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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Toldos

What a Mother Gives Her Child

Perhaps my father will feel me, and then I shall appear to him a deceiver, and I would bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.
(BERESHIS 27:12).

The famous Rabbi Aryeh Leib, author of the Sha'agas Aryeh, decided to accept exile upon himself. This meant that he would not go home for long periods, but would wander from place to place. However the Sha'agas Aryeh had a problem. Besides being very stringent about kashrus, he was also careful about the prohibition of chadash (not eating newly harvested grain for most of the year), and old grain was hard to obtain. In addition, he was particular about not using the utensils of others.

To solve these problems, he took with him into his self-imposed exile a bag of lentils, which do not present the problem of chadash, and from which a soup could be made. He also took with him a small pot in which to cook the soup, and thus he would not have to use the utensils of others. This would provide him with his daily food. When the Sha'agas Aryeh arrived in Hamburg, a large port city, he went immediately to the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Refael Hamburger. The rabbi was not home, so the Sha'agas Aryeh asked the rebbetzin to please prepare his soup for him from his bag of lentils in his special pot.

The rebbetzin, who was a very important person in her own right and was accustomed to taking in guests, was surprised at this request from such a poor, ragged-looking man, who had the audacity to say that he would not eat from the rabbi's utensils. Why can't he eat my food, she wondered? But she was a righteous woman and the wife of the famous Rabbi Refael Hamburger, and she knew how to keep silent. Therefore, she accepted the pot without saying a word.

Once the rebbetzin had taken on the task, the Sha'agas Aryeh went to the local beis midrash to learn. In the meantime, Rabbi Hamburger returned home, and the rebbetzin told him of their strange guest.

Rabbi Hamburger said to her, "You are right that something is wrong here. I will take care of the matter by speaking in learning with the guest. If he knows how to learn, we must honor his request; but if he does not know how to learn, then he may eat from our food. If he refuses, we have no further obligation to cook in his pots."

When the Sha'agas Aryeh returned to the rabbi's house, Rabbi Hamburger immediately began to speak in learning with him. Although the Sha'agas Aryeh tried to conceal his greatness, Rabbi Hamburger quickly realized that he had in front of him a Torah giant, and not a simple vagrant.

Rabbi Hamburger went to the kitchen and told the rebbetzin, "Not only should you cook for him according to his wishes, but we are going to rent a special room for him, no matter what the cost, since he is a very great person."

In Hamburg there was a small hotel, whose proprietress was Jewish. Rabbi Hamburger rented a room there for the Sha'agas Aryeh and asked the proprietress to cook his food for him according to his specifications and take care of his needs so that he would be able to sit and learn Torah. Rabbi Hamburger also told the Sha'agas Aryeh that he could make use of his large library whenever he wished.

The Sha'agas Aryeh moved into the hotel room that Rabbi Hamburger had arranged for him and spent his time learning Torah, while the proprietress took care of his needs. The Sha'agas Aryeh also used Rabbi Hamburger's library, and whenever he came, the two Torah giants would converse in Torah to their mutual satisfaction.

One day, the Sha'agas Aryeh came to Rabbi Hamburger and said, "I hope that within a short while, G-d will redeem me from my poverty."

"How do you know this is about to happen?" inquired Rabbi Hamburger.

"Well," answered the Sha'agas Aryeh, "today I sighed over my poverty, and from that I see that it has now come to an end."

"If that is the case," continued Rabbi Hamburger, "then why did you not sigh before today?"

The Sha'agas Aryeh replied, "Until now, my poverty did not disturb me. But today, when it disturbed my learning, I gave a sigh."

"How did it disturb your learning?" asked Rabbi Hamburger.

"I will tell you what happened," replied the Sha'agas Aryeh. "I was sitting and learning when the proprietress, after she finished cooking my special soup, brought it to the table. Because I was so involved in my learning, without noticing, I moved my hand and toppled the dish, spilling the food onto the floor. The proprietress shouted, 'How can you throw food on the floor? Can't you be more careful?' At that moment I realized what had happened, but there had already been an interruption in my learning. I then realized that if I were not so poor, I would not have lost that minute from my Torah learning. That is what caused me to sigh. Now I am sure that G-d will help me."

That is exactly what happened. Three days later, the Sha'agas Aryeh was offered a position as the rabbi of the city of Metz, a position which had been previously filled by other great rabbis.

Just as the Sha'agas Aryeh realized that he had a special mission in life, so too must we try to help our children find their own special mission and guide them with our love and encouragement to fulfill that mission.

