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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Matos

Do Your Children Respect You?

And Elazar the kohen said to the men of the army who had gone to battle: This is the law which the L-rd has commanded Moshe.
(BAMIDBAR 31:21)

During the Spanish Inquisition, Jews who were suspected of keeping the mitzvos were tortured mercilessly.

At that time, there was a Jewish child who had been kidnapped by the Christians. He was very intelligent and had an excellent memory, and thus he was able to move up the ladder of success until he was appointed to be the bishop. He had forgotten entirely about his background and that he was a Jew, and he became extremely wicked and cruel.

His task was to judge the Jews who were caught keeping mitzvos. The Jews would hide in caves and tunnels in order to be able to keep mitzvos. When they were found and brought before him, he would order that they be tortured until their deaths. The Jews, although they suffered terribly at his hands, were proud to die for the sake of kiddush Hashem. Once a Jew who had been caught doing mitzvos was brought to him to be judged. After having interrogated the witnesses and investigated the case, he decided to sentence the Jew to be burned at the stake.

When he tried to announce the verdict, he felt his heart beating furiously, and he was unable to open his mouth. He could not understand what had happened to him. Asking the pardon of the people assembled in the courtroom, he retired to his private chambers and tried to determine what had happened to him. He eventually decided that it had been nothing of significance and he returned to the courtroom.

Once again he experienced a rapid heartbeat and was unable to read out the cruel verdict. When the same thing happened a third time, he decided that it must be some kind of omen, and he invited the Jew who was being judged into his private chambers.

"Tell me your life story," demanded the judge of the Jew.

"One of the most significant things that happened to me," answered the Jew, "was that many years ago my child was kidnapped and turned over to the Inquisition."

The judge became extremely excited upon hearing this story, and asked the Jew, "Do you have any signs by which you could recognize your lost son?"

"Definitely," replied the Jewish prisoner. "He had a brown spot on his right shoulder."

The judge immediately took off his shirt and revealed a brown spot on his right shoulder. When he realized that this was his father whom he was judging, he cried and they hugged and kissed each other, as a father and son would after not having seen each other for so many years.

The son found a way to free his father from his imprisonment, and after a short while they managed to escape together to a country where the Inquisition's influence did not reach, and there the son repented for his terrible deeds.

Even though the bishop did not recognize his own father, the strong feeling that a son instinctively has for his parents would not allow him to do anything to harm his father. This teaches us that by nature, a son's respect for his father is ingrained within him, no matter what the circumstances. Since this is only natural, we need not fear that our children will not respect us. Yet we must take care not to do the wrong things that would drive away the respect that our children really want to give us.

"And Elazar the kohen said to the men of the army who had gone to battle: 'This is the law of the Torah, that the L-rd commanded Moshe.'"1 Rabbi Eliezer said, "Any person who makes a decision in halachah in front of his rabbi will be lowered from his status, as it is written, 'And Elazar the kohen said...' And even though when he taught this halachah he attributed it to his uncle, Moshe, and did not claim that he had heard it directly from G-d, nevertheless he was punished. His punishment was that although Elazar served as a source for the Urim and Tumim for Yehoshua, as it is written concerning Yehoshua, 'And in front of Elazar the kohen he shall stand,'2 nevertheless we have not found that Yehoshua ever used his services [i.e., Elazar's punishment was that he was ignored by Yehoshua during the years of Yehoshua's leadership, and his ability to serve was neglected]."

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said, "Every person who becomes angry, if he is a talmid chacham, his wisdom will disappear; if he is a prophet, his prophecy will disappear. From where do I know this rule? Concerning wisdom, I can learn it from Moshe, as it is written, 'And Moshe became angry with the soldiers of the army,' and in the end it is written, 'And Elazar the kohen said to the men of the army.' Why did Moshe himself not teach this commandment to the men of the army? Because he lost his wisdom due to his anger.

