|Back to this week's Parsha||
by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
|Archive of previous issues|
Speak to the whole congregation of the children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy for I the L-rd your G-d am holy.
During the first year that Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, the distinguished Rabbi of Brisk, served his community a frightening incident occurred. One of the Jewish residents was caught in the act of committing a crime and was sentenced to death. The day of the execution arrived. According to law, every prisoner before his execution was given the privilege of being able to make a confession to his priest or rabbi. It was Shabbos when a messenger arrived in the name of the governor of the district with the order that Rabbi Yitzchak Zev should come immediately to the prison to enable the Jewish prisoner awaiting execution to make his confession. When Rabbi Yitzchak Zev saw the order, he responded shortly, "I am not going." When asked what his reason was he replied, "Since the law states that the execution cannot be carried out without a rabbi accepting the condemned man's confession, by going I will be causing this person's death. Therefore I am not going, no matter what!"
"But what good does your refusal do, when they can easily find another rabbi who will comply?" people asked the rabbi.
"Let them take someone else. But I will not be an accomplice in his death!" replied the rabbi.
The messenger returned to the governor empty-handed. When the governor heard of the refusal of Rabbi Yitzchak Zev, he became furious. He immediately dispatched a high-ranking officer with the same command that Rabbi Yitzchak Zev come immediately, and he also added threats of severe punishment if the rabbi were to refuse. These threats were very grave, since Rabbi Yitzchak Zev was obligated by law to obey the governor. But this did not move Rabbi Yitzchak Zev, and once again he adamantly refused to go. The officer had no choice but to return empty-handed.
The governor was even more furious and got up and went himself to Rabbi Yitzchak Zev. When he arrived, all the members of the community were beside themselves with fear and apprehension. They surrounded Rabbi Yitzchak Zev and shouted at him that he was destroying the city with his stubbornness and putting everyone in danger. But even this did not cause Rabbi Yitzchak Zev to budge, and he would not change his opinion. Even the governor himself with his angry threats could not frighten Rabbi Yitzchak Zev and force him to change his mind.
After the governor had left, the members of the community were in great trepidation as to what would happen. Everyone was talking about the great danger facing Rabbi Yitzchak Zev and perhaps the whole community due to his refusal.
On Motza'ei Shabbos a telegram arrived with the unexpected news that clemency had been granted to the Jewish prisoner and he was not going to be executed. Everyone was astonished, since it was now clear that had Rabbi Yitzchak Zev not been firm in his refusal, the prisoner would have been executed, and only thanks to Rabbi Yitzchak Zev had his life been spared.
Rabbi Yitzchak Zev had the courage to withstand the tremendous pressure that was exerted upon him. He realized that it was only a test and that it was his task not to submit. Facing great pressure from others is a common situation, and we do not always have the strength to withstand temptation. Thus we would benefit if we knew how to react when we or our children are unable to resist temptation and make mistakes.
Rabbi Abin told the following parable:
Why would a clever king give drunkards the task of guarding wine, which is similar to having a cat guard milk? Why did the king pay the drunkards a double portion, despite the Nazarites reasonable claim that they had done the same work? What is meant by saying that human beings have two measures of holiness, and how is this of any help to them? What was Rabbi Abin trying to teach us by means of the above parable? How could the angels praise G-d as the G-d of Israel, even before Israel came into the world? What is the meaning of G-d's words, "Since you were holy for Me even before I had created you, you shall be holy as I am Myself"? What does the parable of the king teach us? What is the connection between betrothing and sanctifying?
He appointed guards to protect the cellar. Some of them were Nazarites, and the others drunkards... He gave to the drunkards' two parts and to the Nazarites one part.
The clever king in the above parable gave drunkards the task of guarding his wine because he was not really so interested in preserving the wine as he was in testing the loyalty of his servants. He wanted to know whether or not the drunkards would be steadfast in fulfilling his command. By putting something before them that would tempt them he could determine the level of their commitment to following the king's command. The king camouflaged his real purpose by ordering the Nazarites to perform the same task. This way the drunkards would not suspect that they were being tested.
