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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Yisro

Don't Let Your Children Down

And Moshe dismissed his father-in-law; and he went away to his own land. In the third month after the children of Israel left the land of Egypt, on that day they came to the wilderness of Sinai.
(SHEMOS 18:27,19:1)

The Mahari Ben Lev, Rabbi Yoseph the son of Lev, was a famous rabbi and author in Salonika, Greece. His magnum opus, Mahari Ben Lev, is a four-volume work. In addition, he authored many profound interpretations of the Talmud and other commentaries.

Once, in the year 5305 (1545), he made a halachic ruling in his court against a wicked rich man. Some time later, this man met the Mahari Ben Lev on the street and slapped him in the face in front of everyone. No one protested, as they were afraid of this man's power and wickedness. The Mahari Ben Lev continued on his way, and when he passed a perfume store, he tore his clothes and said, "Be astonished, O Heaven, upon this!"

That very night, the owner of the perfume store entered his shop and saw a mouse there. When he tried to come near it with a candle, a fire broke out among his merchandise and spread quickly until it burned down five thousand Jewish homes, several synagogues and study halls. Three hundred and fourteen people were killed. This is the exact numerical value of G-d's name "Shadai."

Centuries later, in 5641 (1871), Rabbi Mordechai of Ushmina, who was known throughout Lithuania as a great tzaddik, sent a letter to the famous tzaddik Rabbi Pinchas Michael, the rabbi of Ontifaleh. In his letter he requested to purchase from him the books of the Mahari Ben Lev. He explained in detail why this was so urgent for him, describing the following events:

On the night of Yom Kippur, during his regular session of Torah study, Rabbi Mordechai fell into a deep sleep. He saw in a dream a most distinguished-looking man with a long beard. When the man looked at him, Rabbi Mordechai became frightened. The man took his hand and said, "Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray!" The astonished Rabbi Mordechai woke up and found that it was only a dream.

Even though Rabbi Mordechai believed that one should not pay attention to dreams, nevertheless he was frightened, and went to sleep in his own bed. There he had another dream, where he saw once again the distinguished-looking man, this time escorted by two other men. The two other men said, "You should know that this a true dream, but do not be alarmed." Rabbi Mordechai was once more astonished.

The distinguished-looking man then said to Rabbi Mordechai, "Look into your actions to see if they need correcting, since I have come to you from the Next World."

At this point Rabbi Mordechai woke up, and still thought that it had no more significance than any normal dream, but because of his fear and astonishment he could not sleep any more that night.

Throughout the day of Yom Kippur, Rabbi Mordechai cried in his prayers as he had never cried before. He could not understand the reason for this, but he suspected that it had to do with his dream of the previous night.

After that he had no more dreams until Shemini Atzeres, nearly two weeks later. He was sleeping in his sukkah, as was his custom, and in his slumber this same distinguished-looking man came to him once again, dressed in white garments. Rabbi Mordechai was greatly awed by the sight. The man called out to him and said, "The tears that you shed on Yom Kippur were very helpful, so I have been sent to explain to you and tell you what you can do to rectify and abolish the bad decree."

Rabbi Mordechai answered, "I don't know what to rectify or what the decree is." In response, the man only stood quietly for some fifteen minutes. Rabbi Mordechai then began to cry bitterly and said, "I was not aware that I had committed so great a sin, until I was sent messengers from the Higher World."

He cried so much in his dream that he woke himself up. This time, upon awakening he did not tell himself that his dream meant nothing, because he now understood that it had great significance. That day, on Shemini Atzeres, he was in a state of intense joy and he could not understand the reason for this joy which was so great that he had never experienced anything like it before.

On the night of Simchas Torah, the same distinguished-looking man appeared to him again in a dream. The splendor of his face was awesome and he was wrapped all in white. "How long must I trouble myself for your sake, to come to you from my honored place?" he demanded.

At this point Rabbi Mordechai strengthened himself and said, "In the merit of the Torah and in the merit of the Tana'im and Amora'im that I have learned and toiled over, I ask of you to tell me of the matter concerning which you have come, and to explain it to me thoroughly, so that I will be able to understand."

