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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Haazinu

Develop Your Child's Individuality

My lesson shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as rains upon the grass, and as showers upon herbs. (DEVARIM 32:2)

The older students of the Slobodka Yeshivah shared the privilege of tending the famous musar sage, the elderly "sabba" (grandfather) of Slobodka. They performed this task with great love and respect and waited on him in every possible way. They washed his hands, tied his shoes, and took care of his every need. Every week there was a "changing of the guard," and another boy would take over the tasks.

One of the boys who took care of the sabba of Slobodka was the future rabbi of Kefar-Sabba in Israel. He was once asked to take the turn of another boy who had to travel to Jerusalem. He agreed, and took the opportunity to prepare for the elderly rav a special cereal which he knew the sabba of Slobodka enjoyed, and which he usually prepared for him whenever he was on duty.

To the boy's great astonishment, when he served him the cereal in the morning, the old rav looked at him and asked, "Are you trying to poison me?"

"Poison? What poison? Why in the world do you suspect that I would try to poison the sabba of Slobodka?" asked the young man, taken aback.

But the old rav refused to listen and insisted that the boy was trying to poison him. The boy was mortified, knowing that the entire yeshivah could hear that the sabba of Slobodka was shouting and accusing him.

Later, when he returned to his learning in the main study hall, the other boys surrounded him and asked him, "Why did you want to poison the sabba of Slobodka?" Although they could not understand how this could possibly be true, they were puzzled, for they had heard the sabba of Slobodka say so, loudly and clearly.

At noontime, when the future rabbi of Kefar-Sabba returned to serve the sabba of Slobodka his lunch, he was filled with sorrow and trembled with apprehension and fear. But now the sabba of Slobodka looked at him and said affectionately, "This morning you wanted to serve me the poison of your having elevated yourself at the expense of your friend's degradation, since you prepare my cereal to perfection, a task your friend does not know how to perform. I am not willing to eat such poison." (SHE'AL AVICHA VEYAGEDCHA II, p. 196)

The sabba of Slobodka realized that each person has his own special talents, which others do not have. We are not allowed to use those talents to benefit from the disgrace of others, through comparing ourselves to those who do not possess our talents. Nevertheless, these individual talents are an important gift from Above, and we are obligated to utilize them. We must encourage our children to develop their own special talents.

"Shall drop as the rain..."(1) Rabbi Dustay says in the name of Rabbi Yehudah, "If you gather the words of Torah in large quantities just as rain is gathered into a pit, in the end you shall succeed in quenching the thirst of others with Torah."

There is another explanation of the above verse, which Rabbi Yehudah used to explain: Always gather the words of Torah first by general rules, since if you begin to gather them in all their details, they will cause you fatigue, and you will not know what to do. This is comparable to a man who was traveling to Caesarea, and needed a hundred or two hundred zuzim [an ancient currency] for his expenses. If he would take along the sum in small coins, carrying so many heavy coins would cause him fatigue and he would not know what to do. But if he would take the sum in large currency, he could always change it and would be able to use it anywhere he wished.

When a person begins to learn Torah, he does not know what to do, until he has learned at least two sedarim [volumes] of the Mishnah; only then will the learning "flow for him like dew." That is what is meant by the words, "and as showers upon herbs."(2)

Yet another explanation of "shall drop as the rain" is that when the rain falls upon the trees, it gives each tree its own unique taste; through the sustenance of the rain the grapevine develops its own taste, the olive tree its own taste and the fig tree its own taste. So too are the words of Torah all of one source, and yet the Torah can be distinguished by its unique parts the Scriptures, the Mishnah, Midrash, Halachah, Aggadata. (YALKUT 942, par. "Davar")

What do our Sages mean when they say that you should gather the words of Torah just as rain is gathered into a pit? Why is it so much better to learn Torah first through general rules rather than through its details? Why does a person experience great difficulty when he begins to learn Torah, and only after he has learned a great deal does his learning flow? Why do people have different tastes in their approach to learning Torah? Why are three different trees mentioned in the midrash?

Overflowing with Torah

"If you gather the words of Torah in large quantities just as rain is gathered into a pit, in the end you shall succeed in quenching the thirst of others with Torah."

