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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Vayak'hel

Guide Your Children; But Do Not Dominate Them

And Moshe said unto the children of Israel, See, G-d has called by name Betzalel the son of Uri the son of Chur, of the tribe of Yehudah.
(SHEMOS 35:30)

The identity of the Chofetz Chaim was discovered when he pretended to be a meshulach selling his sefarim in the town of Novo Alexandrovsky. He arrived there with his package of sefarim one morning and headed for the beis midrash, while the congregation waited for the rav to arrive and wrap himself in tallis and tefillin to begin to daven shacharis. When he saw that the congregation was ready to start davening, the guest hurried to open his package and put it on a table near the entrance. Then he removed his tallis and tefillin from his suitcase, put them on and stood in a corner to daven with the congregation.

While the guest was still engrossed in his davening, a sefer from the package was passed to the rav. When he leafed through it, the rav was impressed by its contents and his interest was greatly aroused. After the guest finished davening, the rav went over to him and greeted him. As was his way, the guest introduced himself as the meshulach of the author, who wanted to remain anonymous. The rav commented that he found a seeming contradiction between the conclusion of the author in his explanation of the Mekor Chaim and the teshuvah of the Mahari'k at the end of the book. The "meshulach" explained the words of the "author" very thoroughly, and compared them with the answer of the Mahari'k. The rav was amazed at the sharpness and depth of learning of the guest, traits which were not typical of a normal meshulach. Especially since the "meshulach" had a ready answer to his question, as if he had prepared it in advance, the rav suspected that the meshulach and the author were one and the same, and he demanded that he reveal the identity of the author. The guest was forced to admit the truth.

Immediately, the rav purchased a copy of the book and subsequently all the people who came to daven also bought copies. One of the wealthier people who was present at the gathering wanted to show his generosity to the guest, but when he saw that the Chofetz Chaim refused to take for the book more than the set price, he had a clever idea and took two books on credit. He waited to pay his debt until he saw the author getting into a wagon to leave the place. When the wagon had already started moving, the man rushed forward and thrust a bill into the author's hand. The latter, assuming that it was a one-ruble note for two copies of the book, didn't look at it, but just put it into his pocket.

When the author arrived at the next town, he counted his money and found an extra hundred-ruble note, which he couldn't account for. Immediately, he thought that one of his customers had made a mistake and had given him a one hundred-ruble note instead of a single ruble note.

He quickly returned to Novo Alexendrovsky to return the lost object. After investigating and inquiring in vain among his former customers, he announced the matter in the beis midrash and called on the person who had given him the extra money to come forward. But this too was to no avail.

After searching in vain for several days, and seeing that the week was coming to an end and he would have to leave very soon, he went up to the bimah between mincha and ma'ariv with tears in his eyes, and in a shaking voice begged the congregates to have pity on him and not to continue to bring him anguish, and that whoever had given him the one hundred ruble note, intentionally or not, should please take it back from him, since he would not use the money or enjoy it in any way. His words had their effect, and the owner of the note admitted that he had given him the extra money. But he claimed that he had given it to him with a full heart and did not want it back. The Chofetz Chaim stood firm in his refusal to enjoy a free gift, and the would-be benefactor was forced to take the note back, and in return for the books he had purchased, he paid him one ruble.

The Chofetz Chaim, through his extraordinary piety, was a source of inspiration to all. He guided others with his outstanding deeds and encouragement. We too must encourage and inspire our children by telling them stories of such great tzaddikim as the Choftez Chaim and by trying to set a personal example of doing good deeds ourselves.

"See, G-d has called by name Betzalel the son of Uri the son of Chur."(1) Why was it necessary to mention the name of Chur [when normally a father's name is mentioned, but not the name of a grandfather]?

The answer is that Chur had sacrificed his life for G-d, when the Jewish people were demanding to worship idols [at the time of the Golden Calf], and he did not permit them to, and they rose up and killed him. Therefore G-d said, "I swear that I shall repay you."

We can compare this to the parable of a king whose army rebelled against him. His general stood up and fought the rebels, telling them, "You are rebelling against the king!" They overcame him and killed him.

When the king arrived and asked where his general was, they answered that he had been killed by the army. The king said, "I swear that if the general had lent me money I would have repaid him. Now that he has given me his life, I must certainly repay him. I will promote any children he has to high positions in the world. I will make them into dukes and ministers."