This explains why the king paid the drunkards' double wages, even though their work was identical to that of the Nazarites. Since the drunkards were successful in putting the king's command above their own will, they had proved themselves worthy of the tremendous reward that awaited them. For the Nazarites, who were unaccustomed to wine, guarding the king's wine was a relatively simple task, and therefore they merited no special reward.
But those that dwell below [human beings], since they do have an evil inclination, receive two measures of holiness to assist them...
What is meant by G-d giving human beings two measures of holiness is that since people face constant deception and are lured by their evil inclination (the yetzer) they need an extra boost to withstand the pressure. G-d does not forsake a person and leave him alone to face the strong enticements that tempt him on every side. But rather, He gives a person all the holiness possible as ammunition against the yetzer. This is referred to as "two measures of holiness," and this means that he is given a double measure of help to enable him to withstand trials and properly serve G-d.
The lesson learned from Rabbi Abin's parable is that all the enticements which pull us toward immoral behavior exist only in order to test us to see if we will choose to fulfill the will of G-d despite the temptations. He purposely created us with an inclination to do evil, so that He could reward us when we choose to do His will. The greater the temptation, the greater will be the reward. Once one realizes that the temptation only exists for him to withstand it and thereby to receive reward, then this task becomes much easier.
"Even before you were created, the angels were praising and calling Me 'holy' through you, and they used to say, 'Blessed is the G-d of Israel from this world until the next world.'"
The angels wanted to praise G-d, and they chose the praise that He is the G-d of Israel. This is special praise, since it recognizes that G-d is King, and His universal sovereignty has great significance. Israel was the nation which revealed this to the entire world, and the angels recognize this and make it the basis of their heavenly praise.
Even before Israel came into the world, G-d received praise from the angels as the G-d of Israel. This is because in the future a nation would come into being which would recognize G-d's greatness and sanctify His great Name. Thus He was praiseworthy even before that nation's existence.
The idea behind this is that as more people do G-d's will and accept Him as King of the world, this causes His name to be praised. Praise which is not vanity is the glorification of G-d's name in the world. This is accomplished through doing His will, and that was to be the purpose of the nation of Israel after they were created.
"You shall be holy, since I am holy."
When we are able to recognize the holiness of G-d, we ourselves become holy. This is what the midrash means when it says, "G-d said to Israel, 'Since you were holy for Me even before I had created you, you shall be holy as I am Myself...'"
This is so because unless a person is willing to forfeit his own selfish pleasures, he cannot recognize the holiness of G-d. He is too engrossed in materialism to appreciate the spiritual world. He prefers not to think of the obligations that serving G-d demands. It is much easier to give into material temptations. That is why recognizing the holiness of G-d, following His will and forfeiting one's own desires, brings a person to holiness.
"Since you have become betrothed to me, I am the king, and you are the queen."
The parable reveals to us that you do not have to be great to become a queen. You merely have to marry a king. So, too, the greatness of Israel does not necessarily come from their own qualities, but rather from their acceptance of G-d as their King.
A person's greatness is measured according to his acceptance of G-d as his King. This means that he abandons his own will in order to obey G-d's will. Once he does that, he becomes holy, since he is ready to abstain from worldly pleasures and temptations in order to serve G-d.
When this happens on a national scale, then the whole nation is considered holy. That is what happened at Mount Sinai. When G-d saw that our acceptance of His will was complete, we became a holy nation. Just as a betrothed woman belongs only to her husband, so did the Jewish people become sanctified to G-d. It was our acceptance of Him as our King that caused us to be holy. We discarded the temptations of the flesh to be holy, as is our Creator.
Children are faced by temptations just as much as adults. The difference between adults and children is simply the form the enticements take. Furthermore, it is important for us to realize that everyone has two kinds of challenges: those he can easily conquer and those with which he is constantly struggling. We must recognize in our children which tests they have mastered and which they find difficult and provoke in them a serious moral struggle. This takes great sensitivity on the part of parents and teachers.
