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In this week’s parashah, we read the terrifying tochachah, the words of rebuke, with which Hashem warns of the terrifying consequences of not following in the ways of the Torah and obeying her commandments. As we once discussed before, every good parent knows that with love alone, offering only rewards for compliance, one cannot assure that his child will behave properly. There must also be the balance of fear, the concern for punishment (within the proper limits, of course), which will help the boy or girl choose properly.
Sometimes, one may offer an acquaintance an opportunity to succeed in general or in a particular situation. If the person refuses or is hesitant, he will probably drop the issue, since he has no special interest in him. But if he made the offer to a close friend, about whom he has a genuine concern and interest, he will be more persistant, trying to convince him how beneficial it will be for him and why he should make the effort. But if, after several attempts to persuade him, his friend remains unconvinced and stubbornly refuses to do what is necessary to receive what he knows for sure is good for him, he will eventually give up trying and just shrug his shoulders at his friend’s foolish obstinacy.
But parents, who love their children more than themselves, will never stop trying to convince them to do what is best for them and to keep away from that which is potentially harmful. Time and time again they will try their best to help them, never relenting even when they are frustrated by their stubbornness. They simply love them too much to allow themselves to just ignore their plight and let them do whatever they think is best for them.
But not only will they persistently nudge their siblings to no end, parents will also use all kinds of persuasive methods to force them to comply. Included in these methods are types of pressure and even punishments of all sorts, depending upon the importance of the situation.
Foolish children will often resent their parents’ “over-protective” behavior and will complain about their meddling, and politely, or not-so-politely, ask them, or tell them, to “bug off.” In their warped perspective, a “good” parent would just let them do whatever they want and let them make their own mistakes rather than learn from those of others. Often, they only learn to appreciate their parents when it is much too late. And, in the end, when they themselves have children of their own, if they are really good parents, they behave the same way towards them as their parents did towards them.
Hashem is The Exemplary Parent of us all, and he never stops trying to get us – even to force us – to do what is best for us. On the one hand, He promises us the most unfathomable amount and degree of happiness and reward if we follow in the ways of the Torah. The Talmud teaches that the eye of no prophet nor angel has ever perceived the full magnitude of bliss and ecstasy in the world-to-come. On the other hand, the Almighty threatens us with the most horrendous punishments, in this world and the next, if we go astray from the proper path.
And like those other silly children, we too are often annoyed with Hashem’s incessant demand that we behave properly, and would rather that He just leave us alone to choose what we think is best for us. Many even attempt to deny that Hashem punishes at all and would rather sing songs like “Love Without End,” convincing themselves that His incessant affection leaves no room for castigation and chastisement. In other words, they think that Hashem is not a good parent. But they are wrong. Very wrong.
The Chofetz Chaim complains in the Biur Halachah (siman 428) about certain congregations that would not read the Torah in shul this week and the week of the parashah of Ki Savo (in which the Tochachah is repeated and intensified). He explains how silly this is by means of a parable of one who was warned by his friends not to travel on a certain road which is full of holes and pitfalls which could cause him great harm. But he responded that he has nothing to fear since he has a very thick mask to cover his eyes so that he won’t notice them at all. In the event that he does get hurt, he added, no one will laugh at me, since they will understand that I couldn’t see the danger before me. Obviously, the Chofetz Chaim argues, the opposite is true. He will be a tremendous laughing stock to all because of his foolish behavior.
On the other hand, I respect those people who took the words of the tochachah so seriously that they were afraid to read the Torah that week. Although their solution was nonsensical, like the proverbial ostrich that hides his head in the sand to protect himself from danger, at least they felt the need to do something. We, on the other hand, are not necessarily smarter than they; we just don’t feel the danger since we don’t take the reading of the Torah to heart. It is not uncommon to see people in our shuls, talking with their friends at the very moment that the koreh is reading passages which should make their hair stand on end.
It’s time to grow up and relate maturely to the truth of the Torah. Hashem loves us more than we love ourselves, and it is because of that very love that He uses all possible methods to ensure that we choose the Path of Life. His threats of punishment are real and if we want to avoid them, the only alternative is to be “good children” worthy of His favor. If we will be, we will be eternally happy, in this world and the world-to-come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network