had a complete recovery.

Since many people had heard what he said, people now understood what had been the quest of the three rabbis who had recently visited Cracow. They immediately sent out a messenger to find the rabbis, who had left Cracow eight days earlier. To the messenger's surprise, he did not have to go far to find them. In a small village only two hours from Cracow he found the three rabbis. Wondering why they had not gone further, he discovered that they had had an accident in the village and their carriage had broken down, and one of the rabbis had fallen and wounded his hand. Thus they had to wait in the village for several days before continuing on their journey.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Yoseph Shemuel had recovered, and the messenger and the three rabbis returned to Cracow together. They brought Rabbi Yoseph Shemuel to Frankfurt to serve as their rabbi. (MORESHET AVOT IV, p.156)

Rabbi Yoseph Shemuel's devotion to Torah knew no bounds, and he was willing to forfeit a coveted position which brought with it much wealth and honor, so that he could continue his Torah learning and teaching. This is the lesson that we must teach our children, that they should be devoted to Torah, which should outweigh their quests for honor or wealth.

"And it shall come to pass if you will hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you today."(1) What is meant by "today?" If you listen to my mitzvos, you are shining just as the day shines, as it is written, "And those who are wise shall shine as the brightness of the heaven."(2) [The Hebrew word "hayom" means both "today" and "the day," referring to the light of day as compared to the darkness of night.] So too is it written, "Give honor to G-d your L-rd before it grows dark."(3) The darkness in this verse refers to the many nations who wish to enslave the Jewish people. They are referred to as darkness, as it is written, "And behold a horror of great darkness..."(4) If you will not heed the mitzvos, these nations will enslave you, but if you listen, then just as the day gives light, so shall you also shine.

Another explanation of "...which I command you today," is that you shall not say, "I cannot learn the whole Torah and keep all the mitzvos that are written in it, as it is written, 'Its measure is longer than the earth.'"(5)

This is comparable to a king who had a bottomless pit. He instructed his relatives to hire workers to fill up the pit, which they did. Those workers who were foolish would look inside the pit and say, "When am I ever going to fill such a pit?" But those who were clever said, "What do I care if it gets filled? I am paid by the day and not by my accomplishments. I am glad that I have found work." Similarly, G-d says to a person, "What do you care? You are a worker who is paid by the day. Do your daily work."

Another explanation is that a person should not have contempt for words of Torah, but rather one should look at the last day during which one learned just as if it had been the first day, and in the end the reward shall come, as it is written, "How great is the hidden treasure that you have waiting for those who fear you."(6)

"And I shall give you the rain of your land."(7) "And I shall give," I personally shall give, not through an angel, nor through a messenger. "The rain of your land," but I personally shall not give the rain of all the lands. And so also it is written, "He who sends rain upon the land and sends water upon the streets."(8) Rabbi Nasan said, "The rain shall fall at the right time, which is Friday nights, as it fell at the time of King Hordos, in whose days they were busy building the Beis Hamikdash.

"And you shall gather your grain...."(9) Rabba bar bar Channa said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, "Come and see what is the difference between the first generations and the later generations. The first generations made their Torah learning of primary importance and their work of secondary importance, and both were successful. The later generations made their Torah learning of secondary importance and their work of primary importance, and neither were successful." (YALKUT 863)

What is the meaning of the words of the midrash, "if you listen to my mitzvos you are shining just as the day shines?" Why do the Jewish people deserve enslavement by other nations if they do not keep the mitzvos? Why might a person be discouraged by the length of the Torah? Why do our Sages compare the Torah to a bottomless pit? In the parable, what was the reasoning of the workers who did not want to work because the pit was bottomless? What was the reasoning of the workers who were willing to work? What does it mean that you should look at the last day on which you learned as if it had been the first day?

What difference does it make if G-d sends the rain through a messenger, or if He delivers it Himself? Why is it important that the rain fall on a Friday night rather than at any other time? Why did the rain fall on Friday nights at the time of Hordos? How can people make their Torah learning of primary importance and their work of secondary importance, and yet both will be successful? How can someone make their Torah learning of secondary importance and their work of primary importance, and yet neither will be successful?

Light of Torah or Darkness of the Nations

If you listen to my mitzvos, you are shining just as the day shines...
If you will not heed the mitzvos, these nations will enslave you...

A person who keeps the Torah is an example to all who see him. The way in which he treats other people, his honesty and his piety, are all esteemed qualities. Therefore such a person is similar to light, which everyone enjoys. Light enables us to see our way wherever we wish to go. No one complains about the light of day, since it benefits everyone. The same is true of one who keeps the Torah: he is like a source of light that brings joy to all.