"Perhaps my father will feel me, and then I shall appear to him a deceiver,"(1) as someone who is mistaken, and worships idols. "And I would bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing."(2) Even the single blessing that he finally would have given me, he will not give me. Rabbi Eliezer said, "Whoever lies is considered as if he worships idols."

"And his mother said to him, 'Upon me will be your curse, my son.'"(3) She said to him, "When the first man, Adam, sinned, did not his mother [Earth] become cursed, as it is written, 'Cursed is the earth because of you?'(4) So now I shall receive the curse, as it is written, 'Upon me will be your curse, my son.'"(5) Rabbi Yitzchak interpreted the words "upon me" by saying, "Upon me is the task to enter and say to Yitzchak, 'Your son Yaakov is a tzaddik, and Esav is wicked.'"

"And he went and he took, and he brought to his mother,"(6) forced, broken and crying.

"And Rivkah took her older son's [Esav's] precious clothes."(7) Esav had desired them from Nimrod the wicked [the Hebrew words for "precious" and "desired" have the same root], as it is written, "The wicked is covetous of the net of wicked men."(8) Rabbi Meir says, "Esav saw the shirt on Nimrod and desired it in his heart, and he killed him and took it from him." When he wore the shirt he also became strong, as it is written, "And Esav was an expert hunter."(9)

Yaakov said, "It is not fitting for this wicked man [Esav] to wear these clothes." What did he do? He dug in the ground and buried them.
(YALKUT 115, par. "Amar")

Why do our Sages compare a person who deceives to one who worships idols, as we see that Yaakov was afraid that he would be considered a deceiver, and our Sages explain that it means an idol worshipper? What blessing are our Sages referring to when they say that the one blessing Yaakov would have received would not be given to him? Why is someone who lies considered as if he worships idols? What does the comparison between the curse Yaakov might have received and Adam's curse teach us? Why should the task of saying that Esav was wicked have fallen upon Rivkah rather than upon anyone else? Why did Yaakov go forth broken and crying? Why is it important for us to know that Esav had stolen his clothes from Nimrod? Why did Yaakov bury Nimrod's clothes?

Deceiving and Lying

"Perhaps my father will feel me, and then I shall appear to him a deceiver," as someone who is mistaken, and worships idols. "And I would bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing." Even the one blessing that he would have given me at the end, he will not give me. Rabbi Eliezer said, "Whoever lies is considered as if he worships idols."

Our Sages compare a person who deceives to someone who worships idols because one who worships idols does not believe in G-d's capability to help him, and therefore he turns to other gods. This lack of belief also characterizes one who lies. He thinks that G-d will not help him, so he uses any means he can, honest or dishonest, to help himself. That is what our Sages mean when they say that one who deceives is like one who worships idols.

The commentaries tell us that the reason Yitzchak did not originally want to give Yaakov many blessings was not because he did not perceive Yaakov's high spiritual level and Esav's low spiritual level, but rather because he believed that one must earn whatever one receives. That is why Yitzchak was spoken of in terms of "pachad Yitzchak."(10) "Pachad" refers to the fear of Heavenly judgment, that one must earn his heavenly reward and not receive it without being worthy. Hence, Yitzchak planned to give Yaakov a single blessing, since he felt that Yaakov was at a spiritual level similar to his own. But he planned to give the rest of the blessings to Esav, since he understood that Esav was so deficient in his spiritual level that he needed great help.

The reason one who lies is considered as if he worships idols is related to the principle we explained above concerning people who deceive. Truth is hard to face, since a person is afraid of its consequences. It is often easier to lie and avoid those consequences. When a person lies he is looking for the easy way out. The same is true of idol worship. When someone realizes that there is only one G-d, then he knows he must face the consequences of his actions, since there is no escaping His judgment. But there is an "easy way out." One can say that he believes there are many gods, and one of them is surely on his side and will protect him from punishment for his sins. In this sense, too, it is easier to lie than to face the truth. Therefore someone who lies shares the attitude of an idol worshipper.

A Mother's Mercy

She said to him, "When the first man, Adam, sinned, did not his mother become cursed, as it is written, 'Cursed is the earth because of you?' So now I shall receive the curse...

"Upon me is the task to enter to say to Yitzchak, 'Your son Yaakov is a tzaddik, and Esav is wicked.'"

The comparison of Adam's curse to Yaakov's curse teaches us that a mother's mercy endures forever. She will always forgive her son, no matter what he has done, since by nature she loves her son unconditionally. Also, a mother would prefer to receive her child's punishment so that he need not suffer. She cannot bear to see her child in pain and would rather accept that pain upon herself.

