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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Vayishlach

Do Not Forsake Your Children

And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore, that two of the sons of Yaakov, Shimon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took each his sword, and came upon the city unresisted and slew all the males.
(BERESHIS 34:25)

In London there lived a Jewish lawyer who knew almost nothing about Judaism. One day, he was conversing with a friend of his, who happened to be religious. The lawyer confided that he had a terrible problem. He had taken on a gentile client who was accused of committing a crime. During the trial, the judge discovered that this defendant was a well-known criminal. He became furious at the defendant and also at his lawyer. He accused the lawyer of knowing of his client's crookedness and trying to mislead the court. The judge was so angry that he decided to press charges against the lawyer.

In England the judicial system is very strict; a lawyer must be extremely careful to avoid even the smallest stain on his reputation. Therefore, the lawyer was in great danger; not only could he lose his license to practice law, but he might also have to pay a tremendous fine. The lawyer told all this to his friend and concluded that he did not know how to extricate himself from this situation.

His friend told him, "The best advice I can give you is to do what every other Jew does when he is in trouble, pray to G-d to save you from this situation."

"Pray to G-d?" replied the astonished lawyer, "That I cannot do. Why not? Because once I was saved by G-d, and I made a promise then that I would not ask Him ever again for anything else."

Then the lawyer related the following story.

A few years before, he had been invited by a client to take care of some business in Australia, which would take six or seven months. He made the trip, taking with him his beloved only daughter, who was seven at the time.

While they were in Australia, the child became critically ill. In the hospital, she went through a battery of tests, and the terrible diagnosis was that the girl had cancer. She immediately began treatment, but her condition continued to deteriorate, until one Shabbos a few weeks later, the doctor told her father that she did not have more than a few hours to live.

The father was devastated. After the initial shock, he decided to go immediately and look for a synagogue. Although he knew almost nothing about Judaism, he did remember that when he was thirteen years old his father had taken him to the synagogue to put on tefillin.

It was noon when he ventured out. After a few hours he finally found one. At this time of day the synagogue was empty, but fortunately the doors were open. He went inside and cried for two hours without stopping. While he was crying he said, "G-d, I must ask something of You, and I promise that I shall never ask anything else ever again! I beg You to save my beloved daughter."

After crying and praying some more, he gradually began to feel a little better. Finally he decided to return to the hospital.

When he got to the hospital, the doctor greeted him and said, "Something unusual has happened. Your daughter has opened her eyes and seems to have taken a turn for the better!" The doctor proceeded to examine her, and said, "Take a look. Contrary to all our expectations, there is hope!"

The next morning when the father returned to the hospital, his daughter was asking for water and two weeks later she was able to get out of bed and walk around.

This amazed the doctors, and they decided to take another battery of tests. Did she or did she not have cancer? They took new x-rays and noticed something miraculous. There was no cancer! All the doctors were astonished and could not believe their eyes. In their excitement they gathered together all the doctors of the city, and showed them the previous x-rays where the cancer was clearly present, and the new x-rays, where it had completely disappeared. The only explanation the doctors could give was that this recovery was a miracle.

At this point the lawyer concluded his story and said to his religious friend, "Now you have heard my story and about the promise I made at the time not to ask G-d again for anything. How can I break my promise?"

His friend answered him by saying, "There is no problem at all, my dear friend. G-d is not like a human being. Although you promised that you would not ask again, you can still go and talk to Him. He is endlessly compassionate and His mercy has no limitations. He can answer you as often as you ask."

Once the lawyer heard this, he decided that he would go and pray again. His prayer was answered, and he was found innocent at his subsequent trial.

A lesson we can learn from this story is that when a person speaks to G-d sincerely, without any pretense, G-d is inclined to have mercy on him and listen to his prayers. Just as G-d never forsakes us, neither may we forsake our children at any time.

Dinah was the sister of all the tribes. Yet Shimon and Levi were called "Dinah's brothers."(1) Why does this verse sound like Dinah was the sister of only Shimon and Levi? The answer is that since they sacrificed themselves for her, she is referred to by their name.

We find a similar situation in the case of Miriam, in the verse, "And Miriam, the sister of Aharon, took the drum in her hands."(2) This seems to suggest that she was the sister of Aharon alone. Yet we know that she was the sister of both Moshe and Aharon. Since Aharon was the one who sacrificed himself for her, she is referred to by his name.

We find a similar situation expressed in the verse, "And in the matter of Kozbi, the daughter of the prince of Midian, who was their [the Midianites'] sister."(3) Actually, Kozbi was not their sister, she was only from the same nation. But because she sacrificed herself for her people, her entire nation is called by her name.