Then the distinguished-looking man walked with Rabbi Mordechai to a most beautiful room, decorated with jewels that no eye had ever seen and told him, "Sit my son, sit, and I will disclose to you secrets, as well as my mission." Rabbi Mordechai sat on one chair and the man sat next to him.

"You should know that I am the Mahari Ben Lev, and while I was alive in this world, I sat in a court to judge between people. Two men approached me to rule in a particular matter, and one of them turned out to be guilty. He did not want to listen to me because he was a vicious man. I warned him with the famous warning, and left. This guilty man later approached me and slapped me on my cheek, and this action is ingrained within his bones to this day, and because of it he has never been able to lift himself. It was decreed upon you, since you are one of his descendants, to effect a tikkun (rectification) for his soul, so that he will be able to be lifted up from this action."

Rabbi Mordechai was greatly taken aback in his amazement, and he remained silent for a long time. Finally the Mahari Ben Lev touched his lips and asked, "Why are you silent?" Rabbi Mordechai began to cry very hard and said, "I don't know how to make a tikkun for him because I don't know yichudim or kavanos.

The Mahari Ben Lev then told him, "It was decreed that when you buy the sefer "Shu't Mahari Ben Lev," and learn it regularly until it is fluent upon your lips from beginning to end, he will be lifted up and will be able to rise from level to level." When Rabbi Mordechai said that he wanted to know what it meant to "rise from level to level," the Mahari Ben Lev answered him gently, "Why do you want to know the secrets of G-d?"

Rabbi Mordechai asked how much he must learn from that sefer so that it would be fluent on his lips, and the Mahari Ben Lev replied, "No less than four years, because in addition to studying that sefer, you must not neglect your regular shiurim laws of issur and heter, and money-related laws. Therefore you will need to learn at least four years." Rabbi Mordechai said, "I don't have the sefarim of the Mahari Ben Lev."

"Inquire and look for them," the Mahari Ben Lev responded. "I will reveal to you that you must buy them only from the Rabbi of Ontifaleh who has these sefarim." When Rabbi Mordechai began to ask why he must buy only from that rav, he woke up. He told himself that buying the sefarim only from that rav was likely to be a meaningless detail, since it was possible to buy them elsewhere.

Rabbi Mordechai became much busier after this, so he asked other people to find and buy these books for him. About two weeks later, the Mahari Ben Lev again appeared to him in a dream and spoke sharply: "Why do you delay fulfilling my mission?!"

Rabbi Mordechai replied, "I am trying to buy the sefarim."

He answered, "Haven't I warned you to buy them only from the Rabbi of Ontifaleh?" Rabbi Mordechai asked why he must acquire them only from him, and the Mahari Ben Lev answered that since Rabbi Mordechai had once served the Rabbi of Ontifaleh, he had become worthy to be his messenger.

The Mahari Ben Lev then revealed to Rabbi Mordechai that the Rabbi of Ontifaleh was being held accountable in the Heavenly Court, because he had started to write and bring to print a commentary on Shas of Temurah and Me'ilah, but had stopped. He was required to correct this. The money he would receive for the book of the Mahari Ben Lev, he would invest in the printing of his book. Rabbi Mordechai asked, "What does one thing have to do with the other?"

The Mahari Ben Lev answered, "Why do you want to know the secrets of G-d?" Then he repeated his warning in a raised voice, "For the sake of G-d you must fulfill my warning immediately, and don't veer one iota from anything I have told you. Then it will be good for you and for others." From the sound of his words, Rabbi Mordechai woke up.

The next day Rabbi Mordechai wanted to send a messenger to the Rabbi of Ontifaleh to relate the story to him but was held up because of the needs of his community with which he was involved all day. One night during the following week, he fell asleep in tremendous pain and agony, for his wife had become dangerously ill. The Mahari Ben Lev again came to him in a dream and told him loudly, "Know that this is my last warning, and the disease of your wife is a sign that you have not heeded my previous warnings. Therefore, for the sake of G-d, send to this rabbi immediately, buy from him my set of books, and learn them until they will be fluent upon your lips, that you know them almost by heart."