When Adam sinned, the earth received the curse, as the verse states, "Cursed is the earth because of you."(11) This was the wish of "mother earth." She did not want to see her son, Adam, suffer, and preferred to take the curse upon herself in his place. The same was true regarding Rivkah, who was willing to accept any curse that was due to Yaakov.

The task of saying that Esav was wicked fell upon Rivkah more than upon anyone else, because even though Yitzchak knew that Esav was wicked, he still felt that there was a chance of saving him. He believed that by bestowing his blessings upon Esav, he would be giving him the help he needed to succeed in his trials. But Rivkah knew that even this would be of no help, since Esav had gone too far in his wickedness and would never find the path to repentance.

If Yitzchak were to hear this verdict from someone else, he might not listen, since his love for his son was so great. The only person who could influence him in this matter was his wife, Rivkah. She was Esav's mother and wanted good for Esav as much as Yitzchak did. If she were to pronounce such a verdict, then Yitzchak would be able to believe it, since he knew that Rivkah, who loved her son, would never say such a thing unless it was absolutely true.

Nevertheless, we do not find that Rivkah convinced her husband; rather she had to use the ploy of dressing Yaakov as Esav to avoid the blessings being given wrongly to Esav. Even though she thought that she might convince Yitzchak, she knew that it was not possible, and she felt she had no choice but to use a ploy.

Yaakov's Trial

"And he went and he took, and he brought to his mother," forced, broken and crying.

"Esav saw the shirt on Nimrod and desired it in his heart, and he killed him and took it from him." When he wore the shirt, he also became strong...

Yaakov said, "It is not fitting for this wicked man to wear these clothes." He dug in the ground and buried them.

Yaakov did not like to trick his father, as his mother wanted him to do. To act in this way was contrary to his nature. The verse says of Yaakov that he hated dishonesty, as it is written, "And Yaakov was a simple man who sat in tents."(12) Yaakov is also considered to be the forefather who exemplified the characteristic of truth, as it is written, "You shall give truth to Yaakov."(13) Therefore, to obey his mother and trick his father was a great trial for him. That is why the midrash says that he went to do his mother's wish "forced, broken and crying." Since it was against his nature, he did not act of his own will, but rather only because of the command of his mother.

When our Sages tell us that Esav stole his clothes from Nimrod, they are revealing to us the great importance of clothing. We might tend to think that one's garments are nothing more than a superficial covering and have no significance. But the truth is that clothes have a great influence on a person. The kohen in the beis hamikdash is not allowed to serve there unless he is wearing his special garments. If he serves without them, his punishment is death.(14) One is not allowed to wear the clothes of a king.(15) A talmid chacham who has a spot on his clothes is liable to be punished by death.(16)

As the saying goes, "Clothes make the man." They give him the self-esteem and confidence he needs to succeed. Our Sages say, "Do not call clothes merely clothes, but rather call them 'those that honor me.'"(17) When David wanted to demonstrate to Sha'ul that he would lose his kingdom, he tore Sha'ul's clothes.(18)

Since Esav understood all this, and he knew how much success Nimrod had achieved in his wickedness, Esav coveted his clothes so that he could emulate Nimrod's actions. Nimrod would not give up these garments for any price in the world, so Esav murdered him in order to obtain his clothes.

Although Yaakov could not bring Esav to repent for his wicked deeds, he still tried to prevent him as much as possible from wrongdoing. He well knew that the only way to stop him was not by persuasion but by force. This Yaakov enacted by taking away the clothing that had helped Esav to do evil. Although this was not a cure, it served to lessen the trial for Esav, and that was Yaakov's purpose.

A Mother's Task

Rivkah knew her son Esav's character better than Yitzchak did. This is generally true, for a mother, who is at home with her children most of the time, understands her children better than does the father, who is often not at home. Yet it is more than just her being home and seeing her children's actions constantly that gives her a better understanding; it is also her intuitive sense.

The verse says, "Hear, my son, the reprimands of your father, and do not forsake the teachings of your mother."(19) It may at first seem strange that the verse attributes teaching to the mother rather than to the father, but as we have mentioned, the mother is better able to teach, since she is with the child constantly and has the understanding necessary to teach the child what he is lacking.

The mother also gives to her children more love than a father does. She feeds them, dresses them, washes them and bandages their wounds. The child feels the love of his mother through all these actions, and so he is willing to listen to her more readily than to his father. Hence she has more responsibility in educating her children, since her words are more readily heeded.

