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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And if the woman be not defiled, but be pure; and she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.
On Rabbi Shalom Shwadron's first trip to Europe, he traveled by train from Antwerp to Amsterdam. Suddenly he heard some Hebrew among all the Dutch being spoken by the passengers on the train. Turning around to determine the source of it, he noticed a man with long hair looking at him. Rabbi Shwadron understood that he was the one who had been speaking in Hebrew, and when he returned the man's gaze, the man came over, sat down beside him and greeted him with a hearty "shalom aleichem."
After Rabbi Shwadron returned the greeting, the man explained that he knew only a few words of Hebrew and that he preferred to converse in German. He then told him that he was an artist and owned an art gallery in Amsterdam. Although he was not an observant Jew, he ate only kosher food.
He kept repeating the same theme: "I eat only kosher; not because I am religious, but because I find non kosher food abominable. It comes from horses and is unhygienic, and I simply cannot stand it." He then continued, "Seeing that you are an observant Jew, I would like to ask you if you can tell me of a place where I could obtain kosher food in Amsterdam."
Of course, Rabbi Shwadron gladly gave him that information, and they continued chatting about various topics, until finally the man said that he had a story to relate.
"Although I am not observant," he began, "my father was observant. When he was a soldier in the German army under Wilhelm, the last Kaiser of Germany, he was involved in an interesting incident.
"My father was very careful not to eat non kosher food, and thus in the army he ate only bread and vegetables. His officer noticed that he was becoming weaker and weaker, and warned him that if he continued in his stubbornness and refused to eat the regular army food, he would be severely punished. The warning was not heeded and my father was beaten as punishment. This did nothing to change his resolve and once again he was cruelly beaten.
"After having been repeatedly beaten and embarrassed, my father decided to take his case to the Kaiser Wilhelm himself; and so he wrote a letter to the Kaiser telling him that he was a soldier in the Kaiser's army, and that he had been treated cruelly as a result of his efforts to adhere to his religious beliefs.
"Two weeks passed. Then one day it was announced that there would soon be a military lineup at the camp. Everyone ran to get their rifles and proceeded to march in proper formation. The officer in charge announced that a letter had arrived from the Kaiser, and would be read publicly. My father was commanded to take three steps forward. He stepped forward, knowing that this was a likely indicator of severe punishment. When he remembered the letter of complaint he had written to the Kaiser, he could not help but tremble in fear, wondering what was now going to happen to him.
"Finally the letter was read. It said, 'I hereby order that the Jewish soldier,' and he named my father and gave his serial number, 'should be given kosher food. If such food is unavailable in his camp, another camp must be found where he can receive kosher food. If that is not possible, then he should be provided with money to buy the food he needs.'
"Obviously, following that ceremony, my father's reputation and prestige rose tremendously in the eyes of everyone in the camp," the man concluded.
After hearing the story, Rabbi Shwadron realized that, although the son had said that he avoided non-kosher food for hygienic reasons, the real reason lay in the self-sacrifice of his father to uphold his tradition, which had deeply affected the son, in spite of his not being observant.
From this story we can understand the strong influence a father has on his child, even in matters where he does not teach him anything explicitly, because a child naturally wishes to emulate his father. This should make us aware of our great responsibility to use this influence wisely and well.
We have learned: Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said, "A woman who has never shown signs of puberty does not drink the bitter waters of the sotah. On the other hand, when she is suspected of adultery, she can be divorced without receiving her kesubah [monetary compensation in the event of divorce specified in her marriage contract]. From where do we learn this? It is written, "And she shall be free [of suspicion] and shall conceive."(1) This verse refers only to women who are capable of becoming pregnant.
Why is the ability to conceive a prerequisite to drinking the bitter waters of the sotah? What is the reasoning of the Sages who dispute this prerequisite? Why is the reward of the woman who was falsely suspected of adultery by her husband, that she will now conceive? Why should her reward be an easier childbirth? Why should her reward be that her children will be males and not females, when the world needs both? Why should she be rewarded with children who are considered beautiful?
"And she shall be free [of suspicion] and shall conceive." This verse refers only to women who are capable of becoming pregnant.
A woman who strays from her husband must lack the love of her husband, and thus she is wrongly seeking it elsewhere. Even if she was found to be innocent of adultery when she drank the bitter waters, the fact remains that she had gone into a secluded place with a man, and this in itself shows a lack of faithfulness. Since the marital relationship is in need of rebuilding, a child will be born, since the birth of a child tends to bring a husband and wife together in a close and loving bond. In addition to their mutual responsibility in raising a child together, they will find their own relationship strengthened as well.
If a woman cannot bear children, then something essential in the bond between a man and his wife will always be lacking in that household. This woman cannot drink the bitter waters, since their purpose is to repair the damage in a marriage. However, if this marriage lacks the potential of children to bring the couple together, the void will be too great to repair, since a lack of faithfulness has already manifest itself. Thus there is no need to drink the bitter waters, whose purpose is to mend, when this marriage lacks its fundamental basis, and therefore has no remedy.