So too, Chur sacrificed his life at the incident of the Golden Calf. Therefore G-d said of him, "I swear, any children that he has I shall promote to high positions in this world," as it is written, "See, G-d has called by name Betzalel the son of Uri the son of Chur... And He has filled him with the spirit of the L-rd."(2)

Do not think that it was only Betzalel, for to anyone who was active in the building of the Temple G-d gave understanding, wisdom and knowledge, as it is written, "And all the wise-hearted..."(3)

And do not think that this rule applies only to humans; it applies even to one's animals. But the only one publicized was Betzalel, as it is written, "See, G-d has called by name Betzalel."(4)
(YALKUT 411)

Why did Chur stand up against the people who worshipped idols, when he must have known that he was thereby endangering his life? What lesson can be learned from the parable in the midrash, when it seems to be merely a repetition of what we had just learned? Why do we find that only one of his descendants, Betzalel, benefited from the reward that Chur earned by his great act? What do our Sages mean when they say that this rule applies not only to humans, but also to animals?

Chur's Sacrifice

...Chur had sacrificed his life for G-d, when the Jewish people were demanding to worship idols, and he did not permit them to...

Chur had the courage to stand up against those who worshiped idols, despite the danger to his own life, because he felt that since worshiping idols was such a great sin that it warranted the death penalty, preventing it was something for which one must be prepared to sacrifice even his life. Perhaps he did not realize that the nation would actually go so far as to kill him in order to accomplish their objectives.

How could they have killed Chur when they wished only to serve idols, but not to murder? Throughout history, multitudes of people have been killed by religious fanatics. People can use religion as an excuse for doing anything they want. They will kill, plunder, rape and torture, saying that their actions are justified, since they convince themselves that this is what their religion demands of them. This is what happened to the Jewish nation in the case of Chur. The people who wished to worship idols saw this as a religious imperative, and because Chur stood in their way, they believed it was a "mitzvah" to remove him from their path in the name of "religion."

How Chur Was Repaid

...G-d said of him, "I swear, any children that he has I shall promote to high positions..."

Since Chur was killed in the incident, he could not have been repaid for his sacrifice in this world, but by rewarding his children it was considered as if he himself were rewarded. No one can live forever, but his children, whose identities are linked with his own, continue his heritage. Our Sages say that a person is jealous of everyone except for his son and his student.(5) A person sees his son or his student as a part of himself, and one cannot be jealous of oneself.

Therefore if someone is to be repaid in this world, and he cannot receive the reward himself, it is natural that he receive his reward through his son, who is an inseparable part of him.

A Person Wants Good for His Children

But the only one publicized was Betzalel...

The parable presented in the midrash demonstrates that it is natural for a person to want his children rewarded in his stead. Just as a son inherits money which is due to his parents, so too does he receive spiritual payment. The parable demonstrates in terms which we can easily relate to, how true are the words of our Sages.

Betzalel was chosen over Chur's other descendants, although in the parable the king promised to repay all the children "I will promote any children he has to high positions in the world." The same commitment is mentioned in the moral lesson: "G-d said to him, 'I swear, any children that he has I shall promote to high positions in this world,'" and yet we find that only Betzalel was rewarded. The reward G-d gives to one's descendants is called "zechus avos." Descendants receive merit because of the actions of their forefathers. This works not as an absolute gift but rather as a gift which is accompanied by conditions.

If you are laboring in and dedicating yourself to Torah and mitzvos, you will accrue more reward than your actions alone would warrant, because of the "credit" you have gained from your forefathers. However this is granted to you only when you have your own merits to offer as well. If you have nothing of your own to add, you will not be able to benefit from zechus avos.

Since we find that only one descendant of Chur benefited from the reward he had earned by his great act, this seems to suggest that of all his descendants, it was only Betzalel who invested sufficient effort of his own.

Even Animals Are Rewarded

And do not think that this rule applies only to humans; it applies even to one's animals.

Our Sages say that zechus avos can be passed on not only to one's human descendants, but also to one's animals.

One who deserves reward will see that his cows are giving more milk and that his calves are healthy and robust and fetch a good price at the market. A person might think that he is merely having a "lucky year" with his livestock, but in reality the source of his good fortune is the good deeds of his forefathers, for which he is now reaping the rewards.

Our Sages are teaching us here that a person's success in life is determined by his spiritual level, and not by his "good luck." The spiritual world is not visible, but it controls the physical world. It is similar to a gigantic machine that serves many functions in a factory. A simpleton might think it does everything on its own, but a careful inspection will show someone behind the scenes pushing buttons and controlling everything the machine does. In the same way, it may seem to us that we remain functional, in good health, etc., but actually all this is controlled by our deeds and those of our forefathers, without which we would not be successful.

