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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Vayechi

Lokshen, Farfel and Dan

(Adapted from an article in the Jewish Observer, Nissan 5766 by Rabbi Yisrael Greenwald, of the Kollel Bais Hatalmud, Melbourne, Australia.)

And the sons of Dan: Chushim. (Bereishis 46:23)

In his youth, Rabbi Raphael Halpern would occasionally accompany the Chazon Ish on his evening walks alongside the Heligman orchard in Zichron Meir. On one of these walks, the Chazon Ish turned to him and said:

"Soup can have either lokshen (noodles), or farfel. If you pick up lokshen with your spoon, half remains in the spoon, and the other half hangs over its edge. You have no idea whether the lokshen will remain in your spoon or slip back into the soup bowl. If however, you take farfel in your spoon, whatever you take remains there. Nothing will fall, nor will anything be added.

"The same is true with man's powers. There is a man whose powers are like farfel - namely, he has certain limitations. What he has is what there is, and one cannot expect more from him. There are no surprises or great changes with him. And then there are people who are like lokshen - namely, who have great powers, but one does not know how these will be used - for good or for bad, whether they will remain or fall - just like lokshen, which may remain in the spoon or fall out.

"You, Raphael'ke, have immense powers and unusual qualities. If you use them properly, you can achieve great things, and if you do not use them properly, Heaven will hold you accountable for not having utilized your great powers." (Twenty Years Beside the Chazon Ish, p. 195)

Among these "lokshen" children, there some who fall into a difficult category. Just as we have some people who are anshei eshkolos - loaded with clusters of strengths and qualities - there are others who appear the exact opposite, a package of problems and inadequacies. These are children who, for example, are impulsive, easily distracted, and may also have a strong tendency toward bad behavior and a natural aversion to authority figures. Naturally, fitting into a traditional school setting may not be among their strongest points. To further complicate matters, these kids may also have poor social skills, and be shunned by their peers as being "out of sync," "in your face," or "weird." If that weren't enough, these kids also tend to have a higher rate of learning disabilities, speech impediments, organizational and audio-processing difficulties, or poor motor coordination, which further isolates them academically as well as socially.

Certainly, the free will of these morally challenged kids is highly circumvented as a result of their deficient personality makeup, which should be viewed more as a medical condition than moral weakness. Still, the constant attention needed to properly guide such children requires enormous emotional resources, which at times can drain even the most well-meaning parents and teachers. And even after all that superhuman effort, they may still fall short of attaining the level of the majority of kids who thrive and grow with relatively little special attention.

Appreciating the "Dan" Child

Perhaps we can find a paradigm of children with a strong negative streak by the careful study of Yaakov Avinu's children. The personality traits of the twelve tribes encompassed a wide gamut of human emotion and endeavor, from the king to the farmer, from the scholar to the seafaring merchant. While all twelve occupied a supernal level of spirituality, one child, relatively speaking, could be termed in some sense "of lesser stature" - Dan. Yaakov compared him to a snake, the arch symbol of the evil inclination. The Tribe of Dan not only traveled in the desert behind everyone else, but were even expelled from the protective clouds of glory due to their spiritual failings. Furthermore, the Midrash Shocher Tov comments that the verse, "Lest there be a family or tribe whose heart turns astray from Hashem," refers specifically to the Tribe of Dan. No wonder the Tribe of Dan was called "ירוד שבשבטים - the lowliest of the tribes."

Dan's only offspring, Chushim, seemed to bear out the difficult struggles that lay in store of their future progeny. Not only was he deaf, but he also possessed other striking physical deformities. According to some commentators, physical blemishes in primal figures are the manifestation of spiritual deficiencies. With so much going against him, the future of the lesser tribe appeared to show little hope and promise.

The Chofetz Chaim would often quote the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 94:9) that relates how broken and dejected Dan felt when he came before his father for a blessing, bringing his single, handicapped son. By contrast, all his brothers brought their large families of healthy, robust children. The Midrash demonstrates how limited and faulty human vision can be. We have no idea what Hashem has in store for the future: "Binyamin, who came before Yaakov with his ten lads, was blessed with 40,000 [descendants in the desert]. Dan, who had only one child, ended up with 70,000."

Dan's miraculous growth and recovery was not only in numbers, but was paralleled in the spiritual dimension, as well. The Torah records that Yaakov's family entered Egypt with seventy members. Commentators point out that if you tally all the names, you will have a total of only sixty-nine. The Kabbalists present a fascinating answer.

The verse records U'venei Dan Chushim - "The sons of Dan [is] Chushim." The grammar seems incorrect. "U'venei" is a plural expression; Dan had but one child. The Kabbalists answer: "Chushim was so distinguished that he counted as two children" and thus brought the total to seventy souls. (Rama Mi'panu, Mei'a Kesita 76). Dan's spiritual weakness was in fact his greatest strength. His affinity for evil put him in the most suitable position for conquering it. It was specifically Chushim who succeeded in decapitating Eisav when he attempted to prevent Yaakov's sons from burying their father in Me'aras Hamachpeila. Another Midrash relates that when Yehudah "roared" when he pleaded his case before the viceroy of Egypt, Dan's son Chushim joined him in his cry. Together, their combined outcry toppled two Egyptian cities.