Rabbi Mordechai woke up in tremendous fright and hired a special messenger to go to the Rabbi of Ontifaleh and beg him to send the books of the Mahari Ben Lev, offering to pay any price he would ask so that he could begin to correct what had happened and so that G-d would have mercy on his wife.

It should be noted that from the date of the original event (5305) until the day Rabbi Mordechai wrote his letter to Rabbi Pinchas Michael of Ontifaleh (5641), 336 years elapsed, and G-d's ruling from Above was in no way diminished!

Rabbi Mordechai eventually obeyed the rabbi and did what he was told to do in his dreams after many warnings. We must also take measures to ensure that our children obey us.

"And Moshe dismissed his father-in-law,"(1) and afterwards it is written, "In the third month."(2) [What is the connection between the departure of Yisro and the giving of the Torah?] King Shlomo said, "The heart knows its own bitterness, and in its happiness a stranger cannot participate.(3) G-d said, "My sons were enslaved working with clay and bricks, and Yisro was sitting in his home in security and peace, and he came to witness the joy of the giving of the Torah, together with my sons? Therefore it is first written, "And Moshe dismissed his father-in-law,"(4) and only afterwards is it written, "In the third month..."(5)

Why did Moshe do such a thing? He expounded the verse in this way due to logical reasoning [a kal va'chomer]. We find regarding a single mitzvah, the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, that when G-d came to give this mitzvah to his children the Torah said, "Anyone who is gentile shall not eat from it."(6) If so, when G-d wishes to give six hundred and thirteen mitzvos to Israel, shall Yisro be there to witness them? Therefore it is first written, "And Moshe dismissed his father-in-law,"(7) and only afterwards, "In the third month..."(8)

Why in the third month, and not in the second month, or in the fourth month, or in any other month was the Torah given? Rabbi Oshaya said: I learned from Rabbi Chiya the Great, "A woman who has been captured and released cannot marry or become engaged until a period of three months has elapsed [in order to verify that she did not conceive from a gentile during her captivity]."

In a similar fashion, the Jewish people are also considered to have been captives, as it is written, "And they shall take as captives those whose captives they were,"(9) and they are considered to have been freed from captivity, as it is written, "I am the L-rd, your G-d Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from being their slaves."(10) G-d said, "I shall wait for them for a period of three months, then I shall give them the Torah."

G-d said, "I shall make of you a renewal and I shall renew you." To what is this comparable? To a king who had a son who came of age to be married. The king wished to find him a wife, but the son had only worn-out furnishings. The king said, "It is not honorable for my son to be married with worn-out furnishings, but if I wait until new ones be made, I shall cause the simchah of my son to be delayed." What did the king do? He brought blacksmiths and craftsmen, and they polished the brass utensils; he brought carpenters and they crafted the wooden utensils.

This is similar to when Israel left Egypt, and they had among them people who were blind, deaf and missing limbs. G-d said, "How can I give the Torah to this generation that has among them handicapped people? If I were to wait until they bear perfect children who would be fit to accept the Torah, I would be causing a delay in the simchah of the Torah." What did G-d do? He healed them and then gave them the Torah, and whoever was blind began to see; whoever was deaf began to hear, and whoever was missing limbs regained his limbs and became whole again.
(YALKUT 271, p. 166 at notemark 80)

Why was Yisro unable to see the giving of the Torah, although it was not his fault that he had not been enslaved in Egypt? Why must someone first suffer in order to be able to participate in the joy of the Torah? What did Moshe learn from the Pesach sacrifice, regarding which a gentile is mentioned, and how is this related to Yisro's desire to convert? What is the connection between a woman who has been held in captivity, who must not marry for three months to determine whether she is pregnant, and the freeing of the Jewish People from the Egyptians? Why did everyone need to be physically healthy and complete before they received the Torah? What can we learn from the parable of the king?