The Jewish people deserve enslavement by the nations if they do not keep the mitzvos because G-d asks us to be His slaves and to serve Him, as the verse says, "And to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul."(10) We are the ones who benefit from serving G-d wholeheartedly, since by serving Him He will be able to reward us both in this world and in the World to Come. But if we do not serve Him, we will be forced to be enslaved to other nations. This punishment corresponds exactly to our sin. We refused to be His slaves, and thus we will be the slaves of foreign nations.

The reasoning behind this is that people tend to have rebellious natures and wish to do what their hearts desire instead of what they are supposed to do. Thus, they need the yoke of the Torah to prevent them from ruining their lives by engaging in harmful activities. If a person does not accept the yoke of the Torah, then he needs the yoke of the nations to keep him from doing wrong.

Consider Your Boss, Not Your Work

...You shall not say, "I cannot learn the whole Torah and keep all the mitzvos that are written in it..."
This is comparable to a king who had a bottomless pit. He instructed his relatives to hire workers to fill up the pit...

A person may become discouraged by the immensity of the Torah; he may give up hope of succeeding in such a major endeavor, since there are so many mitzvos and there is so much Torah to learn. Consequently, he might give in to despair and think that he might as well not even start, since he will never be able to complete the task of living his entire life according to the Torah.

The Torah really has no end, since a person always has the mitzvah to learn Torah, no matter how many times he has completed his learning of it. There is also no end to his keeping of the mitzvos, since he must continue to keep them all even though he may have already kept them. In that respect the Torah is similar to a bottomless pit.

In the parable from the midrash, the workers who did not want to work because the pit was bottomless felt that there was no purpose to their job. No matter how much they worked, they could not possibly fill up the pit, and thus they felt their effort would be in vain. A person needs to feel that there is a purpose to his work. No one enjoys walking around in circles for no reason, even if he will be paid for doing this.

Those workers who were willing to work reasoned that their task was not to fill the pit, but rather to do what their king had commanded them to do. It was not their job to figure out the real purpose of their work. They relied on the wisdom of the king to understand that purpose. They were not hired to understand, but rather to fulfill their task.

This parable teaches us our obligation not to be overwhelmed by the immensity of the Torah, which is similar to a bottomless pit. We must do our part to learn as much Torah as we can, and to do the mitzvos, and when we do this, we will be fully rewarded. We need not despair over the endlessness of the task. Instead we should take pleasure in the knowledge that we are privileged to serve our King, the Creator.

Human nature dictates that when one begins to do something new he is full of energy, since a new project holds one's interest. But learning Torah requires that we never lose that initial eagerness and continue to have the same enthusiasm as if it were the first day of our learning. Our Sages tell us that even if this is a difficult attitude to achieve, the harder it is, the greater shall be the reward; "According to the pain is the reward."(11)

Parnasah Comes Directly From G-d

I personally shall give... "The rain of your land..."
The rain shall fall at the right time, which is Friday nights...

What difference does it make whether G-d sends rain through a messenger or whether He delivers it Himself? Our Sages reveal that our rain comes to us directly from G-d. Although rain seems like a natural phenomenon, regulated by the laws of nature, the truth is that rain is subject to no natural laws whatsoever, except that it comes down to us when we behave righteously, and does not come down when we sin.

Rain is inexorably bound up with parnasah, since we cannot grow anything or survive without rain. Thus when we say that the rain is personally supervised by G-d, we are really saying that our livelihood entirely depends upon Him. A person may take it for granted that he works and it follows that the land gives its produce, but this is never a certainty. Any success is a direct gift from G-d. This phenomenon is alluded to several times in our bentching. If we pay attention to the words of this prayer, we find it stated clearly there that G-d supports us always, and that we are obligated to demonstrate that we are thankful for His kindness.

At the time of Hordos, the rain fell on Friday nights, a time when people are generally in their homes. Thus those rains were a true blessing, for they did not inconvenience anyone. The reason this happened during the reign of Hordos was that the Beis Hamikdash was being rebuilt then. Since the work was so important, and yet rain was necessary, the rain came down only on Friday nights, and thus did not disturb any of the work of building the Beis Hamikdash.

Our Primary Goal Following G-d's Will

"...The first generations made their Torah learning of primary importance and their work of secondary importance, and both were successful. The later generations made their Torah learning of secondary importance and their work of primary importance, and neither were successful."

Since all of our sustenance comes directly from G-d, it follows that if we do His will, He will certainly support us. Making Torah learning our primary activity is doing His will, thus He will readily sustain us when we learn Torah. In this way both our primary activity of learning Torah and our secondary activity of earning a livelihood will be successful.

If a person ignores his obligation to listen to G-d's command and devote himself to Torah learning, he is punished by not having the parnasah he needs. Parnasah is not dependent on one's efforts, but rather on one's level of observance of G-d's will. If someone neglects G-d's will, he loses the parnasah that he is working so hard to gain. This explains how one whose Torah learning is of secondary importance and whose work is of primary importance, will find himself unsuccessful in both areas.

