And if your brother shall become poor, and his hands shall fail, you shall support him: though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with you.
During the Second World War, there was a little girl in Jerusalem who was already two and a half years old and still unable to walk. Her younger sister was showing signs of starting to walk, while she herself made no progress whatsoever. The parents were very worried and took her to the best doctors, but were unable to find a remedy. One doctor was especially pessimistic and said, "When hair grows on the palm of my hand, this little girl will walk."
The great tzaddik, Rabbi Shlomo of Zehvil, lived in Jerusalem at that time and the girl's mother decided to go to the rabbi and implore him to pray for the child. As it was wartime, food was very scarce, and everything was rationed. Since it was customary for one to bring a gift to a chassidic rabbi when one came to see him, the mother did the same, despite her dire situation. In the market she bought some lentils, flour, and dried fruit and brought the food to the rabbi as a present. Then she begged him to bless her daughter with a complete recovery.
The rabbi heard her story and that she was a descendant of the famous Rabbi of Brezhen. But his response was, "I would like to help you, but there is nothing I can do."
When the mother heard this, she understood the severity of the situation, since even this great tzaddik was unable to abolish the decree in heaven against her daughter. She began to sob hysterically and did not stop imploring him to bless the child. "Yes, you can help me," cried the mother. "A tzaddik's prayers are always answered."
The rabbi thought for a while and then he said to her, "There is a known method of getting your prayers answered, and that is to go to the Kosel for forty consecutive days."
She answered, "Rebbe, how can I, a young woman with many small children, go forty days to the Kosel?" Her responsibilities to her family made it impossible for her to leave the house every day.
"But what can I do?" replied the rabbi.
"Go instead of me!" pleaded the mother.
The rabbi thought for a minute and said, "All right, I agree to go for you." With this he sent her home with a blessing.
When she came home she told her husband about her visit to the rabbi. Exactly on the fortieth day, when the child was sitting on a chair, and her younger sister was crawling near her on the floor, she suddenly started walking normally, just like any other child. From that day on she progressed like a normal child. She later grew up, got married, and had a large family.
The rabbi, despite his many responsibilities, traveled to the Kosel forty consecutive days to make the sad heart of a stranger happy. How much more so should we desire to make our own children happy and strive to find the right ways to accomplish this.
"A poor man and an afflicted man met."(1) In this verse, "A poor man" refers to someone without any property, while "an afflicted man" here refers to someone with moderate wealth.
Why is the wealthy man called "an afflicted man?" How can the verse compare the benefit reaped by the two men, as it is written, "G-d will enlighten both of them," when it seems clear that the wealthy man has profited much more by gaining entrance to the World to Come? Why in the end of the second story is the rich man punished by losing all his wealth? The poor man became rich as a consequence of the wealthy man's refusal to help; how is it clear that he deserved to receive this money? What does the wealthy man mean by saying that the poor man is fat? What does G-d mean when he says that the wealthy man puts an ayin hara on what the poor man was given? Why does the punishment of the rich man include that his son will also lose his wealth? What do our Sages mean when they say the wealth shall be lost at a bad time?
The poor man has gained something earthly, and the rich man has gained entrance to the World to Come.
Even when a person enjoys considerable wealth, he is still called "an afflicted man." The reason for this is that no matter how much wealth a person has, he is afflicted with a craving for more. Our Sages say, "He who has one hundred, wants two hundred."(5) Therefore, he is called "afflicted," since this describes his feelings. He is disappointed with what he has and finds himself constantly dissatisfied.
How can the verse compare the benefit reaped by the two men, as it is written, "G-d will enlighten both of them," when it seems clear that the wealthy man has profited much more by gaining entrance to the World to Come? The poor man gains more than it appears. Firstly, he gains the material things he so desperately requires. When he has hunger pains or shivers with cold, satisfying these needs is of the utmost importance to him. Secondly, the poor man enables the wealthy one to gain entrance to the World to Come, and therefore he will receive a sizable spiritual compensation. If he had not asked for a donation, the wealthy man would not have had the opportunity to give one. Therefore, even though in human eyes it seems that the wealthy man has performed a far greater mitzvah, the Torah teaches us that those who cause the mitzvah are no less important.
Not only did the rich man not give a donation, he even made fun of the poor man, saying, "...See how fat you are in your thighs, your feet, and your neck."
