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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Vezos Habracha

Taking Control of Oneself

And he said, "The L-rd came from Sinai, and shone forth from Seir unto them; He appeared from Mount Paran, and He came from holy myriads. From His right hand He gave a fiery law unto them. (DEVARIM 33:2)

In Hameoros Hagedolim, the story is related of the reaction of Rabbi Nasan Tzvi Finkel, known as the sabba of Slobodka, when his son, Rabbi Moshe, died. This story illustrates how he contained himself in the days of chol hamoed, when it is forbidden to mourn.

On chol hamoed Sukkos, 5686 (1925), his son, Rabbi Moshe, a maggid shiur at the Yeshivah of Chevron died at an early age. Rabbi Moshe was famous as a tzaddik and a genius in Torah, and Rabbi Nasan Tzvi loved him very much. At the time Rabbi Nasan Tzvi was staying in Jerusalem in order to attend his son during his illness. When his son died, the students were hesitant to tell Rabbi Nasan Tzvi, and they called in Dr. Burstein, an alumnus of the Yeshivah of Slobodka and a talmid chacham who was very careful in the observance of all the mitzvos, to be near him, to prevent the tragic news from doing damage to his health.

Rabbi Nasan Tzvi suspected that something was wrong, and asked to be taken to the hospital to visit his son. When he saw that his students were evading him and were not bringing him to see his son, he understood what had happened. He asked to be given the volume of Shulchan Aruch that deals with the laws of Yom Tov, in order to ascertain how he should behave. His main question was whether he was allowed to cry on Yom Tov. Concerning Shabbos, the halachah is that if someone would have enjoyment from crying and this would lessen his sorrow, he was permitted to cry. But his question was whether this halachah also applied to Yom Tov, where, in addition to the obligation of "oneg" to enjoy the holiday, there was also the obligation of simchah; perhaps crying was entirely forbidden.

He was unable to determine what was the proper course of action, and so he turned to Dr. Burstein to ask him his opinion, whether medically and halachically he was allowed to cry. The doctor checked his pulse, and said it would be better if he did not cry. Rabbi Nasan Tzvi immediately became silent and did not say a word for a very long time.

When it was time for the funeral, he traveled to the hospital in a carriage with Dr. Burstein. In the middle of the trip, he broke down and cried for a moment, but immediately began moving his finger and then became silent again. When they were waiting for the funeral procession to leave the hospital, he sat in the grounds of the hospital, and received all the important rabbis of Jerusalem who came to pay their last respects. He received them all with a smile on his face as if nothing had happened. This became the talk of Jerusalem.

Even when Rabbi Nasan Tzvi returned to Chevron, he did not change his customary chol hamoed behavior, and he rejoiced in the holiday. When he saw that his elderly wife and his daughter-in-law could not hold back their sorrow and were very bitter over their loss, he sought various ways to comfort them and to remove their sorrow.

He read them what our Sages have written(1) about Rabbi Akiva when his son, Rabbi Shimon, died, and a big crowd came to his funeral. Rabbi Akiva stood on a chair in the cemetery and said to the crowd, "My Jewish brethren! Listen! Not that I am a wise man; there are people here wiser than I am. Not that I am a rich man; there are people here richer than I am. But I know that your reward is great and you came here in honor of the Torah and for the sake of a mitzvah. Even if I were burying seven sons I would be comforted, because I know that my son belongs to the World to Come, since he caused so many people to do mitzvos."

Rabbi Nasan Tzvi explained to his daughter-in-law that they were in the same situation as Rabbi Akiva, and they should take comfort in the fact that such a large crowd had come to Rabbi Moshe's funeral, which was proof that he was a great man who had caused many people to do mitzvos, and that he would gain the World to Come.

This illustrates the great modesty of Rabbi Nasan Tzvi Finkel, for he thought that everyone came only in honor of his deceased son, and not in his own honor.

Rabbi Nasan Tzvi utilized every opportunity to lessen his wife's sorrow. One of his close students became engaged during that chol hamo'ed and received a gold watch from his kallah. He brought the watch to Rabbi Nasan Tzvi Finkel to show him and to have him share in his happiness, as is customary. Rabbi Nasan Tzvi sent the student to his wife to show her the watch, saying that perhaps the watch would cheer her up and help her forget her mourning.

