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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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The woman, the most tender among you, and the most delicate, who has never ventured to set the sole of her foot upon the ground due to its delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall look enviously toward the husband of her bosom, and toward her son, and toward her daughter. (DEVARIM 28:56)
Once the Ba'al Shem Tov was journeying in a wagon with his students. They traveled until they arrived at a town. There they stopped beside another wagon. The Ba'al Shem Tov alighted from the wagon, went to speak with the person sitting in the other wagon and then returned.
The students were curious as to what had transpired, and so they went over to the man from the other wagon after he, too, had alighted and they asked him what had transpired. He related the following story.
He had a good friend who had had much bad luck. His friend had tried many ventures but was always unsuccessful. Since he wanted to help his friend, he once told him, "You should try going to another city, as our Sages say, 'A change of place causes a change in fortune.'(1) Perhaps you will succeed somewhere else." His friend took his advice and moved to another city. Before leaving he had accepted an offer of financial help of a few hundred rubles from the man in the wagon. Sure enough, in the new city he was successful.
After a few years he went to see his friend, who greeted him warmly and took him to his house. The friend brought out a bag full of money, and said, "See how much success I've had due to your help!" He then left the room to bring refreshments for his honored guest, leaving the money on the table.
"I thought to myself," he related, "how stupid my friend is to leave such a huge amount of money unattended. I gave him money and he became successful, and now he leaves everything on the table and goes into another room. What would happen if someone were to come in and steal everything? Although I am his best friend, we are always warned to 'give honor and be suspicious.'(2) One should not leave so much money lying around.
"I will teach him a lesson. I will take it all, and hide it, and when he notices that the bag of money is gone, I will tell him, 'See, what a fool you are! You were so fortunate as to become wealthy, and now you go out and leave it all on the table.'
"My friend returned to the room with the refreshments, and I waited for him to discover that the money was gone, and then I planned to tell him what I had prepared to say. But to my astonishment he did not even notice. So I decided to leave the house, assuming he would definitely notice that the money was missing. Later I would come back and carry out my plan. I left the house and after about an hour I heard that his wife and children were screaming that all their money had been stolen.
"Now I was perplexed as to what to do, since it would now be embarrassing to come in and say that I had caused him all this aggravation just to teach him a lesson. Also they might not believe me and might suspect that I had really meant to steal it. All the neighbors would shout at me and call me a thief. I decided to wait until the next evening when I would throw it into his yard without anyone seeing.
"But the next day I could not find an opportune moment and it went on that way for days and weeks. Meanwhile, the family calmed down and returned to the life they had lived before becoming rich, and eventually they forgot about the entire matter. During this whole time I was looking for a way to return the money, but I was never able to find one.
"Then I began to think about my own business not being so successful, and about how I could use his money in the meantime. Why should the money sit idle? I decided to use it for my business, as I would surely be able to add to it, and later I would find a way to return the original sum. Since then, several years have passed. I worry how to return the money now, since I will seem in his eyes a real thief.
"So I sought out the advice of the Ba'al Shem Tov, who said to me, 'Go and return the money to your friend, and I guarantee that no one will suspect you of having stolen it. You will not have any problems.' So that is what I did. I went and gave him back the money and there was no ill will. And now the Ba'al Shem Tov came to confirm that all has turned out well."
All this came through this man's transgressing what our Sages say, that the Torah tells us not to steal, even if you intend to return it.(3) (SHE'AL AVICHA VEYAGEDCHA II, p. 317)
Although the man in the story thought he was doing a good deed, in the end it was a terrible sin that caused much aggravation. The same applies to educating children. We seem to be doing a good deed when we allow them all their hearts' desires, but in reality we are causing them suffering by creating for them unrealistic expectations.
Miriam, the daughter of Beitus, was among the richest Jews in Jerusalem. At the time of the food shortage she sent for her servant boy.
Why does the midrash relate all the different stages in her search for food? Why did she search for food only after the boy did not find barley flour? What did Rabbi Yochanan mean that the verse, which contains the curses, refers to this lady? How could this tragedy have been avoided?
Miriam, the daughter of Beitus, was among the richest Jews in Jerusalem. At the time of the food shortage she sent for her servant boy.
The midrash relates to us the different stages of Miriam's search for food to emphasize how she was unwilling to forgo the pleasures to which she was accustomed. She had always eaten bread made of well-sifted flour and was reluctant to accept anything less than the next best alternative. Therefore instead of telling the boy to bring whatever was on hand, she persisted in trying to find only the most enjoyable food available.
This teaches us one of the pitfalls of being rich. Wealth accustoms one to luxuries, and makes it a hardship to live without them. This makes a person vulnerable, since luxuries are not always attainable. In contrast, a poor person is already accustomed to being satisfied with a more modest lifestyle, and therefore is willing to settle for whatever he can get. Although one does not usually choose to be rich or poor, it is certainly vital to learn this lesson.
Since the servant boy knew her tastes, he did not dare bring her anything other than what she explicitly requested. He knew that she would not settle for any substitute. He therefore had to fulfill her wish, despite his knowledge that the shortage of food made it most likely that she was going to be left without anything to eat. Here again, we see the results of being spoiled. Because she had always been pampered, the boy could not do what was in her best interest, and this brought about her bitter end.
She was not wearing her shoes, and she said to herself, "I will go out and see if I can find something to eat."
Why did she search for food only after the boy did not find barley flour? Instead of coming to grips with the severity of the situation, which was apparent from the boy's answers, she closed her eyes and stubbornly waited in the comfort of her home to be brought something to eat. She was unaccustomed to searching for food on the street, and therefore remained at home as long as she could, until she felt hunger overcoming her.
