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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Lech Lecha

Give Your Child a Good Start

After these things, the word of the L-rd came unto Avram in a vision saying, Fear not, Avram; I am your shield, your reward shall be exceedingly great.

Rabbi Fishel Rosner, the mechutan of Rabbi Shalom Schwadron, was a tzaddik who lived in Jerusalem. For many years, he devoted himself to the task of influencing his fellow Jews to put on tefillin. He used to get on the public bus, and there he would convince people to put on tefillin; or he would stand on the street near his house in the Batei Varsha section of Jerusalem, and when someone who appeared to be non-observant would pass by, Rabbi Rosner would ask him to put on tefillin.

Once a truck full of pebbles to be used for building was driven into Rabbi Rosner's neighborhood, and parked there. Rabbi Rosner ran over to the driver and asked him if he would put on tefillin. The driver at first did not understand what he meant and asked him, "What do you want from me?"

Rabbi Rosner answered, "Just for you to put on a yarmulke, lay tefillin and say Keriyas Shema. It will not take more than a minute and a half."

The driver agreed, and after putting on the tefillin and saying Shema Yisrael, he got back into his truck and drove away.

Two hours later, the driver returned to Batei Varsha and asked where does the Jew who puts tefillin on people live. He was directed to Rabbi Rosner's house. He knocked on the door, and when he was invited in, he entered and told the rabbi, "I want to buy a pair of tefillin. From now on, I will put them on every day."

Rabbi Rosner was delighted and asked, "What happened?"

The driver answered, "When I left Batei Varsha two hours ago, I drove to the Givat Shaul neighborhood, when all of a sudden my truck stopped, and I realized that there was something wrong with it. I got out of the cabin and crawled under the truck to find out what the problem was. While probing under the truck I had, without noticing, loosened a screw that caused my whole truckload of pebbles to be released, and they all started falling on me. I would have been buried alive right there, but fortunately someone saw what was happening, and quickly pulled me out at the last moment. He saved my life.

"That person asked me what mitzvah I had performed today that had given me the merit to have my life saved. I replied that I had put on tefillin. I immediately decided that from now on, I am going to put on tefillin daily. That's why I have returned to you for a blessing and to learn how to buy myself a pair," concluded the driver.

The driver had the spiritual sensitivity to understand and accept that his life had been saved by a miracle because of the mitzvah of putting on tefillin which he had performed that day. We can also train our children to develop spiritual sensitivity through the kind of education we give them when they are still young.

We have seen from the example of Avraham Avinu that from the beginning of his life he feared G-d, as it is written, "Fear not, Avram."1 In the Torah, we do not find any expression of "Fear not," except where it refers to a person who is truly G-d-fearing.

Our Sages related a parable: A king said to his son, "Go out and kill those robbers. If you catch them, do not take their money, so that people will not say, 'The king's son went out to kill the robbers for the sole purpose of acquiring their money.'"

The son went out and killed the robbers. On his way home, his father, the king, went out to meet him, and said to him, "My son, blessed are you, and may you enjoy much pleasure in your life. You did not take any of the robbers' money. Now, I shall pay you from my treasury with silver and gold, precious stones, pearls and every precious vessel that exists in the world."

This is comparable to Avraham Avinu when he killed the wicked kings. After the battle the King of Sedom approached him and said to him, "Give me the souls, and you take the possessions."(2)

Avraham answered him, "You are the most foolish person in the world. Do you think that I need to take from you silver and gold, precious stones, pearls, and precious vessels? 'Neither a thread nor a shoelace shall I take...'"(3) Thus it is written, "I am your shield."(4)

We learn from Yitzchak that from his very first actions he feared G-d. Yitzchak was seventy-five years old when Avraham Avinu died, and he said, "Woe unto me! Perhaps my actions are not as righteous as those of my father. What will become of me before G-d?" Immediately, G-d had mercy on him, and He spoke to him that very night, as it is written, "And it was after the death of Avraham that G-d blessed Yitzchak."(5)

We learn from Yaakov that from his very first actions he feared G-d, as it is written, "And they gave to Yaakov all the foreign gods they had."(6)

Our forefathers also feared G-d, as it is written, "And Israel saw the great hand [at the splitting of the Red Sea] with which G-d acted towards Egypt, and the nation feared G-d, and they believed in G-d and in Moshe, His servant."(7) This is to teach you that to reward them for being G-d-fearing and for believing in G-d from the very beginning, G-d in the future will redeem them from among the nations of the world, as it is written, "Shudder and sigh as a woman in childbirth... G-d shall redeem you from the palm of your enemies."(8)
(YALKUT 76, par. "Le'olam")

Why is it important for us to know that Avraham was G-d-fearing from the very beginning? How can our Sages imply that only a G-d-fearing person has fears, when we know that everyone has fears, even those who may not fear G-d? Why was the king so concerned about his son not taking the robbers' money? Why would it have been wrong for Avraham to take the money from the King of Sedom when it was offered to him? Wouldn't the fact that it was offered have justified his accepting it? How do we see that Yitzchak was G-d-fearing? How do we see that Yaakov was G-d-fearing? How did their belief in G-d at the time of the splitting of the Red Sea give B'nei Yisrael the merit they needed to be redeemed?