When Shemini Atzeres arrived and there was an air of sadness in the yeshivah, Rabbi Nasan Tzvi got up suddenly and began to sing "Boruch Elokenu," until he changed the mood and everyone became happy. This joyful atmosphere continued until twilight, although Rabbi Nasan Tzvi was constantly asking what time it was. When the time for the evening prayer arrived they prayed, and right after they recited havdalah he began to cry, and he continued shrieking with grief for two hours without a stop. No one could comfort him. During the seven days of mourning he was very sad. During the shivah he told one of his students that he wondered whether all the publicity his yeshivah received had caused his son's death. "When we were in Slobodka," he said, "there was no publicity and no one knew anything about us. But here everyone knows and the publicity is too great."

This incident revealed the great strength of Rabbi Nasan Tzvi Finkel, and showed how much he was able to control himself, despite his personal tragedy and great pain, and how much he was able to coordinate his responses to the halachah. These great character traits did not come to him easily; rather they were the product of a lifetime of working on himself. It is known that all his life he learned musar with much feeling and many tears, as if he were constantly criticizing himself. (MORESHET AVOT I, p. 110)

Rabbi Nasan Tzvi Finkel was an example of self-control. Even during his greatest trials he was in complete control of his actions and his emotions. We should be inspired by his example to train our children in self-control and self-discipline.

"And he said, the L-rd came from Sinai."(2) When G-d appeared to give the Torah to Israel, He did not appear only to Israel, but to all the nations of the world.

In the beginning, He went to the nation of Esav and asked them, "Are you willing to accept the Torah?"

They asked Him, "What is written in it?"

He told them, "You shall not kill."(3)

They said to Him, "Our whole essence is to kill. Our forefather [Esav] was a murderer, as it is written, 'And the hands are the hands of Esav.'(4) In fact this was his father Yaakov's promise to him, 'by your sword you shall live.'"(5)

G-d left them and went to the nations of Ammon and Moab, and asked them, "Are you willing to accept the Torah?"

They asked Him, "What is written in it?"

He told them, "You shall not commit adultery."(6)

They said to Him, "Our whole essence is ervah [forbidden relations], as it is written, "And the two daughters of Lot became pregnant from their father."(7)

He went and found the nation of Yishmael, and asked them, "Are you willing to accept the Torah?"

They asked Him, "What is written in it?"

He told them, "You shall not steal."(8)

They said to Him, "Our whole essence is robbery, as it is written, "And he [our forefather Yishmael] shall be a wild man and his hands shall be everywhere."(9)

There was not a nation among the nations that G-d did not approach to find out if they were willing to accept the Torah. This is implied in that which is written, "All the kings of the world shall praise You, since they have heard the words of Your mouth."(10) I might think that they heard and they accepted, therefore the verse says, "And you shall not fulfill them." Another verse says, "And I shall take revenge with anger and fury upon the nations that have not accepted."(11)

Even the sons of Noach, who had accepted upon themselves seven mitzvos, could not uphold them, and therefore they removed themselves from them and gave them to Israel.

This can be compared to the parable of a man who sent his donkey and his dog to the silo to bring home grain. At the silo they loaded the donkey with thirty seah (a volume of measurement), and the dog was loaded with three seah. The donkey was walking normally, but the dog was stumbling beneath his heavy load. They took off one seah from the dog and added it to the donkey's load. Seeing that it did not help, they removed another seah from the dog and gave it to the donkey, and when that also did not help, they removed the third seah and put it on the donkey. This is similar to Israel, who received the Torah with all its manifold details. And yet even those seven mitzvos that the sons of Noach had accepted, they could not bear, and so they removed them and gave them to Israel. Therefore the verse says, "G-d came from Sinai."(12) (YALKUT 951, par. "Vayomer" I)

How do our Sages derive from the verse that G-d went to all the nations to try to give them the Torah? How do we know that G-d first approached the nation of Esav? Why did G-d choose Esav as the first nation to whom to try to offer the Torah, and why were they chosen over all the other nations? Why did each nation ask what was written in the Torah before considering accepting it? Why did G-d give each nation the answer that seemed most difficult for it to accept?

How could Yitzchak promise his son that he would be a murderer? What is the proof that the whole essence of Ammon and Moav is forbidden relations? How could Avraham have cursed his son and said that he would be a robber? Why did G-d offer the Torah to all the nations of the world before He offered it to Israel? What is meant by saying that the sons of Noach "could not uphold them, and therefore they removed themselves from them and gave them to Israel"? What can we learn from the parable of the donkey and the dog?