"Each took his sword."(4) Shimon and Levi were only thirteen.

"And they came upon the city [of Shechem] with confidence."(5) They were confident that their elder [Yaakov] would use his strength to help them. Yaakov said to himself, "How can I allow my sons to fall into the hands of the nations of the world? I must join my sons in their fight [against the people of Shechem]." This is what the verse means when it says, "Which I took from the Emori with my sword."(6)

"And they took Dinah from the house of Shechem and they left."(7) They dragged her and departed. Rav Huna said, "It is hard for a woman who has had relations with a gentile to leave him."
(YALKUT 135)

What does it mean that Dinah was called by the name of her brothers Shimon and Levi? Why was Miriam called by the name of her brother Aharon? What was so special about her actions that Kozbi's nation was called by her name? Of what importance is the fact that Shimon and Levi were thirteen? Why did Shimon and Levi feel they could rely on the strength of Yaakov to make their attack successful? Why did Yaakov intervene on their behalf when he was displeased with their actions? Why is it hard for a woman who has had relations with a gentile to leave him?

Devotion Earns a Good Name

Shimon and Levi were called "Dinah's brothers."
"And Miriam, the sister of Aharon, took the drum in her hands."
"And in the matter of Kozbi, the daughter of the prince of Midian, who was their sister."

A name shows the inner essence of something. An entire nature is included in its name. Since Shimon and Levi endangered their lives to help their sister who was in peril, this gives them credit for her entire life. Thus, because she now owed her spiritual life to Shimon and Levi, it is fitting to refer to her by the name of these two brothers.

When Miriam spoke lashon hara, she was punished with leprosy. Aharon asked Moshe to pray for her.(8) By asking this of Moshe, Aharon was putting himself in danger, since the verse says that not only did Miriam speak lashon hara about Moshe, but so did Aharon, as it is written, "And Miriam and Aharon spoke about Moshe."(9) Therefore he would have preferred not to mention that conversation at all, since Moshe could have easily reminded him that he, too, should have been punished. But his devotion to his sister did not allow him to remain silent. This is what earned him the privilege of his sister being called by his name.

Similarly, Kozbi's devotion to her nation was great. She was a princess, as the verse says, "the daughter of the prince of Midian."(10) Since her father wanted to seduce the Jewish men to sin, he needed beautiful women for the job. He called on his own daughter to come forward and seduce them in order that his plan should succeed.

She could have easily told her father that it was not fitting for her, a royal princess, to take part in such a lowly mission and that he should find other beautiful women for such a task. Since all the nations of the time knew the power of G-d, she probably also sensed the personal danger she would subject herself to if she became involved. Yet, despite all these calculations, Kozbi accepted the task without hesitation. She put her country's welfare above all personal considerations. And so, because she sacrificed herself for her nation, her nation is referred to by her name.

Thirteen-Year-Old Warriors

Shimon and Levi were only thirteen. They were confident that their elder would use his strength to help them. Yaakov said to himself, "How can I allow my sons to fall into the hands of the nations of the world? I must join my sons in their fight."

It is hard for a woman who has had relations with a gentile to leave him.

Of what importance is the fact that Shimon and Levi were only thirteen? Once again, we learn the value of self-sacrifice. Boys of thirteen are never sent to fight a war, since they are not yet mature in mind or body. This task is for adults. Yet Shimon and Levi took upon themselves the dangerous task of attacking the people of Shechem. They anticipated that some of the men, who had just been circumcised, would not be weakened by the bris, but would have the strength to fight back. Despite the risk involved, they felt that they must rescue their sister, even though they were too young to fight.

Shimon and Levi were relying on the strength of Yaakov to help them succeed. They felt that their father was waiting for them to take the initiative to protect their sister's honor. Once they began the attack, they believed he would take part in the fight to bring her back. They thought that Yaakov did not want to initiate the fight since in so doing he would gain a bad name among the dwellers of the land and thus be subject to their hostile reprisals.(11) It was this consideration that encouraged them to go ahead with their plan.

Yaakov intervened, because he would not let his sons be killed, even though he was displeased with their actions. Obedience was important, but not as important as his children's lives. Yaakov loved his children, and also knew that they had great spiritual potential. Whatever mistakes they had made did not justify leaving them in danger. Therefore he took his sword and went to fight in order to bring them home safely.

A Jew is commanded to be holy and refrain from forbidden relations. Even in permitted sexual relations he is enjoined to be moderate and exercise restraint. A woman who has had relations with a gentile might find it hard to leave him because she has experienced the lack of moderation, since a gentile is not limited by the Torah. Therefore when a Jewish woman has intimate relations with a gentile, she may find sexual pleasure that she believes a Jew cannot give her. This might make her reluctant to leave her gentile partner.

