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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Nitzavim

Assuming Responsibility

You are standing this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d; the leaders of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel. (DEVARIM 29:9)

In the city of Vilna lived two well-known men, Reb Moshe and Reb Zimmel, who were business partners. They were both very rich, learned in Torah and greatly respected in the city. Once a dispute over money arose between them, and since they could not reach an agreement, they decided to go to a great rabbi for a ruling, as they did not wish to take this case to the local Jewish court. They both agreed to present their case before the Rabbi of Bialystok, who was renowned as a great Torah sage and was the author of the sefer Maros Tzovos.

They traveled together and arrived at the rabbi's home. When they knocked on the door, the clerk noticed the beautiful wagon and saw Reb Moshe and Reb Zimmel standing outside. He immediately ran to tell the rabbi that these two famous men of Vilna had come to see him. Without showing much interest, the rabbi asked the clerk to inquire as to the purpose of their visit. The clerk did so and he was told that they had a dispute and wanted the rabbi to judge their case. When the rabbi heard this, he instructed the clerk to tell them that they would have to wait.

Reb Moshe and Reb Zimmel had no choice but to wait, and they assumed that the great rabbi was occupied with other people. Reb Moshe was a calm person, but Reb Zimmel was more temperamental. While they were waiting, he began to show his anger. When they were finally ushered in to see the rabbi, they noticed that no one had been in his room with him before them, and he sat with his tallis covering his face. He did not greet them when they entered, but got straight to the point and asked them, "So you want me judge between you?"

"Yes," they replied.

"Your names are Moshe and Zimmel?"

"Yes," they replied.

"Who is the plaintiff?" asked the rabbi.

"I am," answered Reb Moshe.

"If so, Moshe, state your claim," said the rabbi.

Reb Moshe was not used to being called "Moshe," without the respectful title of "Reb," but as the rabbi had asked him to state his claim, he had no choice but to do so. He presented his claim in detail.

"Have you finished?" asked the rabbi.

"Yes." he replied.

"Zimmel," continued the rabbi, "now answer his claim."

Reb Zimmel was hot-tempered and couldn't stand this sort of treatment; the rabbi had made them wait for no reason, had not greeted them, and had called them by their first names. Nevertheless Reb Zimmel was a good person and had respect for Torah scholars, and thus he did not show his anger, nor did he insult the rabbi. He went on to refute the claim of Reb Moshe, but did so in a soft voice, as if he were anxious to end the visit.

When they had finished, the rabbi reiterated their claims: Moshe says such-and-such, and Zimmel says such-and-such. Now the din in a case like this is such-and-such. "Do you accept my decision?" asked the rabbi.

"Yes," they both replied. Since he had explained everything so clearly, the two men saw immediately that his judgment was correct, and so they accepted it willingly.

At that moment the rabbi lifted the tallis from his face, held out his hand and said, "Shalom aleichem, Reb Moshe. Shalom aleichem, Reb Zimmel. Please have a seat."

He then called the clerk to bring in refreshments, and he began conversing with them with all his wit and charm. They enjoyed this conversation immensely.

Reb Zimmel, though, could not contain his curiosity. Why had the rabbi's attitude changed so radically in such a short time? He respectfully remarked, "Now, the rabbi is receiving us so nicely, and we greatly appreciate this hospitality. But why, when we first arrived, did he make us wait, and when he finally called for us, why did he not greet us and why was he so abrupt with us?"

"Reb Zimmel," answered the rabbi, "I am surprised at your question! You certainly know the rule of our Sages, 'when those involved in a din Torah stand before you, they should be in your mind as wicked people, but when they leave, they should be innocent in your eyes.'(1) Is it possible to greet wicked people? The verse tells us: 'There is no peace for the wicked, says G-d.'(2) Wicked people must be made to wait. Should I call a wicked person 'Reb' Moshe or 'Reb' Zimmel? Of course not! But after you had accepted the ruling, then I was able to offer you the hospitality you truly deserved."