In order for a person to be able to teach others Torah, it is not enough to possess a small amount of Torah knowledge. Rather he must be full to the brim with Torah knowledge. Only then can he hope to influence others and make them wise. If he is lacking in Torah knowledge, he might be asked a question, which he cannot answer correctly and may thus, mislead others. Even if he has no intention of misleading others, his own ignorance might cause him to think that he in fact knows what he is talking about, so that he will offer an incorrect answer.

When a cup of wine is full to the brim, it can spill over and give of its sweetness to the plate upon which it rests. The same is true of Torah: When a person is full to the brim with Torah, then he can give of it to others. But if his learning is incomplete, he is not in a position to teach others, since he may stumble.

Learn in an Organized Manner

Always gather the words of Torah first by general rules, since if you begin to gather them in all their details, they will cause you fatigue...

Our Sages tell us that one should gather the words of the Torah just as rain is gathered into a pit. Furthermore, one's learning should be absorbed and organized according to rules rather than by simply piling up details of knowledge. The reason for this is that the human mind cannot take in too many details. Such an accumulation of details, without a system of organization behind it, will only clutter the mind, and the person will be confused, since his learning will not be organized in his mind.

On the other hand, if everything fits into a category in his mind, he will later be able to utilize the information, searching in the proper category until he finds the particular details he needs. This is why a person must be careful to summarize all he has learned according to general categories, rather than summarizing disconnected details. There is no end to the details, and one will not be able to remember them all without some system.

Patience in Learning Torah

When a person begins to learn Torah, he does not know what to do, until he has learned at least two sedarim...

People often find it difficult when they begin to learn Torah because it takes time to learn the language and the systems of reasoning of Torah learning. In the beginning everything may seem strange to people who have not yet become accustomed to Torah learning, and some might even give up. It is for this reason that our Sages warn us to be patient and to learn diligently, and in the end everything will fall into place and become clear.

The midrash(3) relates a story of two people who came to learn Torah, and encountered a vast library of Torah literature. One of them gave up and said, "I can never know so much. Why should I even start?" He left without learning a thing.

The other person also saw the vast Torah literature, but instead of giving up, he said, "Although I cannot learn all this at one time, I can learn at least two halachos a day. And that is what I shall do." By setting himself a feasible goal, he was able to slowly accumulate a great deal of Torah knowledge and in the end was able to go through all the Torah literature.

This same principle concerning the breadth of the Torah can be applied to the depth of the Torah. One cannot attain the depth of the Torah in a short while. One must be diligent and patient until he reaches the proper understanding. Only then will he be able to succeed.

Find Which Part of Torah Appeals to You

The words of Torah [are] all of one source, and yet the Torah can be distinguished by its unique parts...

Our Sages say that just as people's faces are different, so too are there individual differences in their opinions and knowledge.(4) Since everyone has a unique personality and a mind of his own, different facets of the Torah will appeal to different people.

One person may enjoy the profound reasoning of the Talmud; another may be fascinated by the learning of halachah, where everything has a practical application; yet another person may like the aggadata with its wealth of stories and musar (ethical teachings), which may be easily comprehended. Everyone can find some area of Torah which suits his nature and which he can delve into and greatly enjoy.

We learn this from our prayers where we say, "Give us our part in Your Torah." The words "our part" refer to the fact that everyone has a special part of the Torah that no one else has. We are asking G-d that we should be able to attain that special part successfully.

The way to discover our special part of the Torah is to see which part appeals to us the most. This is the sign from Heaven that we have found it, since a person is attracted to something that appeals to him.

In this manner Torah is unique from other mitzvos. In other mitzvos, our pleasure from the mitzvah is irrelevant, since we must do it lishmah, for the mitzvah's sake, and not for our own sake. But in Torah learning we wish to have the pleasantness of the Torah. This is stated in the blessing that we recite over the Torah each morning, "And make the words of Torah pleasant in our mouths, oh G-d our L-rd."

Therefore the midrash refers to the different parts of the Torah as the tastes of the grapevine, the olive tree, and the fig tree, since each is entirely different and unique. Some enjoy the juiciness of the grapes. Some enjoy the bitterness of the olives. And some enjoy the chewiness of the figs. So also in Torah a person can find a vast variety of kinds of learning, and when he finds the kind which appeals to him, he has found his part in the Torah.

