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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Mishpatim

Siblings Should Be Faithful to One Another

And holy men you shall be unto me; and flesh that is torn of beasts in the field you shall not eat; to the dogs you shall cast it.
(SHEMOS 22:30)

A Portuguese Marrano, who had settled in Tzefas, listened carefully to the Rabbi's lecture about the lechem hapanim, which used to be offered in the Beis Hamikdash every Shabbos. In his lecture, the rabbi sighed and said with anguish that now, due to our many sins, we do not have the Beis Hamikdash and we do not offer lechem hapanim. This Marrano, who had not learned Torah and was very naive in his service of Hashem, heard this, went home and innocently told his wife that every Friday she should prepare for him two loaves of bread sifted thirteen times. He requested that she kneads the dough in purity and bake it well in the oven, because it was his desire to offer the bread before the aron kodesh, and perhaps Hashem would accept the loaves which he would set before Him.

His wife baked him the loaves, and every Friday he would stand before the aron kodesh in the shul and daven and plead with Hashem to accept his offering. He would offer his supplication like a son entreating his father, after which he would set the two loaves down and leave.

The shamash would come every Friday and remove the two loaves, without inquiring where they came from. After maariv, this G-d-fearing Jew would run to the aron kodesh, and since he wouldn't find the loaves, he would be elated and full of joy, and he would go home and tell his wife, "Praise and thanks to Hashem, may He be blessed, for He has accepted the bread. For Hashem's honor, don't be lax in making the loaves next week and be very careful, because we do not have any means of honoring Him other than with these loaves. And so we are obligated to give Him pleasure through them." This custom of the Marrano couple continued for a long time.

One Friday, the rabbi who had given the lecture about the lechem hapanim lingered in the shul. At the same time, this man came into the shul, as he did every Friday, with the two freshly-baked loaves. He approached the aron kodesh, and began to pour out his heart in prayers and supplications, without noticing that the rav was present in the shul. He was filled with such enthusiasm and happiness as he brought this gift before Hashem that he didn't pay attention to anything else.

The rabbi kept quiet, and saw and heard everything the man said and did, and it angered him greatly. He called to him and rebuked him: "You fool! Does Hashem eat and drink? Of course it is only the shamash who takes these loaves, and you are foolish enough to think that Hashem is the one who accepts them."

The rabbi continued to rebuke the man until the shamash came as usual to take the loaves. The rabbi called the shamash over and he admitted that he was the one who removed the two loaves every week. Upon hearing this, the poor simple Jew began to cry and asked the rabbi to forgive him, since he had erred in understanding his lecture. Although he thought he had been doing a mitzvah, he now understood that he was really doing an aveirah.

Immediately after this, a special messenger came to the rabbi from the holy Ari, and told him: "Go home and leave a will for your household, because tomorrow, at the time when you are scheduled to give your lecture, you will die, for this decree has already been set." Upon hearing these dreadful tidings, the rabbi was frightened and went to the holy Ari to ask him what had happened. The Arizal replied: "I have heard that your sin was that you have put a stop to Hashem's pleasure. From the day that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, Hashem never experienced pleasure as he did when the Marrano in his innocence would bring the two loaves of bread and offer them to His aron kodesh with the conviction that Hashem accepted them from him. Because you stopped him from bringing the loaves, death has been decreed upon you, and there is no way to avert this decree."

The rabbi went home and left a will for his family. On Shabbos, when it was time for him to give his lecture, he died, just as the holy Ari had foretold.

We can learn from this story how great is G-d's pleasure when a person is faithful to Him and does His will with all his heart. Faithfulness is an important lesson to teach our children. They need to learn to be faithful to their brothers and sisters as well as to G-d.

Rabbi Eibo said, "There was an incident concerning a butcher in Tzippori who used to cheat the Jewish people and sell them non-kosher meat. Once, on the eve of Yom Kippur, he drank excessively and became drunk. He went up onto a roof, and being drunk and unstable, he fell from the roof and died.

"The dogs in the vicinity were licking his body in order to eat his blood. People came to ask Rabbi Chanina if it was permissible to carry away the body on Yom Kippur so that the dogs could not eat his blood. He said to them, '"And holy men you shall be unto me, and flesh that is torn of beasts in the field you shall not eat; to the dogs you shall cast it."(1) This man was stealing from the dogs and feeding their food to the Jewish people when he sold them non-kosher meat. Allow the dogs to eat, for they are eating what is theirs.'"

"You shall throw it to the dogs."(2) This verse teaches us that G-d does not withhold the reward of any living creature, as it is written, "And among all the sons of Israel not a single dog barked."(3) G-d said, "Give them their reward."

