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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler

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Parshas Ki Sisa


No Grudges, Please!

And the L-rd passed before him, and proclaimed, The L-rd the L-rd, G-d, an eternal Being, the omnipotent G-d, merciful and gracious, Who withholds anger and has abundant loving kindness and truth.
(SHEMOS 34:6)

In the sefer Lekach Tov, the following story is related by Rabbi Aharon Sorosky. Rabbi Shimon, the Rav of Zichlin, who died in the year 5607, used to sit in the beis midrash day and night from Sunday through Friday. Many would come to the beis midrash to ask him for halachic advice. Towards Shabbos, he would return home. He handled any city affairs which didn't have halachic ramifications only on motz'ei Shabbos.

Once the Rebbetzin went to the market on a weekday to purchase food for her household. She had very little money but she had her eyes set on a large, splendid fish which she wanted for Shabbos. However, the wife of the gevir of the town outbid her and purchased the fish instead. The two women argued and the wife of the gevir insulted the Rebbetzin, using a very offensive term. When people heard what had happened, word spread throughout the town that the wife of the gevir had offended the honor of the Torah, for the wife of a talmid chacham is equal to a talmid chacham.(1) Everyone was very upset. On Shabbos night, when Rabbi Shimon returned home from shul, he was surprised to find that his wife was not sitting in her usual place at the set table, but rather sat in the corner before a small table. He asked her, "What is happening here?"

She replied, "Since I'm unworthy of being a Rebbetzin and sitting at the Rav's table, I have set my own table."

He asked her, "Why are you unworthy of being a Rebbetzin?"

She replied: "Because the wife of the gevir calls me..." and she told her husband of the entire incident.

The Rav was disturbed and asked, "This is the way she insulted you, and the people were quiet? Where is the respect for the Torah? What did the leaders of the congregation say?"

She answered and told him: "The people were shaken by the incident, and the leaders of the congregation wished to fine her, but their hands were tied because you decreed that they shouldn't take any significant action without your consent, and it is impossible to request your consent before motz'ei Shabbos."

The Rav was quiet and began reciting tikkunei Shabbos. Before the meal the Rav appeased the Rebbetzin and convinced her to sit at her regular place at the Shabbos table. When he was about to say Kiddush and had taken the cup of wine in his hand, before he started the berachah, he was struck by an idea and asked her, "When did this incident happen?"

She replied, "On Tuesday."

Rabbi Shimon became excited, put down the cup and cried out in amazement, "And since Tuesday you have carried a grudge in your heart against a Jewish woman and you have not yet forgiven her?"

The Rebbetzin was disturbed to hear her husband's complaint and said without hesitation, "I forgive her."

The Rav commented to his wife: "That isn't enough. A Jew who has had a grudge borne against him from Tuesday to Shabbos must be appeased. Let's go and appease her right now."

This pained the Rebbetzin. Wasn't it enough that she forgave the wife of the gevir, who had caused her such shame and humiliation? Must she also go to her house and appease her? But the words of the Rav were holy to her and so she complied.

Immediately the Rav wrapped himself in his fur, and the Rebbetzin in her coat and they left to go to the gevir's house in the dark of the night, with the cup of wine still standing full on the table.

When they knocked on the door of the gevir's house, the question was asked from inside: "Who are you?" The Rav identified himself and the gevir and his wife understood immediately that he had come about that terrible incident which had occurred between the gevir's wife and the Rebbetzin. The members of the gevir's household became filled with fear and trembling. They opened the door and the gevir fell to his feet with tears in his eyes, begging that he forgive them as their sin was unbearable.

The Rav wept and called to them, "You have to ask us for forgiveness? Didn't we come to ask forgiveness from you, on account of the grudge that was borne in the Rebbetzin's heart toward the lady of the house since this past Tuesday?"

When they heard this, they were amazed and said, "Since when do you have to ask forgiveness from us? Weren't we the ones who offended the kavod of the Torah? We have sinned, not you."

The Rav and his wife were crying and so were the gevir and his household. Each was trying to appease the other, until the voices calling to each other were combined with the words, "Everything is forgiven you!" Then everyone's hearts were united. Only then was Rabbi Shimon's mind set at ease and he and the Rebbetzin returned home to their table to say Kiddush.
(MORESHET AVOT III p. 106)

Rabbi Shimon did not want his wife to hold a grudge against anyone, even against a neighbor who had wronged her. How much more does this apply to our own children.

"And the L-rd passed before him [Moshe]."(2) Rabbi Yochanan said, "Without the explicit verse, we could not have said such a thing on our own. The verse teaches us that G-d put on a tallis, as if He were a chazzan who leads the prayers in the synagogue, and He showed Moshe how to pray. G-d said, 'Every time the Jewish nation sins against Me, they should pray in the way I am showing you, and then I shall forgive them.'"