"From where do we know that prophecy will disappear [as a result of one's anger]? The king of Israel and Yehoshafat the king of Yehudah asked the prophet Elisha to prophesize when they were at war and lacked water, but the response of Elisha was one of anger when he said, 'I swear by G-d the L-rd, before Whom I have stood, that I shall not look at the face of Yehoshafat, the king of Yehudah.' And afterwards it is written, 'And now bring for me a musician,' and it was while the musician played his instrument that the spirit of G-d came upon him. Since he became angry he lost his ability to prophesy and required music to enable him to regain it. This is to teach us that the Holy Spirit does not rest upon a person when he is lazy, when he is sad, or when he entertains other negative emotions."

It is written, "And [Moshe] became angry with Elazar and Isamar, the sons of Aharon," and yet the response to Moshe did not come from them, but rather from Aharon, as the verse says, "And Aharon spoke to Moshe." This was a matter of respect, since the sons said that it was not proper for them to speak and their father to remain silent, just as it would not have been proper for them to respond when Moshe spoke, since it is not praiseworthy for a student to answer his teacher. You might think that Elazar did not have the ability to answer, but the verse says, "And Elazar the kohen said to the men of the army."8 When he wanted to, he spoke in front of Moshe and the chiefs of the tribes, and they accepted his words.
(YALKUT 785, par. "Vayomer", ERUVIN 63)

Why is it forbidden to make a halachic decision in the presence of one's rabbi? Why does a person lose his status because of this? Why was it considered a punishment for Elazar that Yehoshua did not use his services? Why is this the appropriate punishment for his particular mistake? Why is it that when a person becomes angry, if he is a talmid chacham his wisdom will disappear, and if he is a prophet his prophecy will disappear? How can we say that Moshe lost his wisdom due to his being angry and for this reason Elazar said the halachah in his place, when we find that what Elazar did was considered wrong, since he should not have spoken before Moshe? Why did our Sages discuss wisdom separately from prophecy, when they both seem to be related? Why does the Holy Spirit not rest upon a person when he is lazy, sad, etc.? Why would it have been considered improper for Elazar and Isamar to have spoken while their father remained silent?

The Honor Due to a Rabbi

"Any person who makes a decision in halachah in front of his rabbi will be lowered from his status..."

It is forbidden to make a halachic decision in the presence of one's rabbi, because a person must have reverence for his rabbi. The rabbi is owed this degree of respect due to the Torah he has learned, and due to the gratitude which is owed to him for having shared his wisdom. Making a halachic decision in front of one's rabbi implies that one's own knowledge exceeds that of one's rabbi, and therefore there is no need to consult him.

It is not sufficient merely to acquire knowledge from the rabbi. One must also see one's rabbi as someone to be emulated. We learn from the way in which the rabbi thinks and acts. That is why our Sages say that it is greater to serve a rabbi than to learn Torah from his mouth. They are teaching us that the learning of Torah is not just a matter of acquiring knowledge, as one learns a science, but rather it involves learning how to behave and how to live. This type of "learning" can be absorbed only when a person has close contact with the rabbi and observes his behavior constantly.

Our Sages say that if a rabbi is similar to an angel of G-d, then you should learn Torah from him, but otherwise you should not. The idea is that your rabbi must be someone from whom you can take an example of how to live. If this is not the case, it is wrong to learn from him.

A person loses his status if he is arrogant, since one can acheive greatness in Torah only when one is humble. The moment someone shows that he thinks of himself as being important, he loses his moral authority, for arrogance is the very opposite of true Torah greatness. A Torah scholar is called a talmid chacham, which means that he is still a student. No matter how great he may be, he is required to consider himself as if he has not finished learning. Someone lacking this attitude is not considered a great person in Judaism, and this is what is meant by his losing his status.

A Person Wants to Be Needed

His punishment was that although Elazar served as a source for the Urim and Tumim for Yehoshua... nevertheless we have not found that Yehoshua ever used his services.

Why was Yehoshua's failure to use Elazar's services considered to be a punishment for Elazar? Every person wants to know that he is needed, whether at home or at his place of work. To have a task and never be able to perform it is exasperating, since this makes one feel that one's talents and efforts are being wasted. Here Elazar was in charge of the Urim VeTumim, ready to fulfill his task as the intermediary between the Jewish people and G-d, and Yehoshua never asked him a single question. This must have given Elazar the feeling that no one needed him, which surely tormented him.

