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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Vayikra

Give Your Children Guidance

And G-d called to Moshe, and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting saying.

In the time of Rav Chaim, who founded the famous Volozhin Yeshiva, there was talk among the Jews of Lithuania of three Volozhin Yeshiva students who were all known for their outstanding qualities. One came from a very distinguished family which had produced seven generations of rabbanim; the second had superb manners and displayed beautiful middos; and the third had a sharp mind and had been very studious in his Torah learning.

These three students became caught up in the wave of the Berlin haskalah movement which swept the Jewish world. They all left the yeshivah and pursued secular culture. Rav Chaim, their rav, was greatly pained over their actions, cried bitter tears and refused to be consoled.

Rav Chaim's rebbi, the Gr'a, appeared to him in a dream and told him: "So-and-so will the sword of haskalah devour. The merit of their forefathers will not protect those who have become trapped in heresy, for all of Benei Yisrael have special yichus, since they are the sons of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Neither will good middos stand in the way of punishment, for good middos are not unique to Jews. Yet whoever learned Torah for its own sake once, whoever has tasted the sweetness of Torah, whoever has absorbed the smell of Torah I am certain that the Torah will stand up to protect him and save his soul from the lower pits. The Torah doesn't allow a Jew who has learned it to deny G-d and join another nation."

Many years later, when Rav Chaim inquired as to what had become of his former students, he found out that the first student, the one who had such impressive yichus, had forgotten his lineage and the glory of his family and intermarried; the second student, who was exceptional in his conduct, gave himself over to the wisdom of philosophy and became confused, to the point that he totally abandoned his faith and would expound on nonsensical matters. The third student, the masmid, had done very well in his university studies and his name had been praised far and wide by secular scholars, who sought him out and respected and flattered him. Eventually he was offered a professorship at the royal university. Since such a high position was not ordinarily given to a Jew, he was asked to renounce his faith. He managed to avoid doing this each time he was asked. Finally, the pressure grew stronger, and he requested three days in which to make a decision.

In those three days he relinquished all his honor and fled to Eretz Yisrael. On his way he made a detour to Volozhin to visit his former Rebbe and ask for his blessing.

Rav Chaim was overjoyed to see him and hugged him affectionately. After the student recounted what had happened to him, Rav Chaim asked him, "My son, who saved you from sin?"

"I happened to have passed my old neighborhood late one night," the student answered. "As I walked past a Jewish home, I heard the sound of Torah learning accompanied by a sad melody. I stopped where I was and listened. I imagined that the sounds of sorrow which echoed in my ears were those of the Torah itself, crying over the fact that I had abandoned it and was on the threshold of becoming a traitor. At that moment thoughts of teshuvah arose within me, and that is what saved me."

The student who withstood the trial was the one who had toiled in Torah from an early age. We must learn from this to give our children strong, clear guidance when they are young, so that they will have the strength to withstand the trials that they will inevitably face in their lives.

"And G-d called . . . from the Tent of Meeting."(1) Rabbi Elazar said, "Even though the Torah's prohibitions were given at Sinai, nevertheless the Jewish people were not yet punished if they transgressed its laws until after they had been taught the Torah at the Tent of Meeting.

This is comparable to a king's decree which has been written and sealed and brought to the capital. The inhabitants are not punished if they transgress this decree, unless it has been explained to them in the capital's public square. The same applies here. Even though the Torah had been given to Israel at Sinai, they were not punished for not observing it until it had been explained to them fully at the Tent of Meeting."

Thus it is written, "Until I shall bring him to the house of my mother"(2): that is Sinai; "and to the room of my conceiving"(3): that is the Tent of Meeting, which was the place where they were commanded to obey the laws of the Torah.

Rabbi Shimon said, "The voice that departed from the Tent of Meeting had two aspects to it. On one hand, it was the elixir of life for the Jewish people, and on the other hand, it was poison for the nations of the world. This is as is written, 'As you heard and lived.'(4) You heard and lived, but the nations heard and died."

Rabbi Yitzchak said, "Until the Tent of Meeting was erected, prophecy existed among the nations of the world. As soon as the Tent of Meeting was erected, prophecy was lost from them."

What is the difference between the prophets of the nations and the prophets of Israel? Rabbi Chama the son of Chanina said, "G-d appears to the nations with only half a sentence."

What is the difference between Moshe and all the other prophets? Rabbi Yehuda bar Ila'i said, "All the other prophets saw through seven prisms, and Moshe saw through one prism."
(YALKUT 432)

Why was the Torah given in two stages, once at Sinai as unenforced prohibitions, and once at the Tent of Meeting, where it was explained? Why must the Torah be explained fully before a person can be punished for transgressing it? What can we learn from the parable of the public square? Why is Sinai called "the house of my mother," and the Tent of Meeting, "the room of my conceiving?" How could the same voice be an elixir of life for one person and poison for another? Why was prophecy lost from the nations of the world once the Tent of Meeting was erected? What is the meaning of G-d's appearing before the nations with half a sentence? What does it mean to see G-d through one prism as opposed to seeing Him through seven prisms?