Fear of G-d Is True Fear

...From the beginning of his [Avraham's] life he feared G-d... In the Torah, we do not find any expression of, "Fear not," except where it refers to a person who is truly G-d-fearing.

A king said to his son, "Go out and kill those robbers. If you catch them, do not take their money..."

One's fear of G-d is measured by the purity of one's actions. The earlier a person is taught to be G-d- fearing, the more this purity will become ingrained in his character, and it will have a greater effect upon all that he does. This was true of Avraham, even though he had no one to emulate. He was the first of his generation to believe in one G-d, and he maintained this belief in opposition to everyone else in the world. Even his own father stood against him. Nevertheless, the fear of G-d was strong in him from an early age and he was convinced of his own belief.

When our Sages imply that only a G-d-fearing person fears, they are speaking of true fear. Most fears have no substance, since G-d can protect us from any peril that exists in the universe. But when G-d tells someone not to fear, He is referring to the kind of fear which everyone should have, that is, fear of the Almighty. We have no way of protecting ourselves from G-d, since He is all-powerful. Thus if we fear G-d, we will understand that His will must be obeyed and we will make that our top priority.

The king in the parable was concerned that his son should not take the robbers' money, since if he did so, it would have appeared that he was not doing the king's will for its own sake, but rather for monetary gain. The king or the father must be obeyed even if there is no gain to be had. Taking the money of the robbers would have made it appear that the son did not fear his father and would not have fulfilled his wishes without some monetary gain resulting for himself.

Why Avraham Did Not Want Money

Avraham answered him, "Do you think that I need to take from you silver and gold, precious stones, pearls, and precious vessels?"

Avraham knew that G-d expected him to refuse the money from the King of Sedom, even though it was offered to him. A person is allowed to accept a gift, and this was especially true in the case of Avraham, where he was being offered the legitimate spoils of war. Nevertheless, Avraham understood that he should not take the money, thereby showing that his motive for fighting the war was not to win the spoils, but only to do chesed for his nephew Lot.

Avraham put himself into great danger by engaging in this war, since he had very few men with him, and he was fighting against a larger, experienced army. This was a wonderful opportunity for Avraham to sanctify G-d's name by demonstrating his own willingness and self-sacrifice in order to help others. Not only was Avraham willing to give food, drink and lodging to guests, but he was also willing to put his life in danger to do chesed for others. This clarity of purpose would have been obscured if he had taken the spoils, even though he was entitled to them. People would have judged his motive as selfish, since he would have gained a great deal upon winning the war. Avraham knew that G-d wanted him to serve as a model of chesed and not of greed.

Although Avraham was giving up a vast treasure by refusing the spoils of the war, he knew that G-d would repay him for his loss. As the verse says, "Silver and gold are mine."(9) G-d does not lack the means to reward those who love Him and do His will. Avraham knew that relinquishing the wealth of Sedom was only a test, and that in reality he would not lose at all.

Yitzchak and Yaakov Were G-d-Fearing

"And it was after the death of Avraham that G-d blessed Yitzchak." "And they gave to Yaakov all the foreign gods they had."

We can see that Yitzchak was G-d-fearing from the verse that tells us that immediately after Avraham's death, G-d appeared to Yitzchak and blessed him. A blessing from G-d does not come by chance. It is received only after praying fervently or doing a good deed. Since the verse links Avraham's death with the blessing, the midrash explains that Yitzchak was worried after his father's death about whether he would be worthy to continue the monumental task of serving G-d and sanctifying His Name, which his father had begun. Yitzchak's worry resulted from his fear of Heaven, from an awareness of his own obligations, and from a feeling that he lacked spiritual accomplishments.

Genuine fear of Heaven requires humility. When a person is arrogant it shows that he is content with his spiritual situation. Such a person lacks fear of Heaven. In truth, we should never be content with our spiritual accomplishments, since we know how much more we should in fact be doing to serve G-d properly. Thus Yitzchak showed his fear of Heaven through his humility.

We also see that Yaakov was G-d-fearing, for when he left the house of Lavan he immediately ordered that all the idols be removed from the possessions of his family and his slaves. This immediate reaction showed that this had been his desire all along. It proved that until he left Lavan's house he was unable to rid his family of the idols, since he was under the rule of his father-in-law, Lavan. However, as soon as he became independent, he did what his heart truly desired. It also proved that he was unwilling to tolerate idol-worship even for a moment. This is the mark of a person who fears G-d. Such a person cannot tolerate evil, and does everything in his power to eliminate it.