Let Your Child Find His Place

Since every child is different, it is important to discover what interests your child, and to allow him to develop and become proficient in that area. Of course he must learn other things as well, since they are basic requirements which form part of the school curriculum. But this should not hinder the parents' search to find where his special talents and interests lie.

Expose him to the different facets of the Torah and find out which speaks to his heart. Once he has found this, give him the opportunity to develop that interest. Don't try to discourage him from that interest, since this will make him feel frustrated and resentful. Rather, help him to strike a balance between his special interest and his other obligations, so that both can fit into his schedule.

I know of parents who decided that their child must learn to play the piano. The child was slapped every time he made a mistake or refused to practice. His music lessons went on for ten years, until the child reached the age of sixteen. When that child grew up, he found that whenever he tried to play the piano, he could not remember anything at all. Because what he had learned over the course of those ten years had never penetrated his heart, it was quickly forgotten.

Incentives Instead of Force

Give your child incentives that will make him want to succeed in Torah learning. You could, for example, make a chart of his progress and offer him a prize when he completes the chart. Try to find a good private tutor to help him if he is falling behind in school. Always be aware of his talents and strong points and let him develop them.

Never force anything on your children, since that will have a negative effect and will make them hate what they are doing. Even the things they must do should be presented to them in a loving way. Tell them how important it is for them to perform these tasks, and how wonderful they will feel after they have accomplished them.

Even if your child is not willing to do such an essential thing such as davening, do not use force on him. Any force leaves a bitterness behind, and may cause the child later on to give up mitzvos entirely. People who have given up being religious have said that it was because their parents forced them when they were young and their observance did not come from their heart.

Find someone besides yourself to influence your child if you feel that he is straying from the Jewish path. He will more readily listen to friends and relatives than to parents, since he thinks that others are impartial and will give him good advice.

If your son stops putting on tefillin, instead of chiding him for that, praise him for his davening. The praise will encourage him to continue what he is still doing, and maybe even return to his former level of mitzvah observance.

Let Your Child Choose His Profession

Some parents decide that their children must be clones of themselves. If they are doctors, they feel their children must be doctors too. If they are in business, their children must go into the family business as well. Other people decide that although they are businessmen, their children must be doctors or lawyers.

There are no such rules, and it is wrong to impose your will upon your children. Let them be themselves. When they are older, they will discover for themselves a profession they will enjoy. A parent's task is to encourage his children to develop themselves in their own chosen direction to the best of their abilities.

Parents can be so overbearing that they can, G-d forbid, ruin their children's lives. They can force a child to study a profession for which he has no liking whatsoever, and consequently the child may be unhappy for the rest of his life. The important thing is for your children to be happy, and this will come about only if they can involve themselves in something which gives them personal fulfillment.

Help Your Child Choose the Torah As His Profession

Torah is the best profession that your children can choose. The midrash(5) tells an interesting story to emphasize that point.

People were on a boat with various merchandise traveling to a port. A talmid chacham was asked about his merchandise, and responded that he had some but could not show it to them. Upon searching the ship and not finding anything they mocked him.

Upon reaching port, the other travelers' merchandise was confiscated, and having lost all they had, they were left with nowhere to go and nothing to eat. But the talmid chacham walked into a shul and began saying a derashah (Torah lecture). Upon hearing his great wisdom, he was invited by many and lavished with presents. The other merchants asked him to use his influence for their benefit also. His hidden merchandise was the Torah, which was superior to their merchandise, since it could not be confiscated.

The lesson here is clear. Only Torah can remain with a person under all circumstances. Also all appreciate a talmid chacham and are willing to help him. Therefore Torah is the best possible merchandise and the best profession one can teach his child.

If you want your children to grow to be talmidei chachamim, you should serve as an example to them. If they see you using every spare moment to learn Torah, this will arouse in them a desire to do the same. If they see that you enjoy learning and that it fills you with happiness, that will be a compelling example. Children tend naturally to emulate their parents, and therefore your relationship with the Torah will greatly influence theirs.

1. Devarim 32:2
2. Ibid.
3. Source unknown
4. Berachos 58a
5. Yalkut 363

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