G-d Offered the Torah to All

He [G-d] did not appear only to Israel, but to all the nations of the world.

Our Sages understand that G-d offered all the nations of the world the Torah from the verse which states that there is a direct connection between the giving of the Torah, and the nations of the world. That is why the verse says that G-d came from Sinai. This shows that He came with the intention of giving away the Torah, to offer it to the other nations of the world. Therefore the verse mentions Seir and Paran, which represent the nations of the world.

We know that G-d first approached the nation of Esav, because Esav is mentioned in the verse first, as it is written, "And He shined from Seir," which is a reference to Esav, who lived in the mountain of Seir, where he went after separating from Yaakov. Since Esav is mentioned first in the verse, our Sages concluded that he was the first to be offered the Torah.

Esav Could Have Chosen Torah

In the beginning, He went to the nation of Esav and asked them, "Are you willing to accept the Torah?"

Esav was chosen over all the other nations. The Torah describes Yaakov as "a simple person, sitting in tents."(13) This is a reference to the tent of Torah, as Rashi explains. Thus our forefather who had the closest connection to the Torah was Yaakov. Esav, being his twin brother, had the opportunity to see firsthand what Torah was, and was well-aquainted with it. It was natural for G-d to have offered the Torah to someone who was familiar with it and could appreciate it, rather than to others who were unacquainted with it. This may be the reason Esav was offered the Torah before the other nations.

The Jewish nation accepted the Torah unconditionally, as the verse says, "We shall do, and then we shall hear."(14) The other nations were not willing to accept the Torah's will over their own, therefore they first wanted to find out if the Torah would be comfortable for them, and if they could accept it without too much inconvenience on their part.

The Torah Wants Us to Bend Our Will

They asked Him, "What is written in it?"
He told them, "You shall not kill."
"What is written in it?"
"You shall not commit adultery."

G-d gave each nation the answer that seemed most difficult for it to accept, because He wanted to impress upon them that the whole essence of the Torah is to submit one's will to the Torah's will. By presenting each nation with its own greatest challenge, G-d could see clearly whether they were willing to submit their wills for the sake of the Torah. There is no half-or partial acceptance of the Torah, and since they did not wish to accept those things that were difficult for them, they could not receive a watered-down or easier version of the Torah.

Everyone has free will, and Yitzchak saw that Esav was entirely focused on using violence as a way of life. Since this was his choice, Yitzchak blessed him accordingly, since our Sages say that a person is led along the path which he himself chooses.(15)

The nations of Ammon and Moav were born of a forbidden relationship, that of Lot and his daughters. This means that forbidden relations were part of their basic makeup. They could not accept the Torah, which teaches that a person must control himself and not act like an animal, lacking any self-control.

As Yitzchak felt regarding Esav, Avraham in a similar fashion understood that robbery was an essential part of Yishmael's character. Thus we can also apply to him the rule that a person is led along the path which he himself chooses.

We Must Work On Our Weaknesses

...Similar to Israel, who received the Torah with all its manifold details. And yet even those seven mitzvos that the sons of Noach had accepted, they could not bear, and so they removed them and gave them to Israel.

The reason G-d offered the Torah to all the nations of the world before He offered it to Israel is that G-d wanted us to realize that we must accept the Torah unconditionally. If a person has a certain weakness, he should not say that he will accept all of the Torah except for whatever applies to that aspect of his behavior, but rather he must work on that weakness until he conquers it. He should not say, "That is just the way I am. I can't do anything about it." If he does this, he is identifying with the nations of the world, who would have accepted part of the Torah, but not the whole of it. When G-d finally offered the Torah to us, it was on the condition that we must become a "special nation," different from all the other nations of the world.

The seven mitzvos of the sons of Noach are basic principles, such as not to steal, not to commit adultery, etc. But accepting even such principles would have meant that the sons of Noach had accepted upon themselves the yoke of heaven, and that was something they were not willing to do. They did not want any limitations, but wished to do whatever their hearts desired.

The parable of the donkey and the dog shows us how the dog was loaded only with a light load, according to its capability, whereas the donkey, with its greater strength, was given a much heavier load. The loaders at the silo knew that the dog was capable of carrying the load given to him, but the dog itself was unwilling and wished to avoid its responsibility. This is exactly what had happened with the nations of the world. They were given only seven mitzvos instead of 613. But even such a "light" load they refused to accept, since they did not want to have any yoke at all.

