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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Noach

Temptation Can Ruin Your Child's Life

And Noach, who was a man of the earth, began his work and he planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent. And Cham, the father of Cana'an, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.
(BERESHIS 9:20-22)

Rabbi Meshulam Igra was a Torah genius. He was the author of She'elos U'Teshuvos Rabbi Meshulam Igra, which is so profound that few can comprehend it. He lived approximately 200 years ago, at the time the Ketzos was published.

Rabbi Meshulam Igra was born to very poor parents. From the time he was eight years old, people recognized his tremendous talents in Torah. In those days, when someone was recognized as a genius, he would be offered a shidduch at the age of twelve and would marry at thirteen. That is what happened with Rabbi Meshulam Igra. He was offered a shidduch with the daughter of a wealthy man of the city, and was promised a large sum for his nedunya (dowry given by the bride's parents), plus support for the rest of his life.

Rabbi Aharon Kotler zt"l told the following story about Rabbi Meshulam Igra's shidduch.

It was customary at that time to invite the chasan and his family to the house of the kallah for a meal, and this is what the wealthy man did. At that time, people had just begun to drink coffee, but since it was still a new beverage, Rabbi Meshulam Igra did not know what it was.

At the meal Rabbi Meshulam Igra was given a cup of coffee, with a pitcher of milk and a bowl full of sugar to add to his coffee according to his taste. Since he had never seen coffee, he had no idea what to eat or drink first, for he thought that he was being served three different dishes.

He searched his memory and remembered that our Sages say that first you eat and then you drink. So he took the sugar and ate it. Afterwards he contemplated whether he should drink the coffee or the milk first. He decided that since night comes before day, he should first have the coffee which is dark and then the milk which is light and similar to the day. So he drank the coffee and then the milk. He saw that the coffee grounds were left over in his cup, and wondered how to eat them. He noticed the spoon that was served with the coffee, and decided that it was for that purpose. Thus he ate the coffee grounds with his spoon.

Meanwhile, the kallah had been watching his strange behavior. When she saw that he ate the coffee grounds, she ran into the kitchen and burst into tears. Her mother, who followed her into the kitchen, also began to cry and the father soon came in to see what had happened. His daughter told him that she was not willing to marry Rabbi Meshulam Igra.

The wealthy man said to his daughter, "But he is a little sefer Torah!"

She replied, "A sefer Torah is put in the holy ark. You don't marry it!"

Since the wealthy man had no choice, he was forced to break off the engagement. Rabbi Meshulam Igra found another shidduch and the daughter of the wealthy man also found another chasan.

Seventeen years later, the first girl's father happened to be in Warsaw. During his stay he went to visit the rabbi of the city, the famous Rabbi Yeshayahu Pick. Upon entering the rabbi's house, he saw the rabbi pacing back and forth looking very worried and holding a letter in his hands. Thinking that the rabbi had a financial problem or needed some advice, he asked the rabbi if he could help in any way.

The rabbi waved his hand, indicating that there was nothing that the wealthy man could do. Seeing that the rabbi was still pacing back and forth, he asked him again if he could help.

When the rabbi saw that his visitor persisted, he decided to tell him what was bothering him. "I have received a letter dealing with Torah matters from a young genius. What he writes is so deep that to understand him, I must use all my concentration. The letter is signed with the name Rabbi Meshulam Igra. Perhaps you know who he is?"

When the wealthy man heard the name Rabbi Meshulam Igra and saw how much the famous rabbi revered him, he fainted and fell to the floor, to the utter astonishment of the rabbi. When he was revived, the rabbi asked him to explain what had happened to him. The wealthy man then told the story of the shidduch that was broken off with Rabbi Meshulam Igra.

"Now I understand," concluded the rabbi. "You may as well faint a second time!"

Being from a poor family, Rabbi Meshulam Igra did not have luxuries to divert him from learning and growing in Torah. We must be careful to teach our children the importance of learning Torah and the emptiness of physical pleasures.

"And he [Noach] drank of the wine."(1) Noach drank without any limit, and disgraced himself. That day he planted, that day he drank, that day he disgraced himself. "And he uncovered himself within his tent,"(2) "Vaygal" [which refers to covering] is not written here, but "Vayisgal" [which refers to causing exile]: He caused exile for himself and for the generations after him.

The exile of the ten tribes came about through the misuse of wine. The tribes of Yehudah and Binyamin did not go into exile for any reason other than the drinking of wine. Therefore a person should use wine very carefully, since in this parashah which deals with wine, the expression "Vay" [which alludes to something painful] is repeated fourteen times.

