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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Tzav

My Great Child

Take Aharon and his sons with him, and the garments, and the anointing oil, and the bullock for the sin offering, and the two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread.

When the Noda BiYehudah began his career as the Rav of Prague, he saw a crying child on the street. When he approached, the boy told him he was a non-Jew whose stepfather, one of the bakers of the city, had sent him to sell a basket of loaves of bread. He had sold all the loaves but had lost the money, and he was afraid to go home because he knew from past experience that his stepfather would beat him mercilessly. He didn't know what to do or where to turn. The Noda BiYehudah took pity on the boy and gave him the necessary sum out of his own pocket.

Many years later, once in the late hours of the night when the Noda BiYehudah was engrossed in his usual learning, he suddenly heard a soft knock on his door. Surprised, not knowing who his guest could be at such a late hour, the Noda BiYehudah opened the door and found a man about forty years of age who looked like a typical non-Jew.

"Your honor wouldn't recognize me," said the non-Jew, "but I am that little boy who stood and cried at the city square many years ago, and the Rabbi in his great kindness saved me then from my stepfather's anger. I have come now to repay that good deed. I came to tell your honor about a terrible plot the bakers of the city are planning for the holiday of Passover, which is almost here. Since after your holiday, the Jews buy bread from non-Jews, the bakers agreed unanimously to poison all the loaves of bread which would be sold to the Jews. They did everything to ensure that their plot would be kept secret and would not become known to the authorities. Despite the danger involved for me, I have come to warn you ahead of time of this plot, so that you, with your great wisdom, will be able to prevent its success."

The Noda BiYehudah became very frightened upon hearing this. At the same time he was impressed by the dedication of the non-Jew. The Rav thanked him profusely for his warning and began planning what to do in order to foil the anti-Semitic bakers' plot.

During the entire holiday, the Rav kept quiet and didn't tell anyone what might happen, G-d forbid, at the end of the last day of Pesach. On the eighth night of the holiday, all the congregates were surprised by an announcement of the Rav's messengers. According to the orders of the Rav, the following morning all the shuls would be closed except for the main shul. There, the Rav would address all the members of the community, who were instructed to attend. Everyone understood that something out of the ordinary had happened. Every Jewish resident of Prague obeyed the Rav's orders and appeared at the appointed time in the main shul.

"A mistake is always discovered," the Rav of Prague announced to his shocked community. "We made a mistake this year in calculating the new moon, and we brought Pesach in a day early. Therefore, tomorrow is a holiday. We all must be careful not to eat chometz."

The members of the community knew the greatness of their esteemed Rav, and didn't question his strange and surprising decision. They adhered to his words without question.

At the end of the holiday, the bakers could not understand why the Jews weren't buying their bread as they did every year. Instead, policemen came and took their loaves of bread away and threw the bakers who had devised the terrible plot into prison.

"It wasn't my wisdom alone that stood up for me," the Noda BiYehudah repeated to his son, "but also the mercy ingrained in me to have pity on every poor person, including a non-Jew, and to give him what he needed."

Every parent should feel that his child is destined for greatness. We can inspire the development of that greatness in our children by giving them the gift of self-esteem.

"Take Aharon and his sons with him, and the garments."(1) Rabbi Shimon said: Just as the sacrifices bring atonement, so also do the garments of the kohanim bring atonement. So have we learned in the Mishnah,(2) "The kohen gadol serves in the Temple when he wears eight garments, and the simple kohen wears four, which are cloak, pants, turban and belt. The kohen gadol adds to these the choshen and ephod, the coat and the tzitz."

The cloak atones for those who sow kilayim, since it was made of wool and flax. Some say this is an atonement for blood, as it is written, "And they dipped the cloak into blood" [in relation to Yoseph(3)]. The cloak atones for those who wear sha'atnez, as it is written, "And he [Yaakov] made for him [Yoseph] a cloak with stripes."(4)

Pants are to atone for forbidden relations, as it is written, "And make for them pants of linen, to cover the flesh of their nakedness."(5)

The turban is to atone for those who are haughty, as it is written, "And you shall put the turban upon his head."(6)

There is a dispute regarding what the belt atones for. One opinion is that it atones for crookedness of the heart, and the other opinion is that it atones for robbery, since it was entirely hollow.