Why in the end of the second story is the rich man punished by losing all his wealth? A person's wealth is only given to him as a deposit entrusted to him by G-d. When he does with it as he is supposed to do, the wealth remains his. Our Sages say, "The salt of money is to give away part of it."(6) Just as meat spoils and is lost without some preservative such as salt, so too a person's wealth departs if he does not give away part of it to charity. By not using the preservative of money, tzedakah, the wealthy man risks losing all his wealth.
The poor man deserves to become rich simply because the wealthy man refused to help him. We learned above that a poor man is considered partially responsible for the rich man's actions because he came and asked him for money. If we apply this principle to the case where the donation is not given, then the poor man is in the same sense also responsible. Now he is an indirect cause of the rich man's loss of wealth. Since he is culpable, he is given the wealth as a test to see whether he can do any better. It is easy to despise a wealthy man for not giving, but when a poor man is put in his place, he will soon find that giving appropriate tzedakah is a great challenge.
What does the wealthy man mean by saying that the poor man is fat? Being fat is a physical sign of satiety and abundance according to the Torah, "You have become fat and have become thick. You have become covered with fat, and you have left G-d who created you."(7) This verse is a reprimand to the Jewish people. Instead of thanking G-d for the blessing of feeling satisfied and at ease, they leave Him and disobey. In the above midrash the wealthy man is saying to the poor man, "Although you have no money, at least you have the leisure which I lack. You have found a certain tranquility, whereas since I must constantly exert myself to become rich, I do not have that leisure." The drive for wealth can be all consuming, so one must guard against being robbed of peace of mind as a result of having too much money.
G-d says to the rich man, "Not only did you fail to give of your own wealth, but also on the part that I demand be given to the poor man, you have put an ayin hara."
What does G-d mean when he says that the wealthy man is giving an ayin hara to the very little that the poor man was given? Since the wealthy man does not receive satisfaction from his own wealth, he denigrates whatever little the poor man has, wishing to drag him down. His jealousy for the poor man's tranquility prevents him from giving with a warm heart.
When our Sages say that the rich man's wealth shall be lost at a bad time, they mean that just as the wealthy man is ready to buy something he greatly desires he will lose his wealth. This is a greater disappointment, since one sees his dreams shattered at the very moment they are about to be realized. Poor timing is part of the punishment. Not only will he suffer a depletion of wealth, but he will also lose it at the time when he most craves it.
Why does the punishment of the wealthy man include his son losing his wealth? Wealth in people's eyes is often equated with happiness. Part of the satisfaction of being rich is that a person believes he has done everything possible to insure the happiness of his children. Hence, one of the greatest disappointments a wealthy man can feel is to be unable to help his children financially. This pains him even more than simply becoming impoverished, and so this shows the severity of his punishment for not giving.
Just as the wealthy man wants his children to be happy, so does every parent. But how can we achieve this goal?
When a child is given everything he desires and is allowed to do whatever he wants, a parent might think that he is making his child happy. But in reality such a spoiled child will grow into a self-centered adult who cannot control himself. Only when parents create boundaries, which constructively restrain their children, can they hope to find happiness.
Insufficient care also increases the difficulties a child will face in trying to find happiness. Such a child will most likely also cause tremendous aggravation to his parents. Some parents think that they can busy themselves with their work, a hobby, or even learning Torah and thereby exempt themselves from caring for their children. This is a grave mistake.
A child is similar to a plant. Every plant needs attention: water, sunlight, weeding etc. Without the proper care, the plant will wither. The same is true for children. They need to feel that their parents care about them and are concerned for their well being. If they feel that their parents are too busy for them, even if objectively this is not true, then they will lack the love and support they need to develop properly. As a consequence, they may wither emotionally and spiritually.
A parent must take a constant interest in his child. How was his day at school? How is he getting along with his friends? What does his teacher say about him? The child needs to know that his parents care whether he succeeds or not. They must show joy when there is success and disappointment and sympathy at a time of failure.
When a child has the loving support of his parents, he will develop the desire to succeed. When they are indifferent to him, he has no reason to make an effort. While he may not yet comprehend that he can become happy by pursuing his studies, he does feel it is important what his parents think of him. As a result, it falls upon a child's parents to encourage him in this and other areas which in the long term will provide a source of happiness. If they do not guide him, he will assume that he can do whatever he wishes. This is a difficult attitude to correct as an adult and creates many problems.