The Reward for Fearing G-d

...To reward them [Israel] for being G-d-fearing and for believing in G-d from the very beginning, G-d in the future will redeem them...

The Jewish nation's belief in G-d at the splitting of the Red Sea provided them with the merit they would need to be redeemed in the future. This was so because until they left Egypt they had been in bondage, and could not be held entirely responsible for their actions. Once they became independent, they were free to act as they chose, and immediately did that which they had longed to do throughout their many years of bondage. They chose to fear G-d and to believe in Him and in His servant Moshe.

This showed G-d what our true aspirations had always been. Although we later sinned and deserved exile, G-d saw that this was due to the yetzer hara, and did not represent our deepest desires. Therefore, the time will come when G-d shall redeem us in the merit of our actions at the beginning, at the Red Sea, since those actions revealed what was deepest in our hearts.

The Beginning of a Child's Upbringing
Is Crucial

From the above midrash we learn the importance of a person's actions from the beginning. This is what sets the pace and provides the momentum for future years.

The same is true regarding bringing up children. It is crucial to educate them from the beginning to go in the direction in which we wish them to go. From an early age we must be careful to teach the child to say a blessing on the food he eats, wash his hands before eating bread, say Keri'as Shema, etc. Do not delay training your child in Jewish values. Although what you teach him depends upon his ability to understand, you must be alert to his capabilities and train him as soon as he is able to grasp whatever concepts you wish to teach him.

The same principle applies to teaching your children to avoid lashon hara. When your child speaks disparagingly about friends or teachers, be sure to warn him that what he is saying is lashon hara.(10) Although he may be small, he is able to understand the gravity of saying something derogatory about someone else, and can learn that he is not allowed to do this. Explain to him that you understand his feelings and his wish to express himself, but the Torah does not allow speaking disparagingly about someone unless there is a clear benefit in doing so. Ask him how he would feel if someone said bad things about him. This will give him a clearer picture of what he is doing.

Do Not Allow Revenge

Special attention should be given to acts of revenge. It is a natural tendency in children to want to take revenge. Try to explain to your children when they are young why we are not allowed to take revenge, and how anger can destroy a person's peace of mind and other people's lives.

One particular child was angry with his friend and took revenge by biting him severely. The principal sent the child home, and ordered him to stay home the next day and study a sefer that speaks of loving your fellow man. His father made him copy from the book for the entire day. Both the principal and the boy's father believed that this would instill in him the lesson of how to treat his fellow classmates. The more he could be taught to restrain himself, the more he would be able to live in peace with other people and with himself.

When a certain known murderer was a yeshiva student, he once became extremely angry with another student and took a knife and destroyed the other student's suit. The other student showed his torn suit to his father, and the father called the rosh yeshivah and said to him, "You are raising a murderer in your yeshiva." When he later murdered someone, the rosh yeshivah called the father to tell him how right he had been. This is an extreme example, but it proves that if a child does not learn to restrain his anger when he is young, he can even go so far as to become a murderer.

Emphasize from an early age the importance of always telling the truth. Falsehood should never be permitted. Tell your child that he will never lose by telling the truth, and that he should always have the courage to face up to it. If you have a book with stories on this subject, read them to him. Through a story the educational message will penetrate more deeply. Be careful never to lie to your child yourself, since this will defeat your whole purpose of training him to be honest.

Friends and Neighbors Exert Great Influence

Also protect your child from contact with friends and neighbors who do not think or act properly according to Torah values. They can put the wrong ideas into his head and destroy everything that you have been teaching him. If you must go to visit a relative who is a bad influence, warn your child beforehand of the hazards of the visit. Make your visit as short as possible and do not let your child out of your sight.

Daughters should be trained from an early age to dress modestly. Although there may be leniency in the halachah until a certain age, the earlier a girl gets used to the "inconvenience" of wearing extra clothing for the sake of modesty, the easier it will be for her.

Obviously, you will not be able to train your child to do something when you do the opposite. For example, if you sit and read newspapers or listen to the radio when you come home from work, it will be very hard to tell your son not to do so, but to go and learn Torah instead. You must set an example if you want your son to listen to you. The same applies to becoming angry, speaking lashon hara, or anything else that you want him to learn not to do. Be careful always to set a positive example for your children.

1. Bereshis 15:1
2. Ibid. 14:21
3. Ibid. 14:23
4. Ibid. 15:1
5. Ibid. 25:11
6. Ibid. 35:4
7. Shemos 14:31
8. Michah 4:10
9. Chagai 2:8
10. Mishnah Berurah 343:3

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