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I once heard a story about a famous Israeli Chassidic Rebbe who arrived in JFK, in December, and was met by thousands of his followers.
It being the holiday season, the entire airport was decorated with colorfully lit bulbs proclaiming cheer and goodwill to the world. As the rabbi began to proceed towards the exit, he noticed a Japanese fellow playing a harp and singing in a language he did not understand. The Rebbe then turned to his gabbai (attendant) and whispered, "Don't you think that the Chassidim overdid this welcome for me just a bit?"
The truth is that one of the many advantages to living in the Holy Land is that we are spared all of this. In most places in Eretz Yisrael, one can go from Sukkos to Purim completely unaware of the Christian holidays in between.
Those who live in the Diaspora, though, are very heavily bombarded by all of this symbolism. They are probably used to it and they may believe that it has absolutely no effect upon them and their children, but they are greatly mistaken.
In this week's parashah, we see how powerful the effect of symbolism is. The sticks which Ya'akov placed before the regularly colored animals had such a powerful effect upon them that they actually gave birth to offspring colored in a non regular manner.
The Midrash (Bemidbar Rabbah 9:34) tells a story about the black wife of a black King who gave birth to a white child. The king asked Rabi Akiva whether he should kill her for adultery. Rabi Akiva asked him what color pictures he had in his palace and he answered that they are white ones. Rabi Akiva explained that it was these pictures in his wife's mind which caused her to give birth to a white child.
From all of this we learn how much people are influenced by what they see before them. It is true for negative symbolism and it is just as true for positive. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we guard ourselves and our children from seeing things which could influence them the wrong way and, on the contrary, we should see to it that they do see things which can influence them positively.
Reb Yankele Galinsky, shlita, tells a strange story about a mixed community in Israel which consisted of religious and non religious Jews. When a new kindergarten teacher had to be hired, there was a very strong debate among them whether to hire a religious girl or a non religious one. Finally they all agreed to abide by the ruling of the Chazon Ish, whom everyone respected. Reb Yankele went to ask him, and was quite sure he would say to hire a religious teacher. Imagine his surprise when the venerable Sage said that they could take a non religious teacher as long as they hung up many pictures of great rabbis on the walls of the kindergarten!
Rabbi Galinsky was even more surprised when the non-religious group reneged on their commitment and refused to abide by the Chazon Ish's decision. They understood the power of symbolism and knew that no matter what the teacher taught the children, they would be most influenced by the pictures they saw constantly in front of their eyes.
We should be equally aware of this important human nature and should expose ourselves and our children only to positive influences. Then we will be surely happy, in this world and in the World-to-Come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network