Accepting a Yoke

Just as the nations of the world did not want to accept even the seven mitzvos, neither does a child by his nature want to accept his parents' authority. He does not want to feel a yoke, but would rather roam freely, without anyone interfering with his freedom.

Freedom, however, can be a dangerous thing. Parents may be tolerant, but a boss is not; a teacher is not; and the public is not. When someone has never learned how to behave, he is bound to suffer in one way or another.

Every child must learn at an early age that he cannot do whatever he wants, since no one has unlimited freedom. He is limited to what his parents allow. The limitations that his parents set for him are really a gift in disguise. In his mind he may feel as if he is in prison, and he may be angry that he cannot have everything he wants, but in reality he is receiving one of the most important gifts in his life, the ability to control himself.

Holding Back the Stick

Shlomo Hamelech wrote "He who holds back his stick hates his son, while he who loves his son admonishes him constantly."(16) Rabbi Meir Munk asks an interesting question on this verse. The verse begins by saying that he who hates his son holds back his stick. If so, one who loves his son should be the one who does not hold back his stick and strikes his son. But the verse ends with admonishing, and does not mention striking him at all.

Therefore, Rabbi Munk says that the idea is that the stick should be ready in your hands, but only as a last resort should you use it. Instead you should admonish him in words and show him how much it hurts you when he does not behave. The best stick is the expression on your face when you admonish him. Show him his mistake by the disappointment his actions make you feel.

When parents are willing to forgive everything in their children without reprimanding, it is a green light for the child to do whatever he wants. He knows that he will not have to pay for his actions. This is the worst message that we can give our children. They must learn that parents care if they make mistakes, not because parents enjoy punishing them, but because they want children who are responsible for their actions and are not like wild animals that do whatever they wish.

Do Not Be Too Strict

On the other hand, parents must be careful not to be overly strict. Some parents demand an accounting for every minute their child is out of the house, or for every penny he spends. If a child feels that he is always limited and has no freedom at all, he is bound to rebel. He feels suffocated when he cannot move without having to account for himself.

So much limitation is even more dangerous than freedom. When a child has freedom he will eventually learn from his mistakes, but when he is constantly under supervision and is always being scrutinized, he will build up a hatred towards his parents, with very serious consequences.

No child can be constantly supervised. Somewhere a crack will open, and then he will have a tremendous yetzer to engage in irresponsible actions because of the will to lash back at those who have been so harsh with him. We must show our children that we trust them. In this way they will be ashamed to act wrongly when they do have freedom.

The more you show your child that you trust him, the more you will be arousing within him the will to be faithful to your trust. He knows that you are depending on him and that you believe in him, and thus it will be very hard for him to betray such trust. On the other hand, if you do not show any trust in him, he will not believe in himself and will have no incentive to do the right thing.

Let Your Child Err a Little

If you have a substantial reason to distrust your child in a certain matter, trust him in other matters where he cannot err too much. This way he will become accustomed to the trust that you are giving him and will slowly learn how to function with his new freedom. But always give him some freedom so that he can learn what to do with it. If you do not give him freedom, he will take it on his own, and this could be disastrous.

An actual example of this may be seen in the response of one girl who was sent by her parents to study in a teachers' seminary away from home. She was not allowed out of the building and her freedom was greatly limited. When she was finally able to get out, she ran back home to her parents and never returned to the seminary. Eventually she left the religious world altogether.

This incident demonstrates what can result when a child is forced to live with too much limitation. Not everyone will behave in such a manner, but we must be careful not to make the child feel imprisoned.

It is our task to find the golden path between the two extremes. On one hand, we need to give a child the feeling of freedom. On the other hand, we must limit that freedom, so that the child will know that he is responsible for his actions. The middle path leads to a well-educated and well-functioning human being.

1. Semachos, ch.8
2. Devarim 33:2
3. Shemos 20:13
4. Bereshis 27:22
5. Ibid., 27:40
6. Shemos 20:13
7. Bereshis 19:36
8. Shemos 20:13
9. Bereshis 16:12
10 Tehillim 138:4
11. Michah 5:14
12. Devarim 33:2
13. Bereshis 25:27
14. Shemos 24:7
15. Makkos 10b
16. Mishlei 13:24

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