"And Shem and Yefet took the garment."(3) Shem took the garment, and Yefet came and obeyed him. Therefore Shem was rewarded with a tallis, and Yefet was rewarded with a warrior's garment.

From the words "And they walked backwards,"(4) do I not know that "They did not see the private parts of their father?"(5) But the Torah says this to teach us that they put their hands on their faces and also walked backwards, and they thereby showed him great honor, as a son should fear his father. G-d thus said to Shem, "You covered your father's private parts. I swear that I shall repay your children, as it is written, "Then these people [the guards of the King Nevuchadnetzar] bound them [Chananyah, Misha'el, and Azaryah] when they were wearing their honorable clothes."(6)

G-d said to Yefet, "You covered your father's private parts, I swear that I shall repay you, as it is written, "And it shall be on that day, I [G-d] shall give to Gog a burial place there."(7)

G-d said to Cham, "You disgraced the private parts of your father. I swear that I shall repay you, as it is written, "So shall the king of Ashur lead into exile the captives of Egypt, and the captives of Kush [Ethiopia], youths and elders, naked and barefoot, with their private parts revealed."(8)
(YALKUT 61, par. "Vayesht")

Why did our Sages emphasize that on the very day that Noach planted, he drank and disgraced himself? Why is going into exile the punishment for excessive drinking? Why is the word vay written in this parasha fourteen times? Why was Shem rewarded with a tallis, while Yefet received only a warrior's garment? How did G-d reward Shem? How did G-d reward Yefet? Why was Yefet's reward different from that of Shem? How did G-d punish Cham?

Drinking Brings Harm

That day he planted, that day he drank, that day he disgraced himself.
"Vayisgal": He caused exile for himself and for the generations after him.
Therefore a person should use wine very carefully, since in this parashah which deals with wine, the expression "Vay" is repeated fourteen times.

Our Sages emphasize that Noach became drunk the same day on which he planted, to teach us that Noach's mistake was his haste to indulge in the physical pleasure of wine. He should have first contemplated how to utilize its potential. Had he done so, he would have realized that wine was created to comfort a person in sorrow, as the verse says, "Give wine to those with a bitter soul."(9) It was also created to praise G-d, as our Sages say, "We do not sing a song of praise, unless there is wine."(10)

Noach in his haste decided that wine was made for physical pleasure. A person can become drunk, and so escape from the harshness of life's realities. The result for Noach was that he lost control of himself, and uncovered his body. The wine took away his dignity and his inhibitions, and revealed the animal within him. An animal does not wear clothes, and likewise Noach in his drunkenness discarded his clothes.

The sin of becoming drunk shows that a person wants to discard his obligations and escape to an imaginary world. Exile is thus a fitting punishment for excessive drinking, since the person who has overindulged in drink has chosen to try to escape his actual world. Therefore, he will now lose it entirely. Once he is in exile he will see, too late, how wonderful the real world was, as his current world of exile is bitter indeed. This should teach him to appreciate what he has and not to abuse it.

The word vay is repeated many times in the parashah to warn us against drinking. Drinking is a way of avoiding reality, and that is a dangerous attitude. We must have the courage to face life's hardships. Running away into an imaginary world is cowardly. A mature individual faces hardships even if he is afraid. Many people drink in order to escape reality; therefore the Torah repeated its warning fourteen times to emphasize this crucial message.

The Reward of Shem

Shem took the garment, and Yefet came and obeyed him. Therefore Shem was rewarded with a tallis, and Yefet was rewarded with a warrior's garment.

Shem immediately understood the disgrace of being without clothes, and therefore he acted quickly to cover his father. He was therefore rewarded with the mitzvah of wearing a tallis. This is a fitting reward, since he appreciated the importance of clothes, and thus he received a mitzvah related to clothes. He realized the dignity of clothes, and now his own clothing would become even more dignified with the addition of tzitzis.

Yefet received only a warrior's garment because he did not take the initiative and act immediately, but rather followed Shem's suggestion. This shows that he was not so extremely shocked and displeased with his father's nakedness, and would not have acted on his own volition without Shem's guidance. Therefore he was rewarded with warriors' clothes. A warrior wears clothing as a matter of necessity, to protect himself against the arrows of his enemies. This represents Yefet's outlook on clothing, which are worn only when essential, and wearing them has nothing to do with human dignity. The warrior would really prefer nakedness were he not in need of protective garments.

Honoring One's Clothing

Shem: "Then these people [the guards of the King Nevuchadnetzar] bound them [Chananyah, Misha'el, and Azaryah] when they were wearing their honorable clothes."