We can understand why this was the fitting punishment for Elazar's mistake. Since he was lacking in humility, and he believed that he possessed greatness of his own and tried to show his independence from his "rabbi" Moshe by ignoring him, his punishment was that he himself was ignored and he was never consulted. That which he did to his rabbi was in turn done to him.

Anger Brings On a Loss

"Every person who becomes angry, if he is a talmid chacham, his wisdom will disappear; if he is a prophet, his prophecy will disappear."

Anger is a trait comparable to that lack of humility which can cause one to ignore one's rabbi. Anger stems from the feeling that one is very important; therefore one cannot tolerate any mistakes. The smallest mistake which someone else makes may cause an arrogant person to throw a tantrum, for he believes that since he does not make mistakes, neither should others. Such a person loses his wisdom, since the very essence of wisdom depends upon being humble and willing to accept one's rabbi's teachings. The same applies to prophecy, since in order to receive prophecy one must be entirely humble and accept unquestioningly the message of G-d. G-d cannot tolerate haughtiness, for we are obligated to recognize how small we are compared to G-d.

In spite of the fact that Moshe had forgotten the halachah because he was angry, this did not justify Elazar's interfering and saying the halachah in his place. Elazar did not have the right to say anything when Moshe his teacher was present. It did not matter that Moshe did not know the halachah. Since Moshe was the rabbi, Elazar as his student was not allowed to take advantage of Moshe's temporary lapse of memory. It may have been permissible for Elazar to ask Moshe if he needed his help, or to present the halachah to Moshe in the form of a question. For instance, Elazar could have "coached" Moshe by saying to him, "Could it be that this-and-this is the halachah?" Saying it in such a way would have been respectful, but relating it in Moshe's place was considered an act of grave disrespect.

Our Sages discussed wisdom separately from prophecy because we might not have derived that an angry person can lose prophecy from the fact that one loses one's wisdom due to anger. Prophecy means that someone has a special level of closeness to G-d and can therefore experience Divine visions. Wisdom, on the other hand, is gained only through one's intellect, but does not involve visions. Therefore one might think that anger could not affect such a high level as prophecy. Yet the intellect can bring one to a very high level as well, and through wisdom one can grasp things the prophet cannot, because prophetic revelations are limited to the visual.

This, incidentally, is the reason that the World to Come is not mentioned explicitly in the Scriptures, but only in the Oral Torah. The Scriptures consist of all prophecy and visualization, but we have no visual concept whatsoever of the World to Come and therefore the prophets were unable to prophesy about it. The Oral Torah, on the other hand, is not limited by visualization.

For the Holy Spirit to rest upon someone, that person must be in top spiritual condition. If a person is sad, that is a sign of a lower spiritual state which precludes prophecy. When a person fulfills all the mitzvos in the proper way, this should fill him with such happiness that he cannot imagine being sad or lazy, since he will be full of energy, knowing that he is doing the right thing and fulfilling the purpose for which he was created.

Honoring Parents

"And [Moshe] became angry with Elazar and Isamar,..." and yet the response to Moshe did not come from them, but rather from Aharon...

Aperson must show the utmost honor to his parents. Elazar and Isamar did not wish to speak when they were accused of wrongdoing as long as their father was present. Naturally, a person wishes to defend himself when he has something to say, since he knows the reasons for his actions better than anyone else. But the respect they felt for their father overcame that natural instinct to speak, and they allowed their father speak in their place.

Elazar showed that he was capable of controlling himself with his father, showing respect and not speaking in spite of the overpowering desire he had to defend himself. However, he failed to display this same measure of self-control when Moshe forgot the halachah, and instead spoke up in Moshe's presence.

Teaching Respect for Parents

It is obvious from the above midrash that Elazar showed tremendous respect for his father. This concept of respecting parents seems to have lost much of its impact in our day. How then can we train our children to have respect for their parents?