Even teachers will show more interest in your child when you keep in contact with them. If you never bother to ask about your child, why should the teacher take special interest in him? When you show that you care, the teacher instinctively cares more about your child.
Some parents do not even bother to come to PTA meetings. They claim they are too busy. But nothing in the world is more important than the education of your children, and this effort is unlikely to be successful unless you fully participate.
A teacher cannot take the place of parents. Only parents can give their children the love and attention they need to grow to be successful mature adults. It is a grave mistake to think that sending a child to an excellent school takes away from the burden of being a parent. Teachers do not hug their pupils or sit and chat with them for hours. Their job is mainly to convey the information needed to be knowledgeable. They also try to instill manners and other quality traits, but the main responsibility of educating children belongs to parents.
When you attempt to transfer the responsibility to your children's teachers, then you are simply denying the truth and evading your own responsibility. Believing that teachers can take the parents' place is like walking blindfolded. Both parent and teacher are bound to stumble. Only through constant contact with the teachers can one expect his children to grow and become truly educated.
A parent should always cooperate with the child's teacher. When the teacher suggests that the child needs a tutor, then you must hire a tutor. When he says that you must help him with his homework, then you should do just that.
It is very dangerous to believe that you understand better than the teacher. The teacher has been trained to understand your child's problems and has the correct approach to the child's educational growth. Telling your child's teacher how to teach is almost always a mistake.
Be especially careful not to criticize the teacher to your children. When you do this, you are destroying with your own hands all of the teacher's influence. Praise the teachers in front of your children. Tell your wife in front of the children how fortunate we are to have such wonderful teachers. This will give your child the incentive necessary to learn from and respect his teacher.
After conversing with the teacher, tell your child what the teacher had to say. Do not repeat only the criticism, but also the praise. In truth, the praise is more important than the criticism, since it will encourage greater improvement.
When the teacher does have criticism, be careful to preface this with praise. This will put your child in a positive mood to listen and he will then be able to hear the criticism as well. Be careful to show your child how much the teacher cares for him and wants him to succeed. Doing this will help your child accept what the teacher has to give him.
Do not hide that you spoke with the teacher, since that is extremely important for your child to hear. He needs to know that you made the effort of finding out about his welfare.
Give your child the important incentive he needs by always showing that you care about his learning and his yiras shamayim. Your child will respond positively and you will both benefit.
1. Mishlei 29:13
I also will do this to you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and fever, that shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, and your enemies shall eat it.
Rabbi Elimelech was a great talmid chacham who lived in a small town in Eastern Europe. His life was dedicated to learning Torah, and he let nothing interfere with his learning. Despite his great diligence, he lacked a source of income and was extremely poor.
The time came for his daughter to marry. His wife and relatives approached him and said, "It is wonderful that you learn so much Torah, but it is your duty to marry off your daughter. You must find some way to obtain the money for her to marry!"
After much persuasion, he finally agreed to travel to a wealthy relative and ask him for financial help for his daughter. He ordered a wagon and packed his bags for the long journey. When everything was ready, he said goodbye to his family and kissed the mezuzah; yet he continued to linger there.
Fifteen minutes went by, and he was still standing by the mezuzah. His family and the wagon driver watched him, unable to understand what he was doing. Finally, he went back into the house, took off his coat, and sat down with his gemara, opening it to the page he had been learning.
His wife began to cry and said to him, "What are you doing? How much time have I spent convincing you to go to your relative, and now you kiss the mezuzah and return to your learning! What happened to you?"
"I will tell you what happened," answered Rabbi Elimelech. "The gemara says, 'When you are about to travel, ask the advice of G-d and go.'(1) So I kissed the mezuzah, which has G-d's name on it, and I asked G-d for His advice.
Then I suddenly thought, 'Here I am, about to travel to my relative, who may help me or he may not. How can I close the gemara and stop learning for something which is doubtful? But right here is my Father in Heaven, who will certainly help me. All I have to do is ask Him.'
"So I said to Him, 'G-d, You can help me without my having to travel.' I received the answer, 'Go back to your learning, and I will help you.'"
