Parenting Prime

Parenting is a big industry. People are unsure how to raise their children and turn to seminars and books to find guidance. Put the word “parenting” in the title of your book and you are practically guaranteed a bestseller.

In next week’s parsha, we see Yaakov Avinu lovingly praise, exhort and admonish his sons. Successful parenting requires those responses in measured doses. In order for life skills to be properly conveyed, children must be disciplined and taught respect, responsibility, fidelity to Torah and moral principles. The question is how that is best accomplished.

In this week’s parsha, we learned of the reunification of Yaakov and Yosef after a multi-year separation that began when Yosef was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Although the brothers told Yaakov that Yosef was killed by wild animals, Yaakov hoped that somehow they would meet again. As he struggled to maintain his dignity and fidelity in a foreign land, Yosef’s ability to remember his father’s love provided him with the strength to persevere.

The posuk (Bereishis 46:29) describes their meeting. Yosef traveled to Goshen, “vayeira eilov, and he appeared to him, fell on his shoulder, and wept.” Rashi explains that when the posuk says “vayeira eilov,” it means “nireh el oviv,” that Yosef appeared to his father.

The Sifsei Chachomim elaborates that when hunger forced Yaakov and his family to travel to Mitzrayim, he went directly to Goshen, the land Yosef had selected for him to live until the hunger would pass. When Yaakov arrived there, Yosef went to visit him. Thus, it was Yosef who was going to show himself to his father.

The posuk still needs elucidation. What does the Torah want us to learn from stressing that Yosef went to show himself to his father?

Perhaps we can explain that although Yaakov was happy that his son had survived the years of separation, he might have feared that Yosef had assimilated into the Mitzri culture. There was also the chance that the great honor and power involved with being a ruler of the land had affected Yosef. Yaakov would have been correct in fearing that the angelic son he remembered and loved changed so much that he couldn’t be recognized.

Yosef respectfully traveled to Goshen to appear before Yaakov to show him that he was the same Yosef Hatzaddik his father remembered. “Beloved father, it is I, your son. The exile and years apart did not take a spiritual toll. Ani Yosef, I am the same Yosef you sent to find my brothers many years ago on the fateful day I disappeared.”

Yosef’s resolve not to disappoint his father motivated him to remain loyal to Yaakov’s teachings despite all that befell him. The knowledge that his father believed in him empowered him. He wanted to ensure that he wouldn’t betray his father’s faith in him.

Bearing this in mind creates difficulty understanding the pesukim (47:29-30) that relate that when Yaakov felt his strength ebbing and his life drawing to a close, he called Yosef to him and asked that he not be buried in Mitzrayim. Yaakov didn’t act the way you would think a loving father approaching death would when making a request from a loyal, powerful son. He didn’t tell him, “Don’t bury me in this country.” He didn’t say, “I want to be buried in Eretz Yisroel near my parents and grandparents.” He said to his most beloved son, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please give me your hand and do me a tremendous favor and don’t bury me in Mitzrayim. I [wish to] lay with my fathers. Take me from Mitzrayim and bury me [next to] where they are buried.”

Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz says that we learn from this the way a parent should deal with children. A father should not make unrealistic demands of his progeny. When parents require a favor from a child, they shouldn’t demand it, even though they have the right to. They should explain to the child what it is that they need done and why. Yaakov gently asked Yosef if he thought he would be able to honor his request, which he calmly explained.

The Torah commands children to honor their parents, and the obligation to do so is one of the underpinnings of Yiddishkeit. But no one, not even a child, should be taken advantage of. We should treat children the way we want to be treated, considerate of their needs and feelings.

At the end of their meeting, Yaakov bowed to his son, displaying respect for his royalty. Rashi quotes the Gemara (Megillah 15b) which states, “Taala be’idnei sagid leih – When a fox rules, bow to him” (Bereishis 47:31). He also comments that Yaakov was thankful that Yosef remained righteous, despite what had transpired.

As a father, Yaakov endeavored to see the good in his child. He didn’t question whether it was proper for a father to bow to a son, but paid the customary honor to Yosef’s position.

Children who are treated justly recognize what is expected of them and seek to ensure that the confidence in their abilities and loyalty is not misplaced. When they have to be disciplined, they are better able to accept the tochacha, knowing that it emanates from parents who love them and want the best for them, not merely from doctrinaire elders who possess a need to dominate and control.