Suffering Comes Before Enjoyment

G-d said, "My sons were enslaved working with clay and bricks, and Yisro was sitting in his home in security and peace, and he came to witness the joy of the giving of the Torah, together with my sons?"
...When G-d came to give this mitzvah [of the Paschal lamb] to his children the Torah said, "Anyone who is gentile shall not eat from it." If so, when G-d wishes to give six hundred and thirteen mitzvos to Israel, shall Yisro be there to witness them?

Yisro was unable to experience the giving of the Torah, although he could not have been blamed for not having been enslaved in Egypt. The reason for this is that when a person suffers in darkness, he can truly appreciate light. When a person suffers from illness, he appreciates good health. Similarly, the difficult time the Jewish People spent in Egypt was necessary in order for them to be able to appreciate the Torah.

This was all part of the prophecy that Moshe had witnessed at the Burning Bush, where G-d told him that after being freed from the bondage of Egypt the Jews would receive the Torah on Mount Sinai, the very same mountain on which the Burning Bush stood.(11) Thus, someone who had not experienced the bondage in Egypt was not entitled to receive the Torah. Being a slave in Egypt was like a "ticket" to join in the Revelation, and Yisro did not have that ticket.

Why must someone first suffer in order to participate in the happiness of the Torah? The verse in Tehillim(12) tells us that acquiring Torah goes together with suffering. "Happy is the man whom G-d causes to suffer, for from His Torah is he taught." The only way to progress in Torah and spirituality is to leave the physical pleasures of the world behind and to completely immerse oneself in the spiritual essence of the Torah. Our Sages say, "Take notice of the children of the poor, for from them shall the Torah be spread."(13) This implies that the combination of wealth and Torah is something rare, since money generally distracts one from the self-sacrifice which Torah study demands of a person.

Although the mitzvah of the Pesach sacrifice is not parallel to all the mitzvos of the Torah in all its details, an important principle can be learned from the comparison. The Pesach sacrifice was a celebration of the Exodus from Egypt, and therefore the Torah warns us that a gentile cannot participate in that celebration, although he cannot be blamed for not having been in bondage. The same applies to the giving of the Torah, which has a direct connection to the bondage of Egypt, as seen through the prophecy of the Burning Bush.

Three Months' Waiting Period

A woman who has been captured and released cannot marry or become engaged until a period of three months has elapsed. In a similar fashion, the Jewish people are also considered to have been captives...

The idea behind the comparison between a woman who has been held in captivity who must wait three months to marry, and the liberation of the Jewish People from the Egyptians is that when the Nation was freed from slavery, the Jews were not able to achieve the level of holiness that the Torah demands of us. They needed a waiting period to give them time to cleanse themselves from the spiritual impurity of Egypt.

The comparison may suggest that just as the three months are necessary to determine whether or not a woman who had been a captive had become pregnant, so too during these months the Jewish people could search their souls and determine whether or not to accept the Torah. In a sense it was their decision, now that they were freed and no longer subject to any human rule. If they wished to accept G-d as their king they could do so. The three months were considered a transition period, during which they could decide where to place their affiliations.

Complete Beings to Receive the Torah

He [G-d] healed them and then gave them the Torah...

The reason everyone must be physically whole and healthy in order to receive the Torah is that Torah represents the completeness of a happy life. Someone devoted to the mitzvos of the Torah is guaranteed happiness.

Since the Torah represents completion and perfection, someone who was present at the Revelation of the Torah with some part of his body incomplete would be a gross contradiction. A complete person must receive the Torah which is the essence of completeness.

The idea represented by the parable of the king is that we are all sons of G-d and the giving of the Torah is the equivalent of our "marriage" to the Holy Presence. He wants us to be complete at the time of our "wedding," since He loves us so deeply. He does not want us to cause Him any embarrassment. Therefore it has been our task ever since to continue that which He has begun, to see to it that we remain complete in His service.

Bedtime Must be Kept

To be physically and emotionally complete, children need enough sleep. One of the most trying times of the day is bedtime. No matter what parents say or do, often children will not go to bed. The results will inevitably show, as the children will be tired the next day and will not be able to give their complete attention to their studies, or they will be ill-tempered and will behave badly.

