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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Emor

Give Your Child Self-Esteem

And he who is the High Priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and who is consecrated to put on the garments, will not allow the hair of his head to grow long, nor rend his clothes.
(VAYIKRA 21:10)

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, the Rabbi of Broide, was known for his struggle against the maskilim, those who had given up religious practices.

The maskilim in his town had decided that if someone died he should be brought to burial in a wagon and not be carried on foot. In order that their ideas should not have influence, the rabbi made a decree that no one could be carried by wagon, and if they were, that person would not have the right to be buried in the Jewish cemetery.

This decree caused a tremendous controversy in town. The maskilim were furious and sued the rabbi in civil court. The judge gave a temporary ruling that every person who died must be carried in a wagon while he looked into the case. The leaders of the community came to Rabbi Kluger in despair. They claimed that they were left without a viable solution, since the judge would not allow them to carry their dead on foot, and the rabbi would not allow them to carry them in a wagon. If someone were to die, what should they do?

"I promise you," answered Rabbi Kluger, "that until the judge legally allows carrying the dead by foot, not one single person of the community will die in Broide."

Three months went by before the judge gave his final verdict, in which he permitted the Jews to carry their dead by foot to burial. During that entire period not a single Jew died in the entire community of Broide, neither an old person, nor an infant.

At the trial, the judge asked Rabbi Kluger, "Bring me proof from the Bible that a body must be carried by foot to burial."

Rabbi Shlomo answered, "It is written in Vayechi, 'And they carried their father Yaakov,'(1) which refers to carrying by foot."

The judge accepted this proof, and allowed the carrying of the deceased by foot to burial.

G-d considered Rabbi Shlomo such a great tzaddik that He suspended death for three months so that his word could be kept. We can use him as an example of righteousness to impress our children with how important it is to follow the principles of the Torah no matter what obstacle stand in the way. If we help them internalize such inspiring examples, this will help them grow into steadfast, righteous Jews.

"And the kohen, who is greater than his brethren."(2) He must be greater in charisma, power, wealth, wisdom, and size. If a kohen on his own is not wealthy, from where do we learn that his brethren should give him wealth? From the verse which says, "who is greater than his brethren." He shall be made wealthy. [The Hebrew word for "who is greater" can also be interpreted as "make him greater."]

A story is told about Pinchas, from Chavata, who was destined to become the kohen gadol. The treasurers and clerks of the Temple went to visit him and they found him working in a mine extracting rocks. They filled his pit with golden coins.

Rabbi Chanina the son of Gamliel disagreed, "Was he in a mine? We should know what happened, since he was a relative of our family. When his brethren, the kohanim, came to see him he was ploughing the field, and from the field he rose to wealth. And the same is written of Elisha, "twelve yoke of oxen before him,"(3) and he was behind the twelfth pair.

A sack of gold coins was brought to the beis midrash as a present for the rabbis, and Rabbi Ami, the kohen gadol got up and grabbed the sack for himself. How could he do such a thing when the verse says, "And he shall be given [wealth],"(4) and not that he shall take it on his own accord?

Rabbi Ami seized the money not for himself but for poor people. Another explanation is that he was allowed to do what he did because of his great stature and importance, as we have learned, "who is greater than his brethren."
(YALKUT 631, par. "Vehakohen")

Why must the kohen gadol be greater than his brethren in charisma, power, wealth, wisdom, and size, when it seems that these characteristics are unrelated to his task as kohen gadol? Why is it the responsibility of the other kohanim to make him wealthy when it would seem that this should be up to him? Why would it be significant if Pinchas was working in a mine? Why would it be significant if Pinchas was ploughing the fields? What is learned from the story of Rabbi Ami if he seized the money for poor people? If Rabbi Ami was not given the money, but rather took it for himself because of his high stature, how was his action justified?

Characteristics Necessary for Leadership

He must be greater in charisma, power, wealth, wisdom, and size.

The kohen gadol must be superior in these areas because it is a natural tendency to judge a person by external appearances, even though we know that this does not truly represent a person's worth. Our Sages say, "Do not look at the pitcher, but rather at what it contains."(5) Also the verse says, "Charm is false and beauty is worthless."(6) Nevertheless, since people are impressed by external appearances, enhancing them can augment the kohen gadol's effectiveness as a leader and generate the respect he needs to carry out his function.