What Mothers Do Best

How can a mother best utilize this potential? She must instill in the child at an early age the desire to become a tzaddik. Whenever he does something good, she can say to him, "Oh, you are such a tzaddik." Or she can say, "I can tell you will grow up to be a big tzaddik." When he does something wrong, she can say gently, "What you have done is not fitting for a tzaddik like you." Reminding the child constantly of his capabilities and goals will help him succeed in becoming a real tzaddik.

A mother must be very careful not to let anger or frustration take hold of her. No matter what your child does wrong, never label him by saying, "You are stupid," or "You are a rasha!" or "I hate you for doing that," or "You are absolutely crazy!" Such expressions give a child the feeling that he is a lost cause, and he might as well do what he wants, since he will never succeed.

Instead of these negative statements, you can say to him, "How can such a clever child as you do such a thing?" Or, "I know that you are such a big tzaddik; please do not do wicked deeds!" or "I love you so much that I hate to see you doing such things." All these expressions of love will give your child the feeling that he is expected to do better and that he has the ability to do better and that success is up to him.

An Overworked Mother

When a mother does not smile at her child, he senses that something is wrong. The child waits for his mother to greet him when he comes home from school and inquire about his day. She is the one to whom he can express all his joys and sorrows and in whom he can find a willing heart to share his problems. But if the mother is overworked or angry, she cannot do her job, and the children will certainly feel it. Just as they need food and clothing, they need a caring and responsive mother, and not merely her physical presence.

Do not try to be a superwoman. Every person needs rest and has only so much energy before she is spent. Because of a woman's great desire to bring in more income and to raise her children properly, she may deceive herself into thinking that she can handle both without either suffering. But a woman must be true to herself. Is she really giving all that she can to her children? Can she really work and not deprive her children?

The answer is usually visible in the children themselves. If they are happy and tranquil, then obviously the mother is successful in handling both tasks. But if the children are nervous or unhappy, the reason may very well be that their mother does not give them the attention they need. If that is the case, then the mother must be honest enough to admit that she is not a superwoman and cannot continue with this double load.

A Mother's Help

One possible solution to this problem may be outside help with household chores. But if that does not suffice, then the mother must lighten her work load, or give it up entirely. Sadly, some mothers decide that they need help with their children so that they can evade lessening the work load. But the truth is that no one can take a mother's place in raising her children, and therefore a mother should not evade her responsibility.

Sometimes a mother needs help with her children even if she does not work. This is due to her having many children, problematic children, or her not feeling well. When this does happen, the mother must be careful to at least be available at crucial times, such as when the children get up, leave or come home from school, and before they go to sleep.

At these times children are most sensitive to the lack of a mother. The reason for this is that a child lacks self-confidence and needs the warm reassurance and comfort of a mother. When he is getting up or going to sleep a child feels most insecure, since he is confronting the world or the darkness of sleep. Going to school or coming home are times when the child wishes to share experiences and receive encouragement. Only the mother can fulfill these tasks properly.

The Mother Who Is Also a Father

When a mother must raise her children alone, due to her being widowed or divorced, she will find added difficulties that she must cope with. She must be also a father, since there is no one available to fill that role.

Being a father means that she has to have the strictness that a father has. She must take responsibility for her children's learning Torah even though she may not comprehend this subject fully. She must share with her sons problems that normally they would tell their father.

In such a situation, it is important for the mother to show her children that she is present and willing to help with any problem. She may not understand the Talmud, but she can get someone to help in that area. She must sometimes show strictness to convince her child that he cannot get away with things because there is no father present. She must tell her child that he can confide in her regarding any problem in the world, since she is taking the place of a father.

Never should the mother lament her situation. She should not say to her son, "I wish you had a father to cope with you." By saying this, she is admitting to her child that she cannot cope, and this weakens her position. Even if it is hard for the mother, she gains nothing by letting her child know this. He would rather think that his mother is able to cope wonderfully. Let him think so, since it will give him the self-confidence that he needs. It is very important for a child to see his mother functioning with confidence.

A mother cannot take a father's place entirely. But she must try her best, and pray to G-d that He will remain at her side.

1. Bereshis 27:12
2. Ibid., 27:13
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., 3:17
5. Ibid., 27:13
6. Ibid., 27:14
7. Ibid., 27:15
8. Mishlei 12:12
9. Bereshis 25:27
10. Ibid., 31:42
11. Ibid., 3:17
12. Ibid., 25:27
13. Michah 7:20
14. Vayikra 28:43
15. Sanhedrin 22a
16. Shabbos 114a
17. Ibid., 113b
18. Shemuel I 24:6
19. Mishlei 1:8

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