To deal with this problem, parents must realize that often they are being self-contradictory in their efforts to put their children to sleep. On the one hand, they tell their children to go to sleep, and on the other hand they answer their children's questions, serve them food or drink, and converse with them. You must be careful to stick to your commands. When you say that you are finished with your children for the day, it means that no more food or drink will be served, and there will be no more conversation. You are giving mixed signals if you give in to your child's stalling tactics after you have ordered them to go to bed.

If they ask you something, you should reply, "After bedtime, I do not answer questions." No matter how much they pester you, you must be firm in your decision about what time is bedtime, and you cannot give in to their demands after that hour. If they say they are "dying of thirst," then they can always take water from the tap, for no one has ever died of thirst with tap water at his disposal. If they see you relent, they learn that you do not mean it when you say it is bedtime.

How to Enforce Bedtime

Bedtime must be enforced with no exceptions. Even if the child is hungry or has forgotten to do his homework, this cannot overrule the curfew of bedtime. The reason is that once the child learns that an excuse helps, then he will always find something "urgent" to do after bedtime. A parent must learn to put his foot down, and must not allow any excuse to become a loophole for a child to use in order to stay up.

Some parents try putting out the light, but that does not always work, since children can easily turn it on again. It is better to come to the child's bed, and tuck him in with a goodnight kiss and hug. That is far more effective in putting a child to sleep than forcing him to turn out the lights. When he has that kiss, he falls asleep with tranquility, since he feels your love and affection, and knows that he has your support.

Doing Chores at Home

A parent asked my advice about her sixteen-year-old daughter who did not do any chores around the house. Even on Fridays, when there is great pressure to finish everything before Shabbos, she would not lift a finger to help. The girl was also deteriorating spiritually, and had been caught wearing immodest clothing in the street. This was strictly forbidden by her school, and the mother knew that if the school found out her daughter would be expelled. The mother was in tears and did not know how to handle her child, since in spite of all her reprimands, her daughter continued in her rebellious ways.

I told the mother that she should not tolerate behavior such as not helping on Fridays. Her first response should be to show her displeasure by not reacting to her daughter until she would improve her conduct.

Thus, when she wished to tell the mother something or ask a question, the mother was to reply, "I am sorry but a girl who does not obey her mother is to me as if she is just not here, and I do not talk to someone who is not here." Every time her daughter would say something, she was to give that same reply, "I am sorry, but I do not talk to someone who behaves the way you do."

The daughter eventually gave in. The mother could then say, "If you wish to change your ways and start listening to me, then I can talk to you." If a child agrees to change with this approach, then the mother can say, "If you intend to join the family again, then do this-and-this chore to help out." Whether or not the child obeys these commands would be the test to see if she was serious or not. Once the child begins obeying her mother, then her immodest conduct can be discussed with her, and if she does not improve in this area, then once again she will receive the same treatment.

Mercy Can Seem Cruel

Such behavior may seem cruel, but the truth is that it is merciful. If the child were to continue in the path she had chosen, she would have continued to deteriorate to the point of no return. We must act now with "cruelty," which is actually mercy, before it is too late.

Our Sages say that someone who is merciful when he should be cruel will in the end be cruel when he should have mercy.(14) When it is necessary to be "cruel," this is the task that we must fulfill, no matter how unpleasant it is, since without that cruelty, the end will be very bitter. Such cruelty is in fact mercy, since it will save a person from much sorrow later on.

A child who strays is an emergency that warrants no delay. Strict measures must be taken to insure the child's obedience. "Mercy" in such a case is true cruelty, since that child is really crying out deep in his heart to feel the stern hand of his parents guiding him to the right path. We cannot let our children down.

1. Shemos 18:27
2. Ibid. 19:1
3. Mishlei 24:10
4. Shemos 18:27
5. Ibid. 19:1
6. Ibid. 12:43
7. Ibid. 18:27
8. Ibid. 19:1
9. Yeshayah 14:2
10. Vayikra 26:13
11. Shemos 3:12
12. Tehillim 94:12
13. Nedarim 81a
14. Yalkut 121

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