Accepting Torah Gradually

...The Jewish people were not yet punished if they transgressed its laws until after they had been taught the Torah at the Tent of Meeting.

The reason the Torah was given in two stages, once at Sinai and once at the Tent of Meeting, may be that it was necessary for the Torah to be delivered in a way that would not overwhelm the people. Although the Jewish people were in theory ready to observe the Torah, as they said, "We shall do and we shall hear,"(5) yet had they been told all at once how many mitzvos there were, and the severity of the punishments for transgressing any of them, they might have regretted their acceptance of the Torah. Therefore, G-d in His infinite wisdom gave the Torah in stages, so that the people could become accustomed to the general concepts relating to Torah before its observance was fully incumbent upon them.

The Torah must be explained in order for a person to be punished for transgressing it, for our Sages say, "A person is not punished unless he is first warned."(6) Only when someone is cognizant of the severity of what he has done can he be held accountable for not having heeded the command. That is why the court cannot impose the punishment of lashes or the death penalty on a person unless he had been warned before he committed the sin. This is evidence of the fairness of the Torah, which demands that we be certain that a person remembers that what he is doing is forbidden, and that he understands the severity of his actions.

It is this understanding of the Torah that the Jewish people received at the Tent of Meeting. Not only did they learn what was forbidden, but they were taught the severity of transgressing the commandments as well. Only after this had been conveyed to them were they held accountable for their actions.

A Fair Chance

The inhabitants are not punished if they transgress this decree, unless it has been explained to them in the capital's public square.
"...To the house of my mother": that is Sinai; "and to the room of my conceiving": that is the Tent of Meeting,... where they were commanded to obey the laws of the Torah.

The public square is where laws are explained and expounded. The parable demonstrates to us that once people know of a new law, they are held accountable for keeping it in all its details. It is not enough that the king establishes a law; he must also take time and make the effort to explain its implications. Even if someone was not present at the time the law was explained, he is still held responsible for upholding it, since he is expected to find out what new laws have been enacted and what is demanded of him. The same is true regarding the Torah. G-d does not hold us responsible until we have had a fair chance to come to understand the mitzvos.

Sinai is called "the house of my mother," because a mother is necessary for the birth of a child. However, conception is the preliminary stage, since a mother cannot give birth without first having conceived. The Tent of Meeting is called "the room of my conceiving," since it represents taking on the responsibility of observing the Torah.

The parable is teaching us that although we received the Torah on Mount Sinai, yet since it was not expounded there, it was similar to a mother who has the potential to produce a child but has not yet done so. Only at the Tent of Meeting, where all the laws of the Torah were carefully explained in all their details, did the Torah receive the status of having been "conceived," since there it became a practical reality and was no longer merely theoretical.

Poison and Cure in One

The voice that departed from the Tent of Meeting had two aspects to it. On one hand, it was the elixir of life for the Jewish People, and on the other hand, it was poison for the nations of the world.

How could the words of Torah be a remedy for one person and poison for another? A similar comparison is made by our Sages on the verse of "Vesamtem."(7) They say there that the Torah is a perfect medicine.(8)But as with any drug, it may cure one person and bring him to a state of complete health yet act as a poison for another. Only when the drug is given to someone whose body and state of health are compatible with it can it be a cure. Otherwise it can be fatal.

The same applies to the Torah which was taught at the Tent of Meeting. A Jew who refrains from physical pleasures and who sanctifies himself receives the holy words of Torah as a life-giving elixir. However, those who indulge in physical pleasures are rendered incapable of receiving the holiness of the Torah, and in fact the Torah becomes a source of spiritual harm to them, acting as poison to their souls.

For this reason the Torah is called an elixir, for it demands of a person that his body be ready to accept the Torah. People cannot do whatever they want and then expect to succeed in their Torah learning; rather they must always follow the precepts of the Torah.

Different Levels of Prophecy

Until the Tent of Meeting was erected, prophecy existed among the nations of the world.
G-d appears to the nations with only half a sentence.
All the other prophets saw through seven prisms, and Moshe saw through one prism.

The reason prophecy was lost from the nations of the world once the Tent of Meeting was built may be that until that time, which marked a constant revelation of G-d that came through the Tent of Meeting, a much lower level of revelation came to this world through the prophets of the nations. But once the Tent of Meeting was built, a higher level of G-d's revelation on earth superseded the previous level.