G-d said, "If I would remember each person's previous sins, the world would not be able to exist. I must forgive the previous ones." And so we find in the Torah, Moshe stood up and prayed and caused all their sins to be forgiven, as it is written, "And the L-rd passed before him."(3) Do not read "the L-rd passed," but rather, "the L-rd caused to pass." [In Hebrew the same word can take on a different meaning through a change of vowels.] So it is also written, "Who is similar to You, G-d, Who forgives transgressions and passes over sins?"(4)

"The L-rd, the L-rd,"(5) The repetition of G-d's name teaches us that G-d says, "I am the L-rd before a person sins and I am the L-rd after a person sins and repents."

Rabbi Yehudah said, "A covenant is assured to those who recite the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy mentioned in these verses, that they do not go unheeded, as it is written, "Behold, I make a covenant."(6)

"Withholds anger, and has abundant loving kindness."(7) G-d leans towards chesed. How does He do this? Rabbi Eliezer says, "He suppresses, as it is written, 'He shall return and have mercy upon us and will suppress our sins.'"(8)

Rabbi Yosi bar Chanina said, "G-d bears the sins, as it is written, 'He bears sin.'"(9)

Rava said, "Someone who is willing to forgive all those who cause him aggravation will have all his sins forgiven, as it is written, "He bears sin." For whom does he bear the sin? For the person who fulfills the end of the verse, which is, "forgives sin."
(YALKUT 398, par. "Vaya'avor," Rosh Hashanah 17a)

What is meant by G-d putting on a tallis? Why did G-d have to give Moshe a demonstration when it would seem that an explanation could have sufficed? What is so special about these prayers, that G-d always forgives us when we say them? Why could the world not exist if G-d would regard a man's previous sins? What do our Sages mean when they say that G-d said, "I am the L-rd before a person sins and I am the L-rd after a person sins and repents?" Is it not obvious that G-d does not change as a result of a person's sins? Why is a covenant necessary to ensure that the recitation of the Thirteen Attributes does not go unheeded? What is meant by "G-d leans towards chesed?" What is meant by, "G-d suppresses sin" and, "G-d bears sins?" Why is someone who is willing to forgive all those who cause him aggravation worthy of having all his sins forgiven?

G-d Put On a Tallis

The verse teaches us that G-d put on a tallis...

All descriptions of G-d are allegories to help us understand what G-d wants of us. When our Sages tell us that G-d puts on a tallis, this indicates to us that the chazzan should put on a tallis before he prays that our sins should be forgiven.

The idea behind the tallis is to show the seriousness of prayer. One who does something in a casual manner really does not care about the results. The consequences have no importance for him, and thus he does not bother to dress well. Our Sages are teaching us that such an attitude is wrong when praying for forgiveness. We must dress carefully and properly, so that we will realize the great significance of our prayers.

We find in several places that G-d gave demonstrations instead of explanations. For instance, when He wished to tell Moshe which animals were kosher, G-d showed him many different animals.(10) A demonstration makes the point much clearer and leaves no room for doubt. When it comes to matters that are so crucial, G-d uses a demonstration to emphasize the importance of the matter.

The Prayer that Brings Forgiveness

G-d said, "Every time the Jewish nation sins against Me, they should pray in the way I am showing you, and then I shall forgive them."
The repetition of G-d's name teaches us that G-d says, "I am the L-rd before a person sins and I am the L-rd after a person sins and repents."

When we say this prayer, our forgiveness is close at hand, since G-d does not hesitate to grant it. We need only turn to Him with sincerity, and our pardon will be granted. The more we realize this principle and let it penetrate our hearts, the closer we come to forgiveness. When we see how easy it is to gain forgiveness, we will not delay but will seize the opportunity to do what is required of us in order to be forgiven. All human beings are likely to err. But erring against G-d's will is a very severe sin. It is comparable to deliberately disobeying a king's command. Disobeying a king warrants capital punishment, as our Sages tell us.11 We have no option but to rely on G-d's leniency, which comes about when we repent, and then G-d considers it as if we never committed the sin. Without this leniency, the world could not exist, since we would be trapped by our own sins.

When our Sages tell us that G-d said, "I am the L-rd before a person sins and I am the L-rd after a person sins and repents" they mean that when a person sins, he might think he has in some way harmed G-d. In reality though, we are only harming ourselves and are not affecting G-d in any way whatsoever when we sin. It is important for us to know that repentance is not for G-d's sake but rather for our own. It is human nature that a person who does something for someone else is sometimes lazy, but when he himself benefits, he makes a greater effort. Our Sages teach that repentance is entirely for our own benefit, and thus we must hasten to take advantage of every opportunity to repent.

Our Sins Do Not Affect G-d

A covenant is assured to those who recite the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy mentioned in these verses, that they do not go unheeded...
G-d leans towards chesed.
"He... will suppress our sins."

Our Sages never suggested the possibility that G-d might change when a person sins; rather they were discouraging the idea that you are doing G-d a favor when you repent. The truth is, when we repent, we do good only to ourselves.

Reciting the Thirteen Attributes does not go unheeded. The convenant that our Sages mention demonstrates the effectiveness of saying them, for it is guaranteed that G-d forgives us when He hears us saying them, therefore every person must utilize them to ensure His forgiveness. We have such a powerful and effective tool to help us repent, that if we do not use it, we have only ourselves to blame.