Of all Yaakov's sons, Dan received a most unique blessing: "For your salvation do I hope, Hashem." It appears that the entire destiny of the Jewish people hinged particularly on the success of Dan's mission. (The Rama Mi'panu points out that Chushim is spelled in the Torah without the letter Vav, thus comprising the letters of Moshiach.) Why, among all of Yaakov's children, was the lowly Dan the one upon whom Yaakov especially placed all his hope? Before Yitzchak blessed Yaakov, he first wanted to know how his children would look. The Midrash says that Yitzchak had a vision of two horribly wicked men, both of whom betrayed their people during the time of the Second Beis Hamikdash. But in their final moments, both men gave up their lives in dramatic acts of repentance. Yitzchak then felt assured of the future of the Jewish people, and gave his blessing to Yaakov.

Rav Mendel Kaplan, zt"l, asked: The Jewish people surely did not lack for pious individuals in every generation. Couldn't Yitzchak have found more noble tzaddikim in whose merit Yaakov would be worthy of blessing?

Reb Mendel answered, "If I want to buy a new car, I wouldn't care so much how it looks in the showroom. I would want to see what happens to it after a crash. If it still looks like a car, then it is for me. Before Yitzchak blessed Yaakov, he wanted to know how his children would look - not when they were being righteous, but how they would hold out after a crash. When Yitzchak saw how even the traitors among the Jews demonstrated spiritual greatness, he knew he could give Yaakov his blessings."

Dan represents the lowest spiritual stratum of our people. People of such standing, however, with their capacity to rise above their apparent limitations, are the only true gauge of our success as a nation and the assurance of our future.

Unconditional Love

As Hashem has given us a perfect soul, we naturally gravitate toward all forms of perfection. We appreciate the beauty of music and nature, and even more, our souls feel a kinship when encountering spiritual perfection. It is therefore not hard for us to love the good kids, who excel in school and have wonderful middos. Our other child's pure soul is not as readily apparent, as it is often masked by negative behavior. Even if we were to intellectually accept that his mode of conduct is no fault of his own, but due to a chemical imbalance or neurological mis wiring, there still is a natural tendency to repel, disdain, and even dislike the young person himself. It is therefore no surprise that many gedolim, as well as professionals involved in the field of children at risk, feel that the single most important contribution in helping these young people is to give them our constant, full measure of unconditional love.

In the poignant words of Rabbi S. R. Hirsch:

The [lesser loved] child may really be less intellectually gifted, so that he is slow to grasp things, does not readily understand, cannot keep pace at school, and even at home the parents cannot do very much with him. Or - and this would be even more painful - it may be a child endowed with a character and disposition that bode ill for his future behavior. At an early age he shows a tendency to depart from the path of truth, honesty, uprightness, modesty, temperance, obedience, and all the virtues which go to make up a man of worth and high character. "Stupid," "wicked" is what the father and mother are disposed to call him. What love do they bear toward him, what love ought they to bear to him?

What love, we say? That is not the question we wish to ask. Their love should from the beginning flow equally and unremittingly to all their children. If parents really understood their relation to their children and the value and meaning their children have for them, to whom should their love be given in the greatest measure? To the gifted child or to he who is less gifted? To the one with a good or a bad disposition?

Which child is more in need of love; for which is parental love almost the only anchor, the only lever that might raise him from stupidity to intelligence, from moral perversity to moral purity and perfection? With which child has Divine providence set parents a greater task, or given them a greater token of trust? Is it not precisely with the one who is less gifted intellectually and whose moral character is not so good?

A bright and intelligent child will, even without your help, ultimately distinguish himself by his understanding and knowledge; if he is naturally good, he will, even without you, grow up honest and sincere. But the child who is intellectually less gifted, and above all, the child whose moral character is shaky - can you not see how such a one is peculiarly entrusted to your love, how he requires your most devoted and tireless love, so that you may fulfill the highest task of a parent, that your parental love may through the child achieve its greatest triumph..., to have saved a soul that was in danger of going astray for a life of moral purity.

We know the self-sacrificing devotion with which the parent's love unfolds to tend a child who suffers physically, who is weak and infirm of body. We know the passionate care and tenderness with which a father and mother will nurse and tend a weak and ailing child, and with what pride a mother will think to herself, "Without care, without uninterrupted vigilance and devotion, this weakling would long ago have withered away and been buried, while now, instead, he is healthy and flourishing and looks forward smilingly to a happy life."

And is the child who is sick and suffering in mind or nature less unhappy, less deserving of sympathy and compassion? Above all, is he less completely ruined if the father or mother's love is withheld from him? For the physically sick child, love is only the nurse. But for the child who is ill mentally and, still more, morally, love is the healing medicine itself. The absence of love is poison, and the father and mother who deny their love to the delinquent child deny him the medicine that could cure him; they themselves plunge him into a hate-ridden atmosphere in which his vicious disposition inevitably blossoms into moral corruption.

Wishing Everyone A Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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