What is the meaning of G-d's appearing before the nations with "half a sentence?" As we have previously discussed, the level of revelation experienced by the nations of the world was very low, but since there was as yet no better vehicle to accommodate G-d's revelation in the world, it sufficed. When our Sages refer to "half a sentence," they are indicating an incomplete prophecy, so limited because the prophet had not sufficiently prepared himself for Divine revelation. Only the Jewish prophets toiled to be close to G-d through spiritual preparation at its highest level. The nations wanted Divine revelation, but they were not willing to sacrifice physical pleasure in order to attain it. Thus they could not reach the prophetic level of a "full sentence," as the Jewish people did.

To explain the difference between seeing G-d through one prism and seeing Him through seven prisms, we must understand that the number seven in the Torah represents a complete cycle. For example, there are seven days of the week, seven days of celebration (sheva brachos) after a couple marries, and seven days of mourning when a close relative dies. To say that the other prophets saw G-d through seven prisms means that they had to go through a complete worldly cycle before they received revelation, and thus their sight was very limited. But Moshe had clear vision in comparison to the other prophets, because of his high spiritual level and his continual closeness to G-d.

Training Children to Have Good Middos

It is common to find that children have bad middos. They can be haughty, jealous of their siblings and easily angered. Children have little self-restraint, which we might compare to the efforts of the prophets of the nations before the Tent of Meeting was built. What can be done to improve a child's behavior?

The famous Rabbi Yisrael Yaakov Kanievsky, zt"l, known as the Steipler, gave interesting advice. He wrote that parents should learn with their children from books of musar that describe the fear of Heaven.

This is an enlightening insight which can guide us in educating children. Your child has a yetzer hara, just as everyone else has. In fact, it is even stronger in a child than in an adult, as our Sages say that the yetzer hatov enters the child only when he reaches the age of bar mitzvah. Therefore he must constantly struggle within himself to do good, and it is not surprising that he often loses the battle.

Provide Your Children With Ammunition

We must provide him with the ammunition he needs to win that battle. This ammunition consists of the words of our Sages, who teach us to restrain ourselves and to work on self-control. When a person can see the goal that our Sages have placed before him, he finds the necessary encouragement and guidance he needs to win the battle against his yetzer.

It is also a good idea to have an achievable strategy which your child can follow to help him overcome a specific problem. Begin by telling your child, for instance, that just for a very short time each day he should try not to get angry. It could be the same time every day, and it must be a rule which cannot be transgressed. In this way your child will see that he can be successful, since for a very short period of time anyone can succeed. This success will give him the encouragement he needs to build on it.

Be sure to tell your child not to be discouraged if he sometimes fails. The important thing is that he is working on the problem and is not giving up. The yetzer wants him to give up; that is what the yetzer loves someone who gives up hope of ever improving. Emphasize to your child that we are not losers, but winners.

A Dominating Child

One twelve-year-old girl was very dominating. She would play only with younger children whom she knew she could dominate. She also tried to control her classmates. When her teacher gave her homework, she refused to do it. She rebelled against all authority and also lied constantly.

I told her parents that I believed this child lacked self-esteem. She had been adopted and was an only child, and perhaps for this reason did not feel that she was important. This explained her need to dominate others in order to compensate for her own insecure feelings. Her insecurity could also explain why she lied: because she lacked self-confidence, she was not satisfied with the world in which she lived, and so she imagined a better world. Fear of reality made her escape into an imaginary world.

The cure for such an attitude is to constantly compliment the child. Tell her how brave she is for being an only child, managing so beautifully without other siblings. Anything she does should be praised and complimented and she should continually be told how wonderful she is. All this will build her self-esteem, and after she gets the message and begins to feel better about herself, she will not need to dominate others or tell lies anymore.

It is important to have the teacher's cooperation in such a situation. The teacher may be fighting the child instead of encouraging her. It is important for the teacher to realize that fighting the child will not improve her, but will rather cause her behavior to deteriorate. Instead she should overlook the child's rebellious actions, and try to find something positive in her behavior, complimenting her for what she does well. In this way the child will gain the self-esteem she so desperately needs.

Transferring Schools

A mother asked me if she should take her daughter out of school in the middle of the year, since she was not satisfied with the policies of the school, and the school was constantly suspending her daughter.

I told the mother that she must do everything in her power to avoid her child's being expelled from the school in the middle of the year. A child who changes schools in the middle of the year carries a stigma for the rest of her life, and no good school will accept her after that. The mother should make every possible effort to keep the child in school at least until the end of the year.

We must never give up on any child, no matter what he has done. The child is almost always a victim of his circumstances and may be in desperate need of guidance. We must find a way to help him, and then he will develop normally and will become a source of pride to his parents and to all of Klal Yisrael.

1. Vayikra 1:1
2. Shir Hashirim 3:4
3. Ibid.
4. Devarim 4:33
5. Shemos 24:7
6. Yoma 81a
7. Devarim 11:18
8. Kiddushin 30b

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