A Successful Child Has Parents
Who Guide Him Well

Just as a person is controlled by his spiritual efforts, so too is a child's success strongly influenced by the guidance he receives from his parents. Parents who know how to guide their children will see them flourish.

Guidance does not mean that the parents direct every step their children take. On the contrary, when a child hears his parents constantly nagging him, he will lose patience with them. A child does not want to be tied to his parents. He needs to feel that his parents trust him and see him as a capable and independent individual.

A father once gave his son money to start a business and was constantly telling him what to do. The son was over forty, and yet the father was there every day to tell him what to do in the business. At one point the son could not tolerate this any longer, and he told his father that he wanted to return the business to him, and that he would go out and find himself a new job. The father was devastated. He did not know what to do with himself, since his whole life had been built around controlling his son, and he was about to lose that control.

Parents take children into their business, sometimes not only for the sake of helping their children, but also, subconsciously perhaps, in order to control them. They believe that a child should be dependent on his parents, even though that child is an adult. Some parents cannot let go of their children and see them as youngsters who must be constantly guided.

Such an attitude is not healthy. You must teach your child independence if you want him to grow up to live a normal life. That was G-d's plan when He created the world, as it says in the verse: "Therefore a man leaves his father and mother, and clings to his wife."(6) Every person must reach the stage where he stands on his own two feet, and it is the parents' responsibility to prepare their children for that eventual goal.

Teach Your Child Independence

One way to teach your child independence is to give him tasks at home, and let him do them on his own, even if you know that he might make mistakes. For instance, you can tell him to go to the store, even if he might break something on the way home. Or you can send him on an errand to bring something to a neighbor, even though he might lose it on the way. Give him the task of fixing something at home, even though he might damage it even more.

When you give your child tasks, you are sending a message to him that he is growing up and that you trust him and have confidence that he will succeed in whatever you request of him. He will want to meet this challenge, and he will say to himself, "My Dad believes in me. I cannot let him down!" This is how you want him to feel.

One set of parents sent their nine-year-old daughter by herself on a bus to deliver something to her married sister. They knew very well that they were taking a risk, since the child might daydream on the bus, get off at the wrong stop and get lost. But they decided that even such a risk was worth taking for the feeling of trust and success that the child would have when she eventually succeeded at this task. There is a saying in business, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." This is also true when it comes to guiding your children towards independence.

Never Risk Your Child's Yiddishkeit

Athough it is sometimes all right to take risks when it comes to raising children, one should never take risks with Yiddishkeit. In this area we must assure the very best for our children; they must be constantly protected, and we should never expose them to any spiritual danger.

This means that we must be sure that our children are going to the best Jewish schools, where they are guaranteed to be protected from non-Jewish influences or any other influence that might harm them. Even if the school is good, if some of the other students learning there might have a bad influence on your child, you cannot allow your child to learn there.

Our children's spiritual development is like expensive crystal. A person will not give crystal to a juggler to use to practice his art. It is too precious to play with. We cannot afford to take any risks.

Love is the Best Guidance

When we give our children love, we give them the best guidance possible. A hug or a kiss or a warm handshake is as if you are saying to your child, "You are the greatest. You can do anything you want to do. I believe in you."

Every child is born with a lack of confidence. He is so small and so young, surrounded by gigantic adults who have jobs and money and power and possessions, while he has nothing. Imagine yourself surrounded by giants many times your size. You would not feel comfortable and would lose any feeling of confidence you might have had.

That is exactly how your child feels when he is among adults. But when we show our love to our children, all that fear vanishes. The child thinks, "Here are my father and mother, who are giants like the rest of the adults in the world, and they love me so much. I cannot let them down, and I must live up to their expectations."

A parent's love is a source of constant inspiration for the child. If a picture is worth a thousand words, one hug is worth far more. More than any encouragement you can give through words, you can give through your love, since it conveys everything.

Kiss your son and your daughter even if they are teenagers and think kisses are only for small children. Unless they strongly resist, they need that kiss just as much as a small child does. Teenagers are full of doubts and instability, since they are beginning physically to resemble adults, yet do not have the responsibilities or the common sense of adults.

Although we should not control our children's lives, we should guide them in the proper path with much love and understanding, so that they will grow to be confident and successful adults.

1. Shemos 35:30
2. Ibid., 35:30, 31
3. Ibid., 36:8
4. Ibid., 35:30
5. Sanhedrin 105b
6. Bereshis 2:24

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