The reasoning of those Sages who do not require the prerequisite of a woman's physical ability to conceive in order to drink the bitter waters is that they feel that most people are mature enough to find fulfillment in marriage even if they are not blessed with children. It should be enough for a husband to see that his wife has been faithful to him and has not committed any greater sin than that of being alone with a strange man. That should convince him of his wife's love, for she had the chance to sin, yet she refrained from doing so. A child is an added enhancement, but when this is not given to a couple by G-d, they are nevertheless able to have a wonderful marriage.
Therefore, these Sages argue and say that even a woman who is physically incapable of having children can drink the bitter waters, and in the merit of drinking them, a miracle will occur and she will have a child.
"...If previously she had given birth in pain, she will now give birth without pain;..."
The reason this woman's reward should be an easy childbirth is that the difficulty of childbirth is a great obstacle for a woman's desire to have many children. Our Sages say that the reason a woman must bring a sacrifice after giving birth is to obtain forgiveness for having sworn after birth that she would never again have relations with her husband, so that she will not have to go through the pain of childbirth again.(3) This teaches us how apprehensive a woman feels about the pain involved in giving birth.
But a woman whose relationship with her husband is less than perfect (to the point that she feels the need to put herself into a situation that will lead to suspicion), needs a special level of closeness with her husband to mend the situation. Therefore the Torah gives her a blessing that her children will come easily into the world, and thus she will not be hesitant about intimacy with her husband.
"...If previously her children grew to be short, she will now have tall children; if previously her children were dark-skinned, she will now have fair-skinned children."
The reason her reward will be male children rather than female is that our Sages maintain that, "happy is the man whose children are males and unfortunate is the man whose children are females."(4) The reason for this is that female children need more supervision than do male children.(5) This creates an added burden for the mother, and might cause her to take away from the time she would have given to her husband. This in turn might cause tension in the marriage. Since this marriage is already shaky, this obstacle is overcome after she drinks the bitter waters and is found innocent, by the fact that she will now have only male children.
Why should she be rewarded with beautiful children? A beautiful child is a source of pride to his parents. They will be complimented on their child's beauty. On the other hand, when a child has some peculiarity which makes him stand out among other children, the parents feel great discomfort. Some parents are even embarrassed to be seen in public with their child. Such a situation might easily cause tension between the parents, and in a marriage where the relationship is already tense, these added difficulties are not desirable. Thus the woman receives the needed blessing that from now on her children will be beautiful, and she will not have to go through another negative experience on account of her children who will be born to her now.
It is clear that a child is the joint responsibility of both his father and his mother. A child needs the guidance of both his parents, and if one of them is missing, then something will be lacking in the child's personality. A mother cannot take a father's place, and therefore he must fulfill his part in bringing up his children. Generally, a mother gives her children the warmth and love they need, and a father gives his children the security and discipline they need. Each parent has a special task which the other does not fulfill. Only when each one actively participates in the education of the children will the children gain the emotional and spiritual qualities they need to be successful in life's struggles.
The father has to be seen by his children both in his learning capacity and also in his other abilities. Any child naturally thinks that his father is the smartest, most talented man in the world, and that he knows how to do everything. A father should not disappoint his children's expectations and must demonstrate to them his talents. This will strengthen their feelings of security and pride.
Playing with your children will make them feel that their father understands their needs and is not aloof from them. They need to see their father laugh and romp with them. This gives them the closeness they need to feel towards their father. Time spent with one's children is never wasted. It is the fuel that children need to help them grow up.
Parents who are too busy with their personal lives to find time to spend with their children will always regret this later on in life.
Rabbi Yaakovson tells the story of a school quiz in which the teacher asked, "What is more important than the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai?"
There was silence in the class until one child raised his hand and answered, "Eating cholent on Shabbos."
The whole class burst into laughter and the child was sent out of the classroom.
Later the teacher asked the child to please explain his remark. The child said, "On Shabbos at the meal, I try to tell my father something that I learned in school about the parashah, but he just continues eating and eating and does not hear me. So I understand that eating cholent on Shabbos is more important than the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai."
The moral of this story is obvious. If a child sees that it is more important to his father to eat than to listen to words of Torah, then the child gets the message that eating is more important in life than learning. The child does not criticize his father. He simply accepts what his father is teaching him. The father does not have to stand up and give a sermon to his son. His actions are a constant lesson to his son to help him learn what is important in life.
A child is the greatest mimic there is. He tries to mimic his father in every way possible, since he believes that his father is the best. If the father spends his time reading newspapers or watching television, the child gets the idea very quickly that this is what a person should be doing with his spare time. The father can tell him otherwise constantly, but the son will learn much more from his father's actions than from anything he hears from his father's mouth.
You are a role model for your child, whether you like it or not. If you lose your temper easily or curse, your son will follow in your footsteps.
When my friend first came to Israel, he was approached by a relative who said he had some good advice for him concerning the education of his children.
"What is your advice?" asked my friend.
"Very simple," said the relative. "Here in Israel, children always grow up to reach a lower level than you would like for them. For instance, if you send them to slightly religious schools, they will end up irreligious. If you send to them to more religious schools, they will end up slightly religious. If you send them to very religious schools, they will end up moderately religious. Therefore, you must always raise them one step higher than you want them to be."
My friend took the words to heart and acted accordingly. He understood very well that you cannot expect your child to live up to the expectations of their parents unless you give them the very best you can offer.
1. Bamidbar 5:28
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network