From here we can understand a rule known as "kal vachomer" [learning a rule from a similar, but more severe case]. If the reward of an animal was not withheld by G-d, how much more so will He not withhold the reward of a human being.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said, "Anyone who relates lashon hara, or anyone who believes lashon hara, or anyone who gives false testimony against his friend, is worthy of being thrown to the dogs, as it is written, "You shall throw it to the dogs"(4) and afterwards it is written, "You shall not accept a vain report."
(YALKUT 352)

Why did the butcher become drunk on the eve of Yom Kippur, of all days? Why was his body not removed before Yom Kippur? How can we say that the butcher was stealing from the dogs, when non-kosher meat may be sold to a gentile and does not belong exclusively to the dogs? How could Rabbi Chanina have permitted the desecration of the Jew's body, when judgment should be left to G-d? If Rabbi Chanina knew that this butcher had been selling non-kosher meat, why did he not take steps to stop him while he was alive? How can a dog deserve a reward, when it does not have an evil inclination or free will? Why does someone who speaks lashon hara deserve to be thrown to the dogs, and why is this the appropriate punishment for this sin? Why is this same punishment considered appropriate for the sin of giving false testimony?

The Drunken Butcher

Once, on the eve of Yom Kippur, he [the butcher] drank excessively and became drunk. He went up onto a roof, and being drunk and unstable, he fell from the roof and died.
"This man was stealing from the dogs and feeding their food to the Jewish people when he sold them non-kosher meat."

The butcher became drunk intentionally on the eve of Yom Kippur, since he did not wish to face that holy day when he knew that he was guilty and wanted to feel no remorse. He preferred to drown his conscience in wine and thus evade his guilty feelings. However, instead of enabling him to evade his guilt, the wine itself was the cause of his punishment of death. This teaches us that G-d's judgment cannot be evaded, no matter how hard a person tries.

His body was not removed before the onset of Yom Kippur because when the butcher fell, he had not been in the presence of other people and his body was discovered only on Yom Kippur. G-d caused this series of events to happen in this way so that Rabbi Chanina would be presented with the question of what to do with the body and would be able to teach us this lesson.

We can say that the butcher was stealing from the dogs, because even though the meat does not belong solely to the dogs, they do have a claim to it, and it is left to the discretion of the owner of the meat whether he wishes to sell it to a gentile or feed it to the dogs. In any case he cannot feed it to his fellow Jews, since they are forbidden to eat such meat. Therefore if non-kosher meat was given to Jews to eat, it is in a sense considered as if it had been stolen from the dogs, since it was originally their privilege to have the meat.

Special Punishment for a Special Sin

[Rabbi Chanina said,] "Allow the dogs to eat, for they are eating what is theirs."
If the reward of an animal was not withheld by G-d, how much more so will He not withhold the reward of a human being.

We see that in this unusual case Rabbi Chanina decided to permit the desecration of the Jew's body, even though usually we might think that such judgment ought to be left to G-d, unless the judgment was passed in a Jewish court. We do indeed find in several places that our Sages were able to do things that seemed to be against the halachah but in reality were permitted by the Torah. One example is the ruling that we do not perform the mitzva of lulav on Succos when it falls on a Shabbos. The reason given is that the Sages may negate a positive commandment with a decree.(5) This could apply here, where we are commanded to honor the dead, and yet the Sages [Rabbi Chanina, in this case] decided that since there was an important lesson to be learned from the butcher's actions, it was preferable and permissible to negate the Torah's command.

Furthermore, we find that the Sages had the power even to execute someone if he did not obey their command, as we find in the case of a person who rode a horse on the Shabbos and was executed for this.(6) The Ramban(7) explains that the source of this power of the Sages is derived from the verse in Vayikra, which speaks of additional power in the case of a king or a large court. In our case, the punishment of the butcher was really far more lenient, since the person was already dead. The Sages felt that since an important lesson needed to be learned, this warranted the application of this verse, which grants the Sages additional power.

If Rabbi Chanina had known that this man was selling non-kosher meat, he surely would have done something to stop him. It seems that Rabbi Chanina had not been aware of his despicable behavior; however when he saw the dogs eating the body, he became suspicious and subsequently discovered the man's sin.

Although a dog does not actually "deserve" a reward from G-d, since it does not have an evil inclination, yet it receives a reward, in order to teach us the lesson of reward and punishment. When we see that the Torah writes that we should throw non-kosher meat to the dogs because of their faithfulness in Egypt, we learn that faithfulness deserves to be rewarded. The dogs received their reward only to teach us this lesson. Yet a reward is deserved only when a difficult trial is overcome, and the dogs in Egypt had no choice but to do G-d's will. It is much more difficult for a human to listen to G-d than it is for a dog. Thus, when a man listens, his reward is surely much greater.

A Dog Is Better Than a Person Who Speaks Lashon Hara

Anyone who relates lashon hara, or anyone who believes lashon hara, or anyone who gives false testimony against his friend, is worthy of being thrown to the dogs...