Yefet: "And it shall be on that day, I [G-d] shall give to Gog a burial place there."

Cham: "So shall the king of Ashur lead into exile the captives of Egypt, and the captives of Kush [Ethiopia], youths and elders, naked and barefoot, with their private parts revealed."

How did G-d reward Shem? When Chananyah, Misha'el and Azaryah were thrown into the fire as a punishment by King Nevuchadnetzar, the normal procedure should have been to deprive them of their clothing. Instead they were allowed to wear their most noble garments. The rules were suspended for them because they were the descendants of Shem, who honored clothes and appreciated their meaning. Shem's reward was that his descendants were not deprived of their clothing.

G-d rewarded Yefet by providing his descendants a place for burial. When a person dies, he also needs to be covered, not with clothing, but with a covering of earth. This basic right to be buried was not taken away from Yefet, in spite of his not having immediately covered his father without Shem's prompting. Since in the end he complied with Shem's suggestion, his descendants were rewarded at the time of their death with the covering of burial.

Why was the reward of Yefet different from that of Shem? As we have mentioned, Shem did not hesitate before covering his father, but Yefet waited for his brother's prompting, hence the difference between the rewards they received.

How did G-d punish Cham? Cham received his due punishment for disregarding the importance of clothes when his descendants were deprived of clothing when they were led naked into exile. Since Cham did not appreciate the fact that clothes honor the person, his descendants lost them, and suffered the disgrace of publicly being led away naked.

Train Your Child to Value Spiritual Pleasures

A child is like clay. He will take shape according to the way in which you mold him. If you want your child to be spiritually inclined, you must show him the way. The best way to achieve this is to serve as a personal example.

If you want him to be successful in learning Torah, you must be actively involved in learning Torah. Even if you work during the day, you must spend time learning in the evening, thereby setting a good example for your children. Practice what you preach: You cannot convince your children that Torah is wonderful if they never see you learning Torah. On the other hand, if your spare time is spent in learning, they will realize that although you do not learn the entire day, you greatly value learning and try your best to learn whenever possible.

It is also important for you to let them know verbally that you appreciate learning: "I wish I had more time to learn Torah." "That was a great learning session; I really enjoyed it." "I greatly admire Rabbi so-and-so; he learns day and night." From these words, your children will come to understand what is important in life.

Unfortunately, some parents speak only about money at home. In some homes, the whole conversation at the table revolves around the family business. Not a word of Torah or mussar is even spoken. The unspoken message that the children receive in such a family is very clear: Business gets top priority, and all our time and concentration must be devoted to it.

Beware of the Temptations of Youth

This same rule applies to other temptations that lure youth. Some young people find drinking or drugs attractive. Always make your opposition to these negative and dangerous practices very clear. Explain what is wrong with them and how unfortunate are those who indulge in them and waste their lives in uncontrollable addiction. Point out the contrast between the misery of those who ruin their lives with drink and drugs and the contentment and achievements possible for those who stay away from such temptations. Remind your children of what happened to Noach because of his excessive drinking.

Friends have a great influence on children; therefore it is important that you live in a neighborhood where your children will have friends who will be good influences on them. It is better to live in a shack in a neighborhood where there are good influences for your children, than to live in a mansion in a neighborhood where there are bad influences for them.

Never allow your children to associate with children of dubious character. This can cause such harm to your children that there may be no point of return. All your careful training can come to naught with the ridicule of other youngsters who have not been educated properly.

If you are too busy to spend time with your children, then get a relative or some other responsible adult to stay with them. But however busy you are, never forsake them. Good children are like precious glass: hard to obtain and easily broken.

Show Your Children What's Important in Life

When you are going out with the family, be careful not to give too much attention to the material pleasures of life. Do not overemphasize the importance of enjoying yourself. Instead, explain to your family that we must take a break to renew our strength so that we can go back to serving Hashem with more learning of Torah and performance of mitzvos. This way your children will understand what is most important in life, and what is trivial.

Always tell your children stories, whether at the Shabbos table or at bedtime. Read them stories of the giants of Torah who are examples of people living a life of Torah and chesed. This will give them the right role models to emulate. The stories will also create a bond between you and your children, since children adore someone who can tell them a story. Nowadays there are many books of good Torah-oriented stories available, and new ones are constantly being published.

If we show our children the value of the spiritual pleasures of life, they will seek those pleasures, rather than pursuing material pleasures.

1. Bereshis 9:21
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid. 9:23
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Daniel 3:21
7. Yechezkel 39:11
8. Yeshayahu 20:4
9. Mishlei 31:6
10. Berachos 35a

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