Reb Zimmel had not imagined that this might have been the reason for the rabbi's having acted the way he did, but now he began to understand. They continued conversing, and then the two men took leave of the rabbi with great friendship, and each one pulled out of his pocket a thousand rubles and offered it to the rabbi for having taken up his time. The rabbi replied, "Take back the money immediately. I do not receive money, since I have, with G-d's help, enough to live on. I do not need it."

The two gentlemen continued pressing the money upon the rabbi, but he continued to refuse it. Finally, when he saw that they would not relent, he called for his clerk and suggested that they donate the money to any charity they wished; for a gemach, a guesthouse, or the chevra kaddisha. They arranged this matter with the clerk and then took their leave of the rabbi.

When they were back in their wagon, Reb Zimmel sat in silence. Reb Moshe would have preferred to converse a bit, especially since the return journey would take more than two hours; but since he saw that Reb Zimmel did not want to talk, he too kept quiet. When they arrived at their place of business, Reb Zimmel hurried to his room and locked the door.

After an hour, Reb Zimmel opened the door and invited in his friend, Reb Moshe. "Do you know why I was so pensive?" he asked. "I was comparing my situation to that of the rabbi. Which of us has a better life in this world? You might think that I do, since I am wealthy, but the truth is that I don't come close to having the good life that the rabbi has. He sits in peace and contentment, learning Torah and praying. He is not lacking a thing in this world. Even when you offer him a thousand rubles, he has no need of it. If this is so, what do I really have in this world? And what about the World to Come? Who knows if I shall receive the World to Come?

"What can I do now? I am already old, and I cannot change my ways at this advanced age. But I do have a son who enjoys learning Torah. I shall put a million rubles in an account for my son, so that he will be able to learn Torah for the rest of his life, he and his children and grandchildren."

That is what Reb Zimmel did. His son devoted himself to learning Torah and even authored a sefer, which he dedicated to the memory of his father. (SHE'AL AVICHA VEYAGEDCHA II, p. 268)

When Reb Zimmel realized the truth, he decided that his son should benefit from it and not lose out spiritually as he felt he himself had. We must be careful to pass on to our children the best way in which to live their lives. They must learn to accept responsibilities and to fulfill their purpose in life.

"You are standing."(3) This refers to the time when all Jews shall be united.

The verse continues, "this day, all of you." In the normal course of events, if a person picks up a bundle of sticks together, he cannot break them all at once, but if he were to take them one at a time, even a child would be able to break them. Similarly, we find that Israel shall not be redeemed until they are united.

"The leaders of your tribes."(4) Even though I have appointed from among you leaders, judges and officers, I consider you all equal before Me, as it is written, "And all of Israel."(5) Another explanation of this verse is that all of you are responsible for one another, and if there is even one righteous man among you, you all exist on account of his merit; and not only you, but the whole world, as it is written, "A righteous person is the foundation of the world."(6) Likewise when one person sins, the whole generation suffers, as we find in the case of Achan.(7) When there is only a small measure of punishment from Heaven, we see that the whole generation is caught up in the sin. Then, when there is reward coming from Heaven, which is far more abundant, is it not much more likely that the whole generation will be caught up in righteousness? (YALKUT 960, par. "Atem")

Why are we considered to be "standing" only when we are united? What does the parable of the bundle of sticks teach us? Why can Israel not be redeemed until they are united? How can we all be equal when there are leaders appointed over us? Why are we all responsible for one another, when it would seem more just for every person to suffer for his own deeds, rather than being responsible for others? How do we receive a reward when someone else does a good deed? Why is the good from Hashem more abundant than the bad?

United We Stand

"You are standing." This refers to the time when all Jews shall be united.
...If a person picks up a bundle of sticks together, he cannot break them all at once...
Similarly, we find that Israel shall not be redeemed until they are united.