Why does someone who speaks lashon hara deserve to be thrown to the dogs? As we see from the dogs' actions in Egypt, a dog is a faithful creature. It does what it is told and does not betray its master. The dog follows its master wherever he goes, because of its trait of faithfulness. When a person speaks lashon hara about a friend, this is the exact opposite of being faithful to his friend. He is in fact betraying him. His friend trusted him with some secret information about himself, or perhaps he saw his friend doing something wrong. In this case, a friend will feel that he has nothing to worry about, since it was after all only his friend who saw him and, being a friend, he will surely not relate the incident to anyone else.

The evil of lashon hara is the lack of faithfulness upon which it is based. This is emphasized in the verse, "You sit and speak of your brother, the son of your mother you slander."(8) A person who speaks lashon hara betrays his own brother when he cannot control his tongue. This shows the greatest lack of faithfulness.

Now we can understand why the Torah says that the punishment for someone who speaks lashon hara is that he should be thrown to the dogs. In other words, he is worse than a dog, which is at least faithful. He does not possess even that quality.

The same applies to giving false testimony, since when a person swears in court he is expected to be faithful to the Torah, for he is taking an oath. In offering false testimony, he shows his lack of faithfulness, and thus, again, he is, worse than the dog.

Arguments Between Siblings

Just as it is forbidden to speak lashon hara against one's brothers or sisters, as mentioned above, so too, one may not strike his brothers or sisters nor fight with them. Unfortunately, this is a common problem among siblings, and it is important to know how to deal with it.

In general, you should try to stay out of your children's fights, and you should not take sides. Whatever side you take, the other side will feel offended that his own parent betrayed him. Each child feels he is right, and expects his parents to stand up for him.

Instead of deciding who is right, try to pinpoint mistakes that each side has made, such as hitting a brother, acting with anger, or insulting one other. You can show each child what his mistake was without getting involved in the question of who was right and who was wrong in this particular fight. This way you will stay impartial and will not be taking sides and causing hurt feelings.

Are Siblings Allowed to Fight?

Most fights between siblings start over small things about which a child often overreacts, and the results are bitter arguments that are difficult to end.

Many children think that they are allowed to fight with their brothers and sisters or speak badly about them, and this is not considered a sin, since they are "only" brothers and sisters. This is a grave mistake, and the truth is that it is worse to hit a brother than a stranger, just as it is worse to slander a brother than to slander someone else.

This is stated explicitly in the verse mentioned above, "You sit and speak of your brother, the son of your mother you slander."(9) The verse tells us that we can understand how a person might slander a stranger, someone with whom he feels no connection, but to slander a brother or sister is abominable, since you are thereby harming your own flesh and blood.

If a child is not trained to honor his brothers and sisters, he will develop the same attitude towards other people as well. Once he becomes accustomed to fighting and slandering, he will not differentiate between his brothers or sisters and anyone else. These bad habits will become an integral part of him, and he will not be able to control himself. Of course, a brother might forgive him, but a stranger might not tolerate such behavior and this could result in terrible damage.

When you feel the atmosphere heating up between siblings, intervene immediately, before tempers rise uncontrollably. Do not wait until it is too late, but rather be alert and stop a fight before it breaks out. This can prevent much aggravation.

Create Love, Not Anger, Between Children

Teach your children to practice loving one another and thus avoid fights. How does one practice love?

One possibility is to play a game where each child must write something pleasant about a sibling with whom he is not on good terms. The child with the most positive things to say wins a prize.

Another method is to give your child some money and tell him that he is to use this to buy his brother or sister a present. Do the same with the other sibling. In this way they will accustom themselves to thinking kindly about one another and doing things for each other.

You can also work with a child individually and give him exercises to help him overcome his dislike for a sibling. For example, whenever that brother or sister whom he dislikes walks into the house, he will be the one to greet him; or when you go shopping for the family, take with you the child who dislikes another child and ask him to help you choose a gift or garment for that child. This way he will practice changing his opinion about his brother or sister.

We can learn this principle from the words of the Mesilas Yesharim,(10) who writes that when we act with our bodies, this influences our inner feelings. Here too, once the child gets used to doing kind things for his brothers and sisters, he will change his attitude, being influenced by his actions.

Fighting among siblings is a normal phenomenon, but it does not mean that we have to sit back and tolerate it. We must do what we can to avoid such unpleasant and forbidden actions, so that we will have a harmonious household and well-trained children who love one another.

1. Shemos 22:30
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., 11:7
4. Ibid., 22:30
5. Rashi, Yevamos 90b
6. Yevamos 90b
7. Vayikra 27:29
8. Tehillim 50:20
9. Ibid.
10. Chapter 7, Zerizus

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