The choshen atones for the judges who tilt the scales of judgment to one side, as it is written, "And you shall give to the choshen of the judgment."(7)

The ephod atones for idol worship, as it is written, "There is no ephod or idols."(8)

The coat: Rabbi Shimon in the name of Rabbi Nassan said, "Two things did not have atonement, and the Torah gave them atonement: lashon hara and killing someone accidentally. Lashon hara was atoned for by the bells of the coat. G-d said, 'Let something that makes noise atone for a person who made noise [of lashon hara].' Killing someone accidentally was atoned for by the death of the kohen gadol.

Some say the tzitz atones for those who have chutzpah, and some say it atones for those who curse.
(YALKUT 513)

How could the kohen's garments atone just as the sacrifices atone, although there seems to be no comparison at all? What blood does the cloak atone for? How do our Sages learn this from the verse about Yoseph? What is the connection between forbidden relations and pants? Why does the turban atone for those who are haughty? What is the connection between the belt and crookedness of the heart? What is the connection between the belt and robbers? How does judgment relate to the choshen? How does the ephod relate to idol-worship? Why did lashon hara and killing accidentally lack atonement initially? How does noise atone for lashon hara? How does the death of the kohen gadol atone for killing? What is the connection between the tzitz, and chutzpah and cursing?

Holy Garments Atone

Just as the sacrifices bring atonement, so also do the garments of the kohanim bring atonement.
The cloak atones for those who sow kilayim, since it was made of wool and flax. Some say this is an atonement for blood...
The cloak atones for those who wear sha'atnez...

Atonement comes when we perform G-d's will instead of our own. When the kohen puts on the holy garments that G-d commanded him to wear in the Beis Hamikdash, he is performing G-d's will. It would have been more comfortable for him to wear his own clothes or some other garments, but by wearing the garments he was commanded to wear, he overcomes his own will and submits to the will of the Creator. Such actions bring about atonement.

We do not know exactly how atonement works, since it relates to the hidden parts of the Torah, the kabbalah. But we do know that when we perform G-d's will, He arranges matters in the world to work for our benefit.

It is not clear in the midrash what blood the cloak atones for. It may be the blood sprinkled on the altar in the Beis Hamikdash. Since there are many laws concerning the blood, a mistake made in the offering of a sacrifice is a real possibility. In contrast, wearing the cloak is quite a simple matter and is always done correctly. Therefore its proper service is considered to be an atonement for the mistakes which might inadvertently be made with the blood of sacrifices.

The cloak worn by Yoseph was striped, and stripes are made of a mixture of colors. This reflects the sin of a person who wears sha'atnez, which is a mixture of materials.

Although the prohibition of sha'atnez is a "chok," its reason being unknown to us, this midrash may be hinting at a possible explanation for the prohibition. The different colors of Yoseph's coat angered his brothers, since it demonstrated the special treatment their father gave to his favorite son, through the extravagance of a special coat. Similarly, sha'atnez represents extravagance, since to obtain it one must go to the expense and bother of mixing two threads or materials to make them into one. The Torah encourages simplicity. Extravagance is allowed only in the Beis Hamikdash, when used in the service of G-d.

Atonement for a Lack of Modesty

Pants are to atone for forbidden relations,...
The turban is to atone for those who are haughty,...

What is the connection between forbidden relations and pants? Since pants cover the sexual organs, the Torah is telling us that we must take care that sexual relationships be only those that are permitted and that they take place in holiness. The pants the kohen wears are part of the service he performs in the Beis Hamikdash, and they are designated solely for that purpose. In our personal lives, we must emulate the kohen and be modest in our intimate relations, dedicating ourselves and our family life to His service.

Why does the turban atone for those who are haughty? The distinctive sign of a haughty person is the way he holds his head high, as if he were trying to show others that he is above them. When the kohen serves G-d it is appropriate for him to be haughty, as he is performing G-d's service in the Beis Hamikdash, as the verse states.(9) The turban symbolizes this. However, in any other situation, there is no place for haughtiness, since we must always recognize how lowly we are in comparison to G-d's greatness and be aware of our inability (as fallible human beings) to perform His will as it should be done.