A severe punishment should never be given to a child for failing to overcome the latter kind of temptation if they have sincerely tried. For example, we cannot severely punish a child for telling a lie, since in our day and age it is so common to tell lies, that the temptation to do so is strong and to resist this takes great integrity. Reserve such punishments for some extraordinary breach of conduct. Punishment for what a child cannot overcome will not help. But rather this will only encourage him to find ways to avoid the punishment.
We should approach these day to day struggles in a positive way by reinforcing his sense of success whenever he is able to overcome them. For instance, if a child often lies and one day he tells us the truth, we have to show him how proud we are of him and we must be sure to praise him extensively. We can even say to neighbors or other children in his presence, "My son is supreme in the quality of telling the truth." This will give the child great reinforcement, and it will encourage him to improve.
On the other hand, using vulgar language may be something uncommon in our children and may thus require a very strong reaction. Then our reaction should be to demonstrate clearly to the child that he has gone too far. But one must be sure to reserve these reactions for something that is very rare and unexpected in the child.
Temptations are the daily fare of adults and children alike. When we know how to react to our child's mistakes we will be able to help him overcome them.
Some people have the mistaken idea that it is all right to enter tempting situations, as long as we know that we can overcome temptation. This is wrong. We say in our morning prayers after birchos hashachar every day, "And bring us not into temptation." We are asking of G-d not that we be brave in meeting spiritual trials, but rather that we shall not be confronted with them at all.
The reasoning behind this is that the mitzvos are too precious in our eyes for us to endanger ourselves and lose them. When a person wants to juggle, he throws balls up into the air, not precious glass. In the same way, we are not willing to take any risk with mitzvos, since the loss is so enormous.
This idea should be taught to our children. Do not be daring, be successful. If your child will go to places where there are bad friends, forbidden food, or other temptations, then he is taking a risk. Tell him that we must avoid and stay away from all temptations.
It is not enough to punish a child when he errs. We must find ways to help him to avoid erring altogether.
It is obvious that it is not enough just to tell him not to do something. If he is weak in a certain area, more is needed than mere words. We must show him support and give him practical steps he can take to help him overcome his temptations. First of all, we can sit down and discuss the matter with the child, and see what he suggests. Tell him that you understand how hard this temptation is for him to overcome, and together with him you want to work out a plan to succeed. By speaking to him in this way, we are showing our concern and respect for him, and this will give him the support he needs. It will also get his cooperation, since if he is an active partner in the planning, he will be motivated to carry through.
It is not practical to ask a child to stop his mischief "cold turkey." Instead make a plan to stop his actions gradually, such as twice a week, or something similar. Ask him to make a chart and write down his successes and even his failures. This way he will have the incentive to succeed, since he knows that you will be monitoring his progress.
If the situation is really bad, then we must be more considerate, and ask him to refrain not more than once a week. Even a little progress is extremely important, since it is a sign that the child cares and is willing to strive to improve.
Any success must be given great applause. It is vital that he receives encouragement, since this is what inspires him to keep on trying. Also overlook occasional failures, as long as he is cooperating and trying to overcome the problem. Everyone makes mistakes, and we must emphasize the positive if we wish to encourage him to succeed.
It is always a good idea to tell your children stories of great rabbis who were successful in overcoming temptations. When a child hears how others have succeeded, he will be inspired to emulate their actions.
Today there are many useful books with stories of great rabbis. Find a story that shows the rabbi's courage and greatness. Praise the rabbi after you tell the story, and assure your child that you are sure that he could do the same.
When you tuck your child into bed at night, say to him, "I like to say goodnight to such a tzaddik as you." By saying this to him you are instilling in him the belief that he can succeed.
The encouragement we give our children is the fuel they need to overcome life's temptations. Let us not deny them that precious gift.
1. Daniel 4:14
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network