We are considered standing only when we are united, because as individuals we have many faults, but when we stand together, our virtues take precedence. It is rare to find someone who is without blemish, as the verse says, "There is no tzaddik in the land who does only good and does not sin."(8) When individuals stand together as a unified whole their individual blemishes are not apparent, since now they are looked upon as a group and not as individuals. The accumulated merit of the group has great strength. Each person has something unique to contribute, and his faults become less conspicuous.

That is what the midrash means when it says that we are considered standing only when we are united. We cannot stand as individuals, since we would easily fall, due to our faults. But when we are united, we become strong and can remain standing.

The parable of the bundle of sticks teaches us that a single stick has no strength, since it can be easily broken, even by a child. Yet a bundle has great strength, due to the number of sticks gathered together. The parable demonstrates that strength comes from numbers. This is true concerning the Jewish people as well. A person alone is vulnerable, but united we can be strong.

To be redeemed we must be strong. The midrash is not referring to physical strength, but rather to spiritual strength. Redemption can come about only when we are obedient to His will. An individual has too many flaws to be worthy of redemption, but as a community, we have combined qualities that warrant redemption.

G-d Loves Us All Equally

Even though I have appointed from among you leaders, judges and officers, I consider you all equal before Me...

We can all be equal, even when there are leaders appointed over us, since the leaders appointed by the Torah are not singled out for their superiority, but rather because of their ability to fulfill the task of leadership. Someone must be a judge, and someone else must give orders during wartime, and yet another person must make decisions in matters that affect the community. But this should not lead us to believe there is an intrinsic difference between the leader and those who follow him. It is rather a hierarchical structure that is necessary in order for community life to function. In reality, everyone is equal before G-d.

This idea of equality is very significant. On the one hand, it teaches the leaders not to be arrogant or to take advantage of their high positions for personal benefit. They should see these positions as responsibilities alone. Our Sages emphasize this when they say, "G-d said to Moshe, 'All the greatness I have given you was for Israel's sake.'"(9) Who was in a higher position than Moshe Rabbeinu? Yet he testified about himself, "I have not carried from them even one donkey."(10) Moshe Rabbeinu was emphasizing that he had received no personal benefit from his exalted position, but rather he saw himself as a servant of the community.

On the other hand, it teaches us that we should not belittle ourselves if we are not leaders. Every Jew has great importance in the eyes of G-d, as our Sages teach us, everyone should say to himself, "For me alone was the whole world created."(11) Never tell yourself, "I am not important; what can be expected of me?" Every Jew is extremely important, and his actions have powerful consequences for the Jewish nation.

Our Joint Responsibility

...All of you are responsible for one another...
...When one person sins, the whole generation suffers, as we find in the case of Achan.
...When there is reward coming from Heaven, which is far more abundant, is it not much more likely that the whole generation will be caught up in righteousness?

We are all responsible for one another, even though it might seem more just that every person should suffer only for his own deeds, and should not be held responsible for the actions of others. Every member of the Jewish nation is closely connected to every other; we are one. For this reason, even after a person has done a mitzvah, he can help another person to perform that same mitzvah, since it remains one's responsibility to help others. For example, even if someone has already made Kiddush, he may recite it a second time for someone else who has not yet heard it.(12)

The midrash(13) brings a parable to emphasize this point: Once some people were traveling on a ship, and each person had his own cabin. They heard noise coming from one of the cabins and went to investigate. They found that a man was drilling a hole in the floor.

"What are you doing?" they demanded. "If you succeed in making a hole, the ship will sink."

"I rented this cabin and I can do in it whatever I wish," claimed the man.

"You can certainly do what you wish in your cabin, as long as it does not disturb or endanger others. But by drilling that hole you are affecting everyone on board, and that you may not do," they said.

Our Sages tell us that when a person sins, he is in effect drilling a hole in the 'ship' of the Jewish nation and causing it, G-d forbid, to sink.