One important factor is not to allow your children to call you by a name that is not appropriate. For instance, some children call their parents by their first names, or call them childish names like "Tatale" or "Mamale." Parents should make it clear that a certain distance must be maintained between a parent and a child that cannot be crossed. A child must address his father and his mother in a way that shows respect and honor. If the parents hear themselves being addressed in any other way, they should not answer the child, but rather they must point out firmly that they will respond only when they are addressed with proper respect.

The tone in which a parent gives a command should be one that does not allow for any bargaining. When you want something from your children, say it in a clear, commanding voice, and not in a whimper. The tone you use shows whether you or your children are in control. In the army a sergeant "barks" his orders. A parent need not "bark," however one who wishes to remain in command must give orders in a way that makes it clear that they expect to be obeyed.

A parent must also be careful not to accept excuses when he tells a child to do something. If your children learn that they can avoid obeying you by giving an excuse, and get away with it, they will never learn to do what you want them to do. Of course sometimes there are extenuating circumstances; sometimes a child is really unable to do his assigned chore, but that must be the exception and not the rule.

The way in which parents dress also affects the respect they will receive from their children. If you look sloppy, that lowers the level of respect which your children will give you. You have to project an impressive image to them, one they will want to revere and emulate. This does not mean that you have to wear your best clothing all the time, but it does mean that you must keep up a neat and respectable appearance.

A Parent's Self-Image

It is also of the utmost importance that your own self-image as a parent should be positive. G-d gave you the task of being a parent, and since he chose you for that task, he knows that you can do the job. Even if you have made mistakes in the past, do not let that discourage you. Children generally are willing to forgive their parents' mistakes, and therefore any mistakes you have made in the past should not hold you back from trying a different approach in the future.

There are verses in the Torah and sayings of our Sages in the Talmud that speak of how important it is to honor your parents. It is important that you believe these verses and feel them in your heart. You cannot convince your children of something that you yourself do not believe in and feel.

Try to avoid being blunt and demanding about the respect you feel you should be receiving. It is much better for the child to develop this feeling of respect for you on his own. Even though it is true that you deserve respect, our Sages nevertheless say about someone who runs after honor that "honor runs away from him."

Show Examples of Honoring Parents

It is a good idea to tell your children stories of great people who honored their parents, that are mentioned in the Talmud. The stories convey the importance of this mitzvah, and by hearing the stories the idea penetrates a child's heart. It is wiser not to point out the moral outright, since the child might say to himself that his parents are only telling him this to seek honor for themselves. But the child will understand from the examples in the Talmud what he should be doing and what is wrong with his actions.

An excellent example for children is the way in which their parents honor their own parents. When they see how important the mitzvah of honoring parents is to their parents, they will understand clearly that they too should be doing the same for their parents. If parents are negligent in honoring their own parents, then it will be very difficult to convince their children to act differently towards them.

Give and Your Children Will Return

Acommon reason for lack of respect for parents is the lack of attention and affection that the parents give to their children. If a parent is so busy that he does not have time to chat with his chidren or go out to have a good time with them or learn with them, then the child becomes alienated and does not feel obliged to honor his parents. You must find the time to raise your children properly, otherwise they will not respect you and might even stray from the path you want them to follow.

If a parent feels that his or her work is robbing the children of the care they need, then the parent must seriously consider finding another job or means of support that does not do damage to the children's education. Money comes and goes, but your children's upbringing is crucial throughout their lives. This same principle applies to the neighborhood in which you live. If it is harmful to the education of your children due to the bad influences there, then you should not hesitate to move to another place which will provide a better influence, despite the inconvenience this may cause.

If your child absorbs bad influences from friends and, G-d forbid, strays from the way of the Torah, then he will likely lose his respect for you as well, since he will despise all that you have taught him. It is of the utmost importance that your child be exposed to only positive influences from his school and his friends, and no compromises should be made on this issue.

We earn the respect of our children by being the best parents we can be. Only then will they honor us.

1. Bamidbar 31:21
2. Ibid., 27:21
3. Ibid., 31:14
4. Melachim II 3:14
5. Ibid., 3:15
6. Vayikra 10:16
7. Ibid., 10:19
8. Bamidbar 31:21
9. Otzar Midrashim 499c
10. Chagiga 15b
11. Tanchuma Vayikra 3

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