After a short while the minister of the town came to visit Rabbi Elimelech and said to him, "I have to make a long journey. In my possession are very valuable boots and other valuable articles that I received as an inheritance from my father. While I am away, I am afraid that my house will be robbed, so I have put all my valuables inside these boots and have brought them to you for safekeeping, since I know that you are completely trustworthy. Not only that, but if, G-d forbid, something happens to me and I do not return, I would like to give you all these articles as a gift, since I have no children, and I do not want anyone else to have these things."
The minister went on his way, and on the road he was attacked by armed robbers and killed. Thus all the valuables belonged to Rabbi Elimelech. He was now able to marry off his daughter, without having to travel, and he was also able to help many other poor families.
G-d helped Rabbi Elimelech in an extraordinary way so that he could help his child. We must also pray that G-d will enable us to help our children in spiritual as well as material ways.
"And you shall sow your seed in vain, and your enemies shall eat it."(2) If you sow and nothing grows, what are your enemies going to eat? The answer is that you will sow in the first year and nothing will grow, but the next year your seeds will bear fruit, but the enemy will come and eat what you have planted.
Why is it much worse when the enemy consumes our produce in a year of successful harvest which comes after a year when the harvest has failed? What is meant by saying your sons and daughters shall be lost through sin? Why does the king put all his energy into doing evil to us? Why is death worse from within when our enemies surround us? Why is it worse for wicked Jews to rule over us rather than gentiles?
...You will sow in the first year and nothing will grow, but the next year your seeds will bear fruit, but the enemy will come and eat what you have planted.
It is much worse when the enemy comes in a year of plentiful harvest, because the taste of success is much sweeter when it comes after a failure. It is appreciated much more, since the person who has experienced failure knows how sad it has been in the past and now happiness fills his heart. That is how the Torah portrays the curses we shall receive when we stray from the right path. We will forfeit the special happiness of success which comes after failure. The loss of the harvest is nothing compared to the loss of the happiness that comes with success after failure.
This is a lesson for us not to be disappointed when we fail at something. We must remember that our eventual success will be even sweeter, since it comes after failure.
[This] refers to one's sons and daughters, who will be lost through sin.
Why are we told that sons and daughters will be lost through sin? One of the worst trials in life is for a person to see his children stray from the right path and become absorbed in sin. This is a constant source of pain and sadness instead of the pride we hoped to feel in our children. This terrible anguish is included in the curses of the Torah delineated in this parashah.
Since our children's failure is forewarned here in the Torah, it is obvious that it is caused by our own sins, and their failure is our punishment. The Torah is telling us that their failure is avoidable. The first thing a person must do to ensure his children's success in adhering to Jewish values is to pray for them. The Torah is showing us how to ward off this terrible punishment by asking G-d for mercy.
In the very blessing we recite before learning Torah every day we find that our children's success is mentioned. "And shall we, and our children, all know His name." This is also mentioned in the prayers towards the end of the morning service, in Uva Letzion, when we say: "Let us not strive in vain, and let us not give birth to confusion."
In his sefer, the Ben Ish Chay related the story of a tzaddik who had died and came in a dream to a friend of his. The friend saw that he was suffering and asked him the reason for this. The tzaddik replied that he had once recited the words, "Let us not strive in vain, and let us not give birth to confusion" without the proper concentration, and therefore he was now being punished. This teaches us what a great responsibility we have towards our children to pray constantly that they will succeed in Torah and yiras shamayim.
"I am going to stop paying attention to all my activities, and I will put all my energy into doing evil to you."
The more energy a king uses to punish his servants, the harsher the punishments will be. He will devise additional punishments that he had not thought of before. That is the meaning of the midrash's parable, "And I shall turn my face towards you."(8) G-d will place his focus on punishing us and may appear to be terribly cruel when we deserve it.
The midrash explains the verse that "death shall kill you from within, while from without your enemies shall surround you" to mean that a person naturally runs away when disease is spreading and people are dying around him. He does not wish to stay in a perilous situation, for he fears that the disease might kill him just as it has killed so many others. Running away is his only chance to survive. But when enemies surround his city and there is no escape, the chance of death is much more certain. He feels like a cornered animal, since there is no way to avoid the fate that has befallen so many others.