How do we receive a reward when someone else does a good deed? As we have explained, since the Jewish people are connected to each other, just as the evil a person does affects others, so too, the good he does affects others as well. This a great incentive to do good, since we are benefiting the entire Jewish people with our deeds. To be a benefactor, you do not have to be wealthy, you just need to do mitzvos, and you will be helping others in more ways than you can ever imagine.

The reason that good which comes from Hashem is more abundant than bad is that God created us only so that we could receive His lovingkindness. But He cannot be kind to us if we do not earn that kindness, since it is the nature of the human being not to feel comfortable receiving something without any effort on his part. The reason we have trials in life is so that we can earn the good G-d wishes to give us. This explains why the good from G-d is so much more abundant than the bad. The good is that which G-d wants to give us, and whenever He can, he gives it in abundance.

Give Your Child Responsibility

One of the most important lessons we can teach our children is responsibility. The more responsibility the child learns to handle, the better he will be prepared for life.

Many parents are overly protective. They will not allow their child to travel on his own, to fix something at home, or to do anything that involves his assuming responsibility. The child learns early in life that he is not capable of doing anything without his parents, and he feels that he must have them by his side for the rest of his life.

This is a tragic lesson for them to learn, since our children must learn to be independent and live without their parents. If a child goes somewhere on his own, he might get lost. But if he has been taught to have good common sense, he will find his way around by asking. The sense of accomplishment he will then feel will be very great, and this will give him even more confidence for the future to go out on his own. He will learn that he need not be tied to his parents forever, but that he can stand on his own two feet.

This is also true regarding fixing things around the house or doing chores. Tell your child that he is responsible for there being clean dishes for supper tonight. He may not do the job, but when he sees the consequences of neglecting his responsibility, he will certainly learn the lesson that you are trying to teach him. It is even worthwhile for the entire family to have to wait for supper, so that one child can learn this important lesson.

Do Not Interfere in Married Children's Lives

This principle applies so much more when your child gets married. Do not try to settle all his marital problems, for he must learn to solve them on his own. If you are always meddling in your child's marriage, that is a sure way to ruin it. Let your child learn from his mistakes, and he will have a marriage that he has built on his own. You can give some advice, but make it as limited as possible, since the tendency of parents is to interfere in their married children's lives far too much.

If parents feel that they cannot control themselves, and must tell their married children what to do, it would be wise to live far away from them. It is certainly a great pleasure to see your young couple often, but it is not fair to ruin their marriage.

When the parents are not wise enough to move away, then the children must do so. Even if parents are lending a helping hand, children should not tolerate their interference in their lives.

Once a person is married his obligations are first to his spouse, and only secondly to his parents. We must keep this priority in mind if we wish to keep our children's marriage intact.

Allow Your Child Independence in Business

Even in business parents have a tendency to be overly protective. They may feel that they have to give advice, supply money to invest, and oversee their children's business. This may be helpful for the business, but it is very bad for your child's independence. Let him live his own life, and try not to interfere in his financial matters. You can help him, but that help must be limited so that he will learn to stand on his own feet.

Parents must learn to allow their children to live the way they wish. Let them make mistakes, since that is the way a person learns. By interfering, you are holding on to your child, when the time has come to let go, and that is more damaging to your children than helpful.

Speak to your son frankly, and ask him if he wants your advice concerning his business. Tell him that you will not be hurt if he declines your help, but you want him to decide on his own whether he feels he needs your help or not. This way you will know for sure that he is not being pressured.

It is very important to rely on your child's intelligence and to show him that you are doing so. In this way he will see that he can succeed, and he will develop the self-confidence which is so vital for him in life. He will learn to be responsible to others and to himself, if you will only give him the room to grow.

1. Avos 1:8
2. Yeshayahu 48:22
3. Devarim 29:9
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Mishlei 10:25
7. Yehoshua 7:10-26
8. Koheles 7:20
9. Berachos 32a
10. Bamidbar 27:15
11. Sanhedrin 37a
12. Mishnah Berurah 273:17
13. Midrash Rabba Vayikra 4:6

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