Education Should Not Endanger Yiddishkeit

Many parents get so involved in helping their children learn a profession that they forget the lesson of the above midrash. G-d is the real source of success in earning a living, and therefore doing His will is of such crucial importance that it outweighs any other consideration.

Any education that interferes with our children's ability to observe mitzvos is bound to be a failure, since G-d gives us our parnasah, but He demands that we keep all His mitzvos. We must give top priority to Torah and mitzvos, even if this means that we cannot offer our children training in the specific profession we choose for them. Under no circumstances may we forfeit the most important part of our children's lives.

Unfortunately, many parents look for the school with the highest reputation in its level of secular studies, but they do not similarly look for a school where there is a high level of Torah observance. They think that Torah and mitzvos can be observed anywhere, but secular study must be of the highest standard. Such thinking is dangerous for our children, since our primary concern must be with Torah, as we have learned from the above midrash.

It sometimes happens that someone learns a certain profession and then after several years of practicing that profession, decides he is not satisfied with it and wants to learn a different profession. Also, sometimes a coveted profession does not provide enough sustenance to enable a person to exist.

This is discussed at length by the Chovos Halevovos in the chapter concerning faith and confidence in G-d. An example is given of an alchemist who can change silver into gold. Although he has a coveted profession, he lives under great constraint. He can only do his work if he has certain instruments and chemicals. The work itself brings him in contact with noxious smells and smoke that may harm his health. He lives in constant fear lest the secrets of his profession be revealed.

But the person who has faith and trust in G-d is free of these limitations. He needs no chemicals, has no fear of what he is doing, and lives without worry. Having faith and trust in G-d gives us the assurance that we will not have to worry about earning a livelihood, concludes the Chovos Halevovos.

Since we are ultimately dependent upon His help to make a living, it is wise to choose a profession in accordance with His will, one whose training and preparation do not involve any desecration of Torah values.

Your Child Is Like Clay

When children are young they can be compared to clay. You can shape your child's character just as you can mold clay, and just as the clay hardens and retains its shape, so does the character you instill within your child remain for a lifetime. If you allow your child to study in a place that does not have a high level of yiddishkeit, you are shaping his character devoid of strong yiddishkeit. It may take nothing less than a miracle to change that.

When a wise person invests, he always takes into consideration his possibilities for gain, and the risks involved in losing. Sending your child to a school that is weak in yiddishkeit is a great risk to your child's spiritual level. You cannot afford to take such a risk on something so precious, no matter what might be gained by his learning there.

Children Must Learn that Parnasah Comes from G-d

The more our children see that we believe that our parnasah comes from G-d, the easier it will be for them to overcome their own struggles. We must constantly mention G-d when we speak about parnasah. When we say that we made a good sale or got a raise in salary, we must emphasize how G-d is giving us extra parnasah and taking care of us.

Parents are liable to praise themselves instead of praising G-d. A parent may elaborate on how he convinced his client to buy, or his boss to give him a raise, but by doing so he is belittling G-d's part in his extra parnasah. Instead he should say, "G-d helped me so much in making that sale by putting the right words in my mouth." In this way we give the proper praise to G-d and convey the message to our children that our parnasah comes directly from G-d, and is not simply a result of our own talents.

Let Your Children Hear Words of Torah, Not Business

Children hear what their parents are saying even when the parents are speaking between themselves and think that the children are not listening. Children can feel intuitively whether their parents are interested in spiritual or in material values. If the parents constantly talk about money and buying things for the house or for themselves, their children come to understand that this is what has top priority. You do not have to say this to them directly, because they sense it on their own. Therefore parents must be extremely careful about what they discuss, even when they think their children are not listening.

When I was young I visited a friend at his home. His parents had a successful business, and whenever they came home they would speak non-stop about what had happened in the business. Although they sent their children to learn in yeshivos, I felt certain that none of their children would eventually make Torah learning their priority, since from an early age they had been trained that business was the most important part of life, and that one should devote all one's energies to it. Sorry to say, they turned out as I foresaw.

I once read that reciting the birkas hamazon carefully, with the proper intent causes a person to be blessed with good parnasah. Our children should know this, so that they will realize how important it is for them to ask God to help them with parnasah and how closeness to G-d assures one of a livelihood.

By giving our children the proper outlook on parnasah, we will be filling their lives with faith and trust in G-d, and He in turn will bless them with success.

1. Devarim 11:13
2. Daniel 12:3
3. Yirmiyahu 13:16
4. Bereshis 15:12
5. Iyov 11:9
6. Tehillim 31:20
7. Devarim 11:14
8. Iyov 5:10
9. Devarim 11:14
10. Ibid., 11:13
11. Avos 5:22

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