The author of sefer Minchas Shmuel writes that his rebbi, Rav Chaim of Volozhin, said that in our day, in order for tochacha to be accepted, it has to be delivered calmly and softly. Someone who angers easily and speaks harshly is freed from the obligation of hocheiach tochiach, rebuking those who act improperly. (See a similar quote in sefer Keser Rosh, 143.)

Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman once spoke at a parenting conference in Eretz Yisroel. He related that it is said that Rav Chaim Soloveitchik only hit his son, Rav Yitzchok Zev, once during his childhood.

Rav Aharon Leib explained that smacking children does not accomplish much, but if the parents are suffused with yiras Shomayim, it is easier for them to influence their children. This is similar to the parable of the Dubno Maggid that an overflowing cup waters its surroundings and helps it grow. He added that children who are influenced in that way have greater respect for their parents. The more parents work on themselves to be better people, the more influence they will have upon their children and the more the children will respect them.

Your children will not improve because you become angry with them and hit or berate them when they do something wrong. They will be better when they feel love flowing from your heart and soul.

A different time, Rav Aharon Leib stated that the Dubno Maggid asked the Vilna Gaon how it is possible to influence others. The Gaon responded with a parable. If a person has a large glass surrounded by small glasses, as long as the large glass has not been filled, the smaller glasses won’t be filled by it. So too, he said, if a person wants to influence others, he must be full. If he is filled with Torah and middos tovos, he can influence others. However, if he himself is not full, then he is like the large glass, which cannot fill the other glasses as long as it itself is not full.

Rav Aharon Leib added that in our generation, too, if we want people to follow the path of Torah, we have to be able to reach out to them. If we work on ourselves to be filled with Torah and derech eretz, then we can be mashpia on others. This has been the way of Klal Yisroel throughout the generations. Ever since the time of Avrohom Avinu, Jews knew that to impact others, we need to fill ourselves with Torah, seichel, and derech eretz.

We recite in Eil Adon every Shabbos concerning the “meoros,” “melei’im ziv umefikim nogah, full of splendor, they radiate brightness.” Rav Yeruchom Levovitz explained, when they are full of splendor, then they are able to radiate brightness.

The greatest gedolim serve as the conscience of their generations. They see as their main responsibility as being the ones to motivate their students and followers to grow in Torah, avodah and middos tovos. They demand excellence and dedication to the goal, yet they are loving and realistic, helping their students climb the ladder to greatness one rung at a time. And they radiate brightness and holiness.

Last week, we lost Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, a man who epitomized being filled with the wisdom of Torah and gedolei Torah, coupled with seichel and derech eretz. He grew up in the shadow of greatness, living on the same block as the Brisker Rov and Rav Simcha Zelig Riger, the famed Brisker dayan. All his life, he was in the company of great men and close to such giants as the Chazon Ish. He used every available minute to grow in Torah, yiras Shomayim, and middos tovos. After a lifetime engaged in those pursuits, following the passing of Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, Klal Yisroel turned their lonely eyes to him for leadership and guidance.

Rav Shteinman recounted that during his short stay at the Kletzk Yeshiva, he encountered Rav Shach. “At the time, he was around thirty years old,” remembered Rav Shteinman. “He would say chaburos at the side of the bais medrash and was always surrounded by many bochurim. His middos tovos and kindheartedness were apparent, and the bochurim would discuss that among themselves with great appreciation.”

No doubt that contributed to Rav Shach’s ability to reach and impact so many thousands of bnei Torah, talmidim and others throughout his life.

A prominent mashgiach was visiting Rav Shach when the elderly rosh yeshiva’s young grandson entered the room. Rav Shach offered the boy a candy, asking him which color he preferred. The boy considered the options carefully and happily chose the red one.

The rov turned to Rav Shach. “Rosh yeshiva,” he said, “with all due respect, aren’t you encouraging the child to become like Eisov, who saw everything superficially? Why is choosing a red candy over a green one and making the distinction important different than Eisov asking Yaakov to ‘pour me this red soup’?”

Rav Shach smiled. “You need to understand the mind of a child,” he said. “A child sees the world on a shallow level. He has not yet matured to the point where he can see deeper than the color of a candy. He inhabits an imaginary realm. To him, the color of candy is very important. Eisov was already a grown person, yet he maintained a child-like superficial view of the world.”

Rav Shach looked back at the contented child. “He is doing exactly what he should be doing. Remember, he is just a child.”