It is much worse when a wicked Jew rules over us than a gentile, because a Jew knows our hidden secrets and we can keep nothing from him. He understands our mentality, and can anticipate our actions and all our plans. Thus there is no escape from his iron hand. A gentile, on the other hand, is a stranger and does not always understand everything about the Jews. Once again we see that the more severe punishment is the one in which we are trapped from within and from which there is no room for escape.
As we have discussed, there are ways we can prevent our children from being lost through sin. The most important way is to pray constantly that they will be successful in Torah. The Chayei Adam(9) writes, "It is correct and fitting for every person to pray every day especially for his needs and his sustenance, that the Torah shall not be removed from his children and his children's children, and that all of his descendants shall be true servants of G-d, and no one who has been disqualified (pasul) shall be among his descendants; and (he should pray for) all that he knows in his heart that he needs." It is clear from his words that our children should be our first priority when we pray.
But prayer alone is not enough. We must give our children the support they need to withstand the temptations that surround them. That support is given through love and affection.
A noted educator, Rabbi Yechiel Yaakovson, interviewed several boys who had strayed from the path of Torah. They had left home and were no longer observant. The rabbi said to them, "Please give me some advice. I do not want my children to give up their heritage as you have. Tell me what I can do to avoid this?"
The reply was, "Your children will never stray like we did. We have been in your home and we have seen how much you love your children, and how much time you have for them. Our parents do not love us and never had time for us, so we did whatever we wanted and not what they wanted us to do."
Obviously, the parents of these boys must have loved them. But they did not have the time or the common sense to demonstrate this to their sons. When a parent is constantly working or learning and not devoting time to his children, he is jeopardizing their spiritual survival. Children need to see clearly that their parents are interested in them and want them to succeed. They must understand that they have their parents' unconditional love. A hug and a kiss and words of approval are like bread and water to a child. He cannot live a normal life and be healthy in mind and spirit without them.
A couple once came to me and told me that they were having a serious problem with their ten-year-old son. They had discovered that he was a thief.
When I asked them to elaborate, they related that their son had gone with the family for a walk to the park, and said suddenly, "See what I have found next to this tree. A hundred-dollar bill!" The child then gave the money to his mother, and asked her to keep it for him until he decided what to buy with it.
The mother was unsuspecting, but not the father. When he heard the story, he went to the drawer where he kept his money and discovered that exactly one hundred dollars was missing. Now they knew for sure that their son was a thief, and they desperately sought my advice.
I told them that their son was not such an experienced thief, otherwise he would not have revealed at all to his parents that he knew about the money. Then I asked them to tell me more about their daily schedule. They told me that the mother works in a bank every day until three o'clock in the afternoon. When she comes home she is very busy with this son and three younger children, as well as having to prepare food and tidy up the house.
I said to the mother, "I think that I have found the real thief. It is not your son, but it is the time you are stealing from him, and the love and attention that he so desperately needs from you, due to your busy schedule. Since he does not find the warmth and love that he needs at home, he is looking for something to fill his life, and that is why he wants money to buy new and exciting toys. Give your son some individual attention every day, and he will not need the money or the toys." It was obvious from the mother's expression that she had discovered the solution to her problem.
Rabbi Yaakovson suggests that the best times to show your love to your children are:
1) Before they go to school, so they will have your loving support for the trials that await them in the outside world.
2) When they come home from school
3) As they are going to bed, so that they will fall asleep calm and relaxed.
This is a wonderful idea, since it spreads our love throughout the day. It is like davening three times a day, to be sure that we do not forget our connection to G-d. Here, too, we are reminding ourselves of our connection to our children.
These are times when our children need us the most. When the child is about to leave the house, he has the whole world to confront, which is frightening for a child. By being at his side at this crucial moment, we are giving him the encouragement he needs to be confident and successful.
When he comes home, he wants to tell us what has happened during the day. It is therefore extremely important for us to be there for him and to greet him and be ready to listen. Listening to him at these moments demonstrates that we care about his success and are interested in everything that goes on in his life.
And finally, tucking him into bed is the crucial moment before he falls asleep in the darkness of the night. This can be a frightening time for a child, and when he has the warmth and reassurance of his parents, he can fall asleep much more easily. He has a better chance of having sweet dreams if he gets a goodnight kiss from a loving parent.
Constantly pray for your children's success and give them all the support they need. The results will bear fruit and bring happiness to both parent and child.
1. Berachos 29a
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network