Beyond influencing others, another reason the law requires these characteristics may be so that the kohen gadol considers himself worthy of the post. For him to be able to lead the other kohanim he must have ample self-esteem and be able to assert himself without feeling subordinate. If he lacks these strengths, this will become apparent to others and his authority will suffer. Eventually, he will lose his position of prominence in their eyes. Therefore it is crucial that the kohen gadol entertain no doubts about his capabilities, and so the law requires that he lack nothing.

The other kohanim are required to make him wealthy because the success of the kohen gadol benefits the entire nation. Without a capable leader there is chaos. The kohanim themselves will only feel comfortable when they know that someone is responsible for leading them. That gives them the assurance and support they need to succeed in fulfilling their own auxiliary functions. They also benefit when the kohen gadol can concentrate solely on his mission to serve the people and does not have the distracting worry of having to earn a livelihood. Therefore it is in their own interests to make the kohen gadol wealthy.

Maximizing Potential

The treasurers and the clerks of the Temple went to visit him [Pinchas], and they found him working in a mine extracting rocks.
When his brethren, the kohanim, came to see him he was ploughing the field, and from the field he rose to wealth. And the same is written of Elisha...

When our Sages tell us that Pinchas was a miner before becoming kohen gadol they are teaching us that even though a person might find himself in the lowest depths (symbolized by the mine), he has the ability to lift himself up until he reaches the highest point of holiness. Thus we understand that it makes no difference how low a person may have fallen; elevating oneself depends only on actualizing one's potential. If you make sincere efforts to be the finest person you can be, you can lift yourself up and reach your goal. The darkness and loneliness of a mine are depressing. But this did not deter Pinchas from becoming kohen gadol.

Rabbi Chanina recalled that Pinchas did not come up from the darkness of a mine to his high position. Instead, he explained that he used to be a farmer who would plow his field. Rabbi Chanina attributed Pinchas' success to having seen the sun shining, heard the birds chirping, and breathed the fresh air of the fields. This awesome and inspiring beauty helped him realize the potential he had within him. Rabbi Chanina is pointing out the tremendous benefit a person derives when he has a positive environment from which to learn. From these influences one gains a positive attitude and comes to believe in his ability to succeed.

The fields were also a source of inspiration for the Prophet Elisha. Every day he had sunshine, and he knew how to utilize the joy it gave him to the maximum. Everything was promising and uplifting for him. The brightness he saw gave him the strength to reach the heights of holiness known as prophecy.

Grabbing a Sack of Coins

A sack of gold coins was brought to the beis midrash as a present for the rabbis, and Rabbi Ami, the kohen gadol got up and grabbed the sack for himself.

If Rabbi Ami seized the sack of gold coins for the poor. We can learn from this story to what extent he had the welfare of others in mind. He was so used to doing chesed that when he saw the gold coins he immediately responded by grabbing them on behalf of others. The normal tendency is to be quick to take for oneself, and then, if there is anything left, to begrudgingly pass it on to others. Rabbi Ami had developed himself spiritually to the point where even when an opportunity for lining his own pockets arose, without hesitation he seized it for the needy. This act shows that helping others was uppermost in his thoughts.

According to the opinion that Rabbi Ami took the money for himself because of his high stature, Rabbi Ami's deed is an important lesson in self-esteem. When you have a deep belief in positive ideals and commit yourself to accomplishing them, it is not arrogant to think that you should actively seek the wealth necessary to pursue these goals. Taking what belongs to others is wrong, but seizing an opportunity to achieve goals when it presents itself is certainly acceptable.

Call Your Child a Tzaddik

Giving your children a feeling of self-confidence and self-esteem is an important part of educating them. Just as the kohen gadol requires the means to fulfill his function with a sense of self-assurance, so too our children need self-assurance.

One must be careful never to label a child. Don't say to him, "You are stupid. You are evil." When you say this he is likely to come to believe it and will act accordingly. Besides the destructive consequences of such words, what you are saying is also untrue, since he is not really stupid or evil. It is unjust to describe a child in such terms when in reality he has only acted inappropriately once or on several occasions. Even a string of failures cannot limit a child's potential for future improvement.