What is meant by G-d leaning towards chesed is that in whatever situation He can have mercy on us, G-d is lenient and kind. This is because His purpose in creating the world was to be able to show His kindness to us. Whenever He has an opportunity to demonstrate this, He does so gladly.

What is meant by G-d suppressing sin is that although common sense seems to dictate that each sin must be accounted for and a person must pay the price of transgressing His will, nevertheless G-d does not always act in this way. Although according to the laws of nature, there is no such thing as suppressing sin, yet G-d goes beyond nature to show mercy towards us.

G-d Bears Sins

G-d bears the sins...
Someone who is willing to forgive all those who cause him aggravation will have all his sins forgiven...

What is meant by the statement that G-d "bears sins?" One's sins are like a boomerang. We might expect them to come back and do us harm, but this is prevented by G-d's intervention in not allowing our sins to harm us.

Someone who is willing to forgive those who cause him aggravation will have his own sins forgiven because G-d always repays us measure for measure, "midda keneged midda." This means that we are repaid in the same way in which we have behaved. Thus, when someone is willing to forgive a person who has caused him aggravation, he is rewarded by being himself forgiven by G-d for what he has done wrong.

Be Tolerant but Firm

Forgiving our children's mistakes is an essential part of parenting. If we hold a grudge against them, they will not want to listen to us, since they will feel that we are not being fair.

There is a saying, "Let bygones be bygones." This applies beautifully to your children's actions. Why bring up past mistakes when they only cause bad feelings and bring no benefit? Rather show your child understanding and love.

A mother once called me to express concern because her daughter was socializing with a group of gentile boys. She shouted at her daughter, but her daughter just shouted back. The mother must tell her daughter that although she may be having a good time with her gentile friends, the damage that can come from such friendships could have negative effects for the rest of her life.

Shouting and screaming at your children does no good. You must be firm in expressing your wishes, but always speak in a reasonable tone which your children can understand. When you scream, your children think you are not rational, and they feel they do not have to obey someone who is out of control. On the other hand, when you tell them what to do in a firm voice and give a reasonable explanation, then your words can have the proper effect.

You Don't Have to Explain Yourself

Explanations to your children are rarely necessary. If your child asks you why he has to tidy up his room, you should not start explaining to him the virtues of cleanliness. A child understands why his room must be clean. His question is an attempt to evade responsibility. In such a case your answer should be, "Because I said so." This will tell him that you will not accept futile arguments, and what you say must be obeyed.

However, something of crucial importance, like the reason one should not have gentile friends, must be explained carefully. Here a parental order might not be enough, since there might be powerful feelings involved and your child might feel a strong attraction to this friendship. In such a case, you must give a rational explanation of the harm such a relationship can bring. If you are unable to explain this calmly and rationally, then enlist the help of a friend or a professional.

Always Know Where Your Children Are

Never take it for granted that your child is protected. Always inquire about the characters of your children's friends and where your children are spending their time. It is dangerous to be naive concerning children, since the results can be catastrophic, and if you do not deal with budding problems at an early stage, it may be too late to repair the damage.

Recently, two girls from strictly religious homes in Jerusalem notified their parents that they no longer wished to be religious. It was then revealed that for a long time they had been tricking their parents, and when they had told them they were going to do homework, they had really been going out with non-religious boys, who eventually influenced them to the point of no return.

The parents had been too busy to investigate what their children were doing. Failing to properly supervise children creates a double problem. First, it allows the children to do whatever they wish. Secondly, the child gets the feeling that his parents do not care about him, and so he feels he does not have to respect their wishes.

A parent who always asks his child where is he going and when he intends to be back is giving his child the message that he cares and that the child must account for his actions. When your child comes home, ask him to tell you about what he did. Do this in a casual way, so that he will not feel that he is being interrogated. The child will soon learn that he has to account for his time and his actions, and that he cannot do whatever he likes.

When Your Child is Caught Red-Handed

If you do catch your child doing something wrong, explain in clear terms what his mistake was, and what damage can arise from it. Be careful not to lose your temper, no matter what your child has done. A child cannot hear you when your words are spoken out of anger, and they will not have the proper effect.

After a child has received a punishment you should show him the same affection as you did in the past. Do not let your children's mistakes create a barrier between them and you. Whatever they do wrong, they are your children and need your love and affection. If you distance them from you, you will lose the opportunity to influence them and bring them back to the fold. When they misbehave, show them your disappointment and how much they are hurting you and themselves with their actions, but do not excommunicate them. Such an attitude will give them the feeling that you do not care what they do, and that will allow them to stray further and further in the wrong direction.

When parents are tolerant but firm in their commands, the child will feel that his parents are in control. He will have the desire to listen and obey such strong and understanding parents.

1. Shavuos 30b
2. Shemos 34:6
3. Ibid.
4. Michah 7:18
5. Shemos 34:6
6. Ibid., 34:10
7. Ibid., 34:6
8. Michah 7:19
9. Ibid. 7:18
10. see Rashi on Vayikra 11:2
11. Bereshis Rabbah 94:9

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