Our Sages say that when a person is haughty, G-d says, "I cannot live with this person in this world."(10) Our Sages are expressing the idea that human beings have too many faults to allow them to be haughty. When a human is haughty, he is taking upon himself a Divine characteristic, and so G-d says there is no room for both of them together in the world.

The Belt Is Close to the Heart

There is a dispute regarding what the belt atones for. One opinion is that it atones for crookedness of the heart, and the other opinion is that it atones for robbery.

What is the connection between the belt and crookedness of the heart? A belt is tightly tied and sits close to the heart. This suggests that we must keep a tight reign on our hearts. The heart is the center of a person's desires, and we must not allow it to lead us astray.

A person who robs others has a strong desire for money. He is not satisfied with earning a regular salary, and he seeks quicker means of making money. It does not concern him that others will unjustly lose their money because of him. His love for money blinds him, and he finds ways to justify his actions.

The belt was used in ancient times to carry money. Even today, there are special belts containing pouches in which to carry valuables. The belt in the Beis Hamikdash, which was worn entirely for the purpose of serving G-d, atones for those who have robbed and used "a belt full of valuables" to sin.

Judging with Our Hearts

The choshen atones for the judges who tilt the scales of judgment to one side...
The ephod atones for idol worship...

How does judgment relate to the choshen? A case that comes before a judge is always difficult to decide, since each litigant claims that justice is on his side. The judge must carefully weigh the conflicting claims and decide where true justice lies. This decision involves the heart. If a judge has accepted bribery, his heart can no longer see the positive side of the opposing opinion, and he will tilt the judgment to one side. The choshen, which lies upon the kohen gadol's heart, atones for these sins of incorrect judgment.

How does the ephod relate to idol worship? Priests of many religions wear aprons which are similar to the ephod. We see from the verses that idol-worshipping priests wore a similar apron. Thus the service in the Beis Hamikdash, which is entirely for the sake of the one true G-d, can atone for those who use the ephod for false purposes, such as for the worshiping of idols.

No Fatal Accidents, Please

Two things did not have atonement, and the Torah gave them atonement: lashon hara and killing someone accidentally. Lashon hara was atoned for by the bells of the coat.
Killing someone accidentally was atoned for by the death of the kohen gadol.

Our Sages say that one who speaks lashon hara is similar to a snake that bites.(11) All other animals bite in order to eat, but the snake bites also to inject poison, so it often derives no real benefit from its bite. The same is true of one who speaks lashon hara. He bites by speaking slander, from which he gains no personal benefit. It is for this reason that G-d initially did not allow atonement for such a malicious sin.

When the kohen gadol enters the Beis Hamikdash, his approach is heard, since he has bells on his coat. Similarly, the person who speaks lashon hara is looking for easy attention, since everyone gathers around someone speaking lashon hara. The attention gained by the bells in the service of G-d atones for the negative attention gained by one who speaks lashon hara.

Originally, there was no atonement possible for killing accidentally, since when it comes to human life, one must take the utmost caution. Life should be so precious in each person's eyes that an accident can never happen. When one is negligent and causes someone to lose his life, atonement for such a sin was originally impossible.

The death of the kohen gadol became the atonement for accidental killing. The kohen gadol performs the highest level of service in the Beis Hamikdash, bringing a sacrifice every day, and the purpose of his work is to atone for the sins of the Jewish people. When he dies there is no one to atone for them any more, and so the accidental killer can leave the city of refuge, since he is no longer able to seek atonement. Thus it is the kohen gadol's very death that serves as the accidental killer's ultimate atonement.

The Tzitz Atones for Those Who Forget G-d

...The tzitz atones for those who have chutzpah, and some say it atones for those who curse.

The tzitz has G-d's name on it. A person with chutzpah does not see G-d in front of him. If he were to see G-d, he would feel himself so small that he would no longer have chutzpah, which is found only when a person feels important. Shlomo Hamelech said in Mishlei, "A rich person will answer with brazenness."(12) When someone feels important, he speaks with brazenness, but who can feel important when he stands in front of G-d? Therefore the tzitz atones for the brazeness of chutzpah.

Cursing is even more closely connected to G-d's name, since one is prohibited from using G-d's name to curse.(13) One who curses utilizes G-d's name to express his own anger or for some other benefit, which is a disgrace to His name. The tzitz, which has G-d's name engraved on it, atones for this sin.