Degrading a child causes him self-doubt and despair. He will live in depression and feel that his parents do not love him. It is important for a child to feel that his parents love him and think highly of him. This is what will give him the incentive to improve. Without self-esteem and love, there are no limits to how far he can fall, G-d forbid.

The correct way to reprimand your child is to say to him, for example, "You are such a big tzaddik, how could you have done such a thing?" "You always are so kind and full of chesed, such actions are not worthy of you." By speaking to the child in this manner you are building his self-esteem and making him aware of his potential. Even criticism requires positive reinforcement.

When I had the privilege to be in the home of the great tzaddik, Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzira, zt"l, I heard how the rebbetzin spoke to their children. She would say, "My little tzaddikel, come here." Wasn't that wonderful! Instead of calling her child by name or using an endearment such as "darling" or "honey," she called him her tzaddikel. Cleverly and inconspicuously she was instilling self-esteem in the child. The child heard that he was considered a tzaddik and felt obligated to live up to these expectations. A child like that cannot go wrong and will aspire to greatness.

The Falling Yarmulke

Rabbi Pesach Krohn tells the story of his son who was almost three and had, according to custom, not yet had his first haircut. This made it difficult for the child to keep his yarmulke on his head, and it kept falling off, The young child often didn't bother to pick it up and put it on again, despite his father's constant reminders. As he would ride his tricycle through the house, if the yarmulke fell off, he would just continue riding.

One day the boy rode by his father and his yarmulke fell off. As usual, he kept on riding. His father was furious and said, "YOU..." but before he could finish the sentence he realized that the boy was just a young child and that he could not call him a bad name. So he finished the sentence with, "Little tzaddik, how could such a tzaddik go without a yarmulke?"

From that day onwards, whenever the yarmulke fell off, even if his father was not around, the child would immediately pick it up and put it back on his head. Although the father was giving his son the same message as he had before, "You must wear a yarmulke," changing the form and intonation of the message from negative to positive made all the difference in the world. By regularly building your child's self-esteem and showing him your love, you are giving him the tools he needs to succeed in the struggles of life.

The Mother Who Did Not Love Her Daughter

It is difficult to find a mother who will say that she does not love her daughter. But that was what one mother said to me when she came to me for counseling.

Upon asking her how she could say such a thing, she replied, "Well, she has so much chutzpah. She does not listen to me. How can I love her when she does not respect me?"

After ascertaining more details from the mother about her daughter, I discovered that the mother was always critical of her. She would constantly tell her what to do and then tell her off for not doing it. She would very rarely praise her, even if the daughter sometimes listened to her mother.

I asked the mother, "Why should your daughter listen to you, when she does not hear any encouragement at all. She cannot love you for telling her what to do. Only if she feels that you love her and care for her can you expect her to love you in return."

I suggested that she make a chart that would show every day how she spoke to her daughter, and thus we would be able to monitor the mother's behavior with her.

There Are No Failures Among Children

The above story demonstrates a principle I have learned from experience. There are no failures among children, only parents who are failures.

When a child does not receive any praise or self-esteem, but only criticism, that child comes to the point where he does not want to obey the mother any more, since whatever the child does is not appreciated at all. His mother thinks he is a failure, so there is no use in being otherwise.

A Child Is Not a Machine

A machine can be told what to do without any explanations or reasoning. You just have to press the button, and it works. A child is very different. When a child receives love and self-esteem, he responds with respect and obedience towards his parents. Otherwise he does not feel any obligation to listen. His parents are treating the child like a stranger, and the child does not feel like listening to a stranger.

This does not mean that we must explain every command we give our children. If we do so, it will show our own lack of confidence in what we are saying. But at least we must convey the feeling that we are not trying to dominate our children just because we are bigger and stronger. We should try to convey to them that we love them and are trying to train them in the proper way, and that we are guiding them when we tell them what to do.

When there is the right atmosphere at home, the child knows that his parents believe in him and trust him, and therefore he is willing to obey them. But when you treat your child like a machine, he will be quick to show you how human he is.

1. Bereshis 50:13
2. Vayikra 21:10
3. Melachim I 19:19
4. Devarim 18:4
5. Avos 4:20
6. Mishlei 31:30

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