Miriam expected her every wish to be fulfilled, and she was not willing to accept anything else. This is an unhealthy attitude. We do not choose the situations we encounter in life. Each one is a trial, and rather than denying the reality of the hurdles before us, we must try to objectively discern how to overcome them. Closing our eyes will only lead to self-inflicted harm and will arrest our spiritual growth.
The woman, the tenderest among you, and the most delicate, who has never ventured to set the sole of her foot upon the ground due to its delicateness and tenderness.
What did Rabbi Yochanan mean when he said that this verse which is in the section of the Torah containing the curses refers to this lady? Rabbi Yochanan was alluding to the nature of the Torah's curse. Her downfall was due to her wealth and oversensitivity. Since she had never trained herself to eat anything less than the very best, or to avoid manure, she caused herself her calamity. If she had lived like the poor, who ate whatever they could find, and if she had been accustomed to wandering around the streets, where manure is abundant, then she would not have been so sensitive, and she would not have suffered such a tragic death.
The Torah is stating that wealth can be a curse rather than a blessing. Money is simply a tool. If a person knows how to use it, it becomes a blessing for him. But when he uses it selfishly, it can be his downfall. When we ask for wealth, we must be sure to ask that we should also acquire the wisdom to use it properly.
Miriam's tragedy could have been avoided. Not being spoiled helps a person tremendously in life. Our Sages say, "Eat only bread with salt, and drink a small quantity of water, and sleep on the ground, and live a life of discomfort, and you shall be diligent in the Torah."(5) To succeed in life one must sometimes forego pleasure. Be ready for hardships, limits on food and water, modest sleeping conditions, and the possibility of pain. If you have trained yourself to withstand these hardships, then you will go on to succeed in Torah, or in any undertaking in your life.
We can learn from the story of Miriam how very careful we must be not to spoil our children by giving them everything their hearts desire. Even when parents do not have financial problems and can readily afford to give the child whatever he wants, they should not because of the harm that will result.
Children who are used to having all they desire are not trained to deal maturely with the hardships of life. When such a child grows up, he will easily lose his temper, take advantage of his spouse and friends, and will develop traits, which are quite intolerable. A child must learn at an early age to recognize and accept that he cannot always have whatever he wants whenever he wants it.
If your child throws a tantrum because he wants something, the worst thing to do is to give in to him. You are sending him a clear message: he can get whatever he wants, he just has to demand it loudly enough. A child learns that lesson very quickly.
He must learn that you are oblivious to his tantrums. You will hear him only when he speaks in a civil tone of voice. When he sees that you mean business and will not react to tantrums, he will not use them anymore, since they are of no benefit.
When you make a decision, be careful to follow through, and do not give in to a child's pressuring you. Once you give in, you are saying to the child that your decisions are not really final, and you are open to persuasion. This detracts from your authority, which should be unquestionable. Authority is the basis for educating a child, and there is no room for flexibility in this matter.
A couple came to me for counseling concerning their son. He was a bright child and doing well at school, but had begun doing terribly mischievous things at home. The parents emphasized to me that their children lacked nothing. Anything that their friends had would soon appear on their children's shelves. They could not understand what the child was looking for.
Upon further inquiry, I discovered that the mother was working long hours, and came home exhausted. She thought that the good income she was making could make up for her absence from home, since she could afford to gratify her children's every wish.
I told the mother that this was a mistake. The children do not need all the toys and games, but they do need a mother. Nothing can take a mother's place. The long hours she spent at work were causing her children to seek her attention in the wrong ways. They are screaming to her in the way they understand, "Look at me! I am alive!"
Material possessions cannot take the place of the time that parents must spend with their children daily.
Some children use tactics of persistence to get what they want. They constantly remind their parents of what they want, until they wear out the parents and the parents eventually give in to the child's demands.
Obviously, such tactics cannot be allowed. The Torah forbids pressuring someone so much that he sells an article that he really was not willing to sell.(6) Such pressure is similar to stealing, since in both situations a person loses his possessions unfairly.
When we see that our children are using such tactics, we must hasten to stop them. They must be warned that if they bring the subject up again, they will have a certain punishment. They can also be told that the more they talk about the subject, the less chance they have to attain what they want.
Do not allow your child to pester you. You are the parent and do not have to tolerate such behavior at all. If you do tolerate it, you are showing your child your weakness, and he will utilize it constantly against you.
In order to win, you must emphasize your refusal to comply with your child's wish. You can say to him that he can talk from now to eternity, but you will not change your mind.
A good example of this is when a child wishes to drive a car. When I was in South Africa, I was told of a teenaged boy who had saved and saved until he bought his own car. As he sped down a ramp of the highway, he lost control of the car and he was killed.
Statistics show that the majority of accidents occur with young drivers. Many rental car agencies will not rent a car to a driver under 24 years of age. Although they would like to have the business, they know that they are taking a great risk with a young driver.
If that is the case, why are we so willing to let young people drive? Are our children less precious than the rental agencies' cars? The insurance agencies have calculated the risks, and they know for sure that many young people do not have the maturity to drive carefully.
Driving is often essential and there is no mobility without it. But we must not forget that our children were able to get places before they knew how to drive. It may take their parents more time, but if being careful can save a child's life, it is certainly worthwhile.
If there is no other choice, and the child must drive, he must be tested and warned over and over not to speed and to drive carefully. If he cannot show this responsibility, than we must be staunch in our refusal. Tell him that we love him so much, that we must refuse. He can look at this as one of the difficulties of life.
When we train our children to maturely accept the difficulties of life, they will be confident to face them when they must and likely to overcome them successfully.
1. Rosh Hashanah 16b
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network