Treat Your Child as You Wish to Be Treated

Yaakov did not forsake his children, and neither should we. No matter what they do, they are our children, and we must stand by them in any crisis they may face. If a child is not obedient, we must look at the mistakes his parents may have made in training him which allowed him to acquire this trait. In a case that I have seen, there was a mother who told her daughter every morning to tidy up her room. The girl did her best, but she invariably left something lying around. This made her mother angry; yet no matter how much she reprimanded her daughter, the situation never improved. Finally the mother asked an experienced educator how to handle the problem, and he told her how to speak to the child.

The next morning, the mother said to her daughter, "Your room looks so tidy and organized. You just forgot one little thing. Otherwise, you did a perfect job." After such encouragement, her daughter made sure that she did not forget anything, and she tidied up her room very neatly from then onwards.

The mistake was that the mother was always criticizing her daughter and never giving her any praise. Therefore, the girl did not feel like exerting herself, since she knew that her mother would find some fault no matter how hard she tried to please her. But once her mother praised her, she saw it was worth making an effort. Since she heard only one little thing was wrong, she quickly fixed that and was careful that it did not happen again, as she wanted the praise to be complete.

Transmitting the Right Message

We often transmit to our children different messages than we would wish them to hear. For instance, parents might ideally want their children to devote their lives to studying Torah, but if the talk at home is constantly about money, that is the real message they are receiving.

A successful businessman wanted his children to continue learning Torah after their marriage, and he even set aside money for this purpose; and yet his first three sons got married and went into business. He sought the advice of an important rabbi who had been a guest at his home many times. The rabbi did not want to be overly critical, but since the man still had small children at home who could be influenced, he gave him the following advice.

The rabbi said, "I remember visiting your house, and your little son got angry at you on Shabbos evening, and he went and turned off the light and then turned it on again. You reacted by saying, 'You are not harming me, but harming yourself," and you continued your meal. The next day that same son was playing and broke a precious piece of crystal. This made you so angry that you took him on your lap and gave him a good beating. What message did the child get? Torah is not as important as crystal. He saw when his father praised the Torah it was just empty words; in reality money is what counts."

This is an example of the messages we transmit non-verbally to our children. The way we speak about learning Torah and keeping mitzvos, compared to the way we speak about money matters makes a big difference in the child's outlook. He is able to read between the lines. These unspoken messages will stay with him and will affect his outlook on life.

Show Your Child That You Trust Him

Parents must show their children that they trust them when they give them responsibilities. Realize that they may not always be successful in fulfilling a task, but the fact that they try is worth a great deal. If you always question them and demonstrate that you are afraid they will not succeed, then the chances of their succeeding are very slim.

By asking constantly, "Are you telling the truth?" you are saying that you suspect your children of being liars. Why should a child strive to tell the truth when his parents think of him negatively anyway? In general, it is preferable not to question the integrity of your children, even though they may be lying. Instead, you should take it for granted that they are telling the truth and you should praise their honesty. You may lose the battle sometimes, but ultimately they will feel that they must live up to your high expectations and they will stick to the truth.

When your child returns from the store, do not ask for an exact accounting of every penny spent. You can say, "Could you please put the change in my purse?" This way you are saying, "I trust you. You are an honest child. You never steal or lie." You are giving your child a message of trust, and he will be motivated to live up to your expectations.

Praise Before You Criticize

Also, when the child returns from an errand be careful not to criticize. Even if he could have gotten a better bargain or if what he bought has a fault in it, do not tell him this unless you must. Let him feel that you trust him to do errands, and you believe he does them well. In this way you will be building his self-confidence, and he will be willing to go a second time.

If you must be critical, be careful to praise him first. You can say, "You did a great job shopping and got some wonderful bargains. Perhaps on this item you should have been more careful." This way the child will know that you think he is successful, and you think highly of him. And he will be eager to correct the small fault which you have tactfully pointed out to him.

No matter what mistakes our children make, we must be behind them, just as Yaakov was behind Shimon and Levi. We must be encouraging with warm words of praise that show our trust in them and demonstrate our love.

1. Bereshis 34:25
2. Shemos 15:20
3. Bamidbar 41:18
4. Bereshis 34:25
5. Ibid.
6. Bereshis 48:22
7. Ibid. 34:26
8. Bamidbar 12:11
9. Ibid. 12:1
10. Ibid. 25:15
11. Bereshis 34:30

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