Atonement for Our Children

The holy garments of the Beis Hamikdash atoned for the sins of the Jewish nation so that they could be forgiven. We must create an "atonement" for our children as well. No matter what your child has done, you must be ready to forgive him, for we are all in need of atonement.

Some parents constantly remind their children of previous sins they have done. This hurts very much. If your son or daughter has repented and is now on the right path, it is forbidden to remind him or her of previous sins. This would involve the prohibition of ona'as devarim, causing pain with words. Our Sages say that if you remind a person who has done teshuvah of a sin that he had done before his teshuvah, you transgress this prohibition.(14) There is no difference between hurting an adult and hurting a child. As the Chofetz Chaim wrote about failing to pay wages to children on time, it is as unacceptable as failing to pay an adult on time.(15) We are permitted to hurt our children when this is beneficial for educating them, but to remind them of bygone sins can have no possible benefit. It is discouraging for a child to hear about something he did wrong in the past and upsetting to hear his parents bringing it up. Just as we do not want to hear about our old mistakes, we should not remind our children of theirs.

Don't Ruin Self-Esteem

You can easily ruin your child's self-esteem if you give him the feeling that he is entirely dependent on you. Dr. Avraham Twerski writes in his book "Let Us Make Man" that when one feels very dependent, he loses his self-esteem. This is a very practical problem for children.

A mother says to her daughter, "Without my help, you would not have what to eat or where to stay; so obey me when I tell you something." Making such a statement to a child is disastrous. It is training the child to feel that she is entirely dependent on her parents. This will cause her own self-esteem to plunge downward, whereas a child needs to build up self-esteem in order to grow to be a healthy and self-sufficient adult.

Rabbi Twerski applies the same idea to a child's feelings of worthiness. If you keep on drilling into your child that he is not worth the trouble you take for him, his self-esteem will fall tremendously. He will think, "If I am not worth my parents' trouble, then what I am really worth? Probably very little."

The Purpose of Self-Esteem

Once the child loses his self-esteem, he is liable to lose hope of succeeding at anything. Why study so hard at school, when he is a flop anyway? Why behave, when he is not worth anything anyway? Obviously, the child can become uncontrollable once he loses his self-esteem.

Only when a person has a fair degree of self-esteem is he willing to make the effort to be obedient and diligent.

Self-esteem is the fuel that keeps a person working and learning Torah and doing mitzvos. The Torah tells us that before giving us the Torah at Mount Sinai G-d said to us, "And you shall be for Me a [chosen] nation of segulah among all the nations."(16)Only after that verse it is written that G-d said, "And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."

Before giving us the Torah, G-d wanted to be sure that we would keep the Torah and obey its commandments, therefore it was important for us to have the proper self-esteem to give us pride at being so special to G-d.

The same applies to receiving the Torah for ourselves and for our children. We must be constantly reminded of how important we are, so that we can have the proper self-esteem and succeed in keeping the Torah and doing its mitzvos.

Train Your Child in Self-Esteem

It is not enough simply to avoid destroying the self-esteem of our children; we must work to build up their self-esteem. This can be learned from the Torah, for G-d did not rely on the self-esteem we already had, but rather gave us great encouragement before giving us the Torah.

Utilize your child's positive points to convince him that he can be successful. If your child runs errands nicely, do not forget to praise him for that, emphasizing how well he knows how to fulfill commands. If your child is a good reader, tell him how wonderful it is that he can learn so much by reading.

G-d in His great mercy distributed various talents among people in the world. Everyone has some special talent. Be sure to point out to your child where his talents lie. This will enable his self-esteem to grow.

Do not let a day go by without giving some praise to your children. This will help them to grow and to be a source of pride to you.

1. Vayikra 8:2
2. Yoma ch. 7
3. Bereshis 37:31
4. Bereshis 37:3
5. Shemos 28:42
6. Shemos 29:6
7. Shemos 28:30
8. Hoshea 3:4
9. Divrei Hayamim II 17:6
10. Sotah 5a
11. Ta'anis 8a
12. Mishlei 18:23
13. Temura 3b
14. Bava Metzia 58b
15. Ahavas Chesed 9:5
16. Shemos 19:5

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