Our great leaders, inhabiting the peaks of spiritual grandeur, never felt too exalted to look down and see the struggles of a child.

When Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler moved to Eretz Yisroel to assume the position of mashgiach at Ponovezh Yeshiva, he sought to reprove through giving chizuk.

Talmidim who visited him the first Chol Hamoed he was there were amazed by the reception they received. “What an honor that you came,” Rav Dessler said to his teenage visitors. “I have special wine that I only take out for important guests.”

He made them feel important, and they returned the favor, raising themselves to be worthy of his respect and doing their best not to disappoint him.

Once, talmidim behaved in a way that required rebuke. The owner of a nearby makolet complained to Rav Dessler that bochurim were not paying their bills, causing him not to have sufficient cash flow to keep his small grocery going. Rav Dessler delivered a shmuess, discussing the severity of selfishness and the importance of behaving with honesty and integrity. He didn’t mention anything about the bills at the makolet. He didn’t have to. He had let everyone know what was expected of them and they modified their behavior accordingly.

A teenage talmid had questions on emunah and his rebbi feared that he was becoming at-risk. On Purim, he brought the boy to Rav Shach, asking the rosh yeshiva if he could answer the boy’s questions. Rav Shach told the boy that there were many people coming and going, and it wasn’t a good time to engage in discussion. “Why don’t you come back over the Pesach bein hazemanim? Then we’ll have time and the ability to discuss your questions.”

When the boy returned to yeshiva after bein hazemanim, his rebbi asked him if he had gone to Rav Shach to pose his questions. “No, I didn’t,” he answered. “When we were there on Purim, through his conversation with me, he found out where I live. He came to my house twice. I couldn’t believe it. He said that we made up to meet, so he came to me because I hadn’t come to him.”

“Did he answer your questions?” the rebbi asked.

“He didn’t have to. I never asked them. The fact that he troubled himself to travel to me in Tel Aviv changed everything for me.”

This boy’s life was turned around when he saw that Rav Shach believed in him, cared about him, and was worried about the direction in which he was headed.

This is the lesson that Yaakov Avinu taught when he bowed to his son. He recognized the long journey that Yosef had taken through the moral depravity of Mitzrayim, emerging pure. Hu Yosef she’omeid betzidko.

Yaakov was inspiring us to view children with appreciation for dealing with their challenges and for their accomplishments.

It is difficult to be a young person. Youngsters have long, hard schedules, days that start early and end late. They are surrounded by multiple nisyonos, often with challenges that overwhelm adults, yet much is expected of them.

Most people have an innate desire to do well, grow, prosper and be successful in what they are doing today and in life in general. As we arm them with the tools they need to make it in these trying times, we have to let them know that we believe they have what it takes to make it.

Since the time of Adam and Chava, temptations have been ever-present. Subsequent to their failing, life has been rough. To succeed at anything, we have to work hard and endeavor to enable the yeitzer tov to overpower the yeitzer hora. We have to be seriously motivated in order to overcome life’s tribulations. As we grow and mature, we are expected to derive that strength on our own from studying Torah and mussar, and through our avodah and tefillah. But the younger people among us, who are the future of our nation, need the older ones to pave the way for them, lovingly demonstrating and teaching how it is done in order for them to be motivated.

Chinuch is all about transmitting our heritage to the next generation in a way they can understand and appreciate. We begin when they are in their youth by lovingly explaining the mitzvos and setting a fine example for them to follow.

When Yaakov became ill, Yosef brought his two sons who were born in golus Mitzrayim to their grandfather for a final brocha. Yaakov opened the conversation by telling Yosef that he knew he was upset with him for not burying his mother in the Meoras Hamachpeilah (See Rashi Bereishis 48, 7). He explained with great reverence for Yosef that he had done so “al pi hadibbur,” in accordance with Hashem’s will. He then upset Yosef by blessing the younger Efraim before Menashe. Not always does a parent accede to the wishes of the child. Not always does the child get his way.

Recognizing the accomplishment of successfully raising children in golus, Yaakov blessed Yosef that from that day onward, every time a father would bless his sons, he would say, “Yesimcha Elokim ke’Efraim vecheMenashe – May you grow as the two sons of Yosef, who persevered despite the many challenges, becoming as great as the shevotim who grew up in Yaakov’s home.”

May we merit, with Hashem’s help, as Yaakov did, children and grandchildren who make us proud.