Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Haazinu 5772

In this week's parsha, Moshe's farewell song to his people, Moshe urges us to "Remember the days of old; reflect upon the years of [other] generations. Ask your father, and he will tell you; your elders, and they will inform you."

What is the purpose of Moshe's advice?

Rashi explains that we should remember what G-d did to our ancestors. He cites Noah's generation "whom He washed away" with a great flood because they did not change their behavior, even after many pleas and warnings to return to the ways of G-d. Rashi suggests that we should remember history in order to be conscious of what may happen in the future: "Set your heart upon the past and learn its lessons…to be able to recognize for the future." If we study history and remember it, we can impact future events so that we will not repeat past disasters.

We can also look to the past to explain our present. If we are confused, if we cannot understand what is occurring in our world today, if we cannot make sense of what happens to us, we should look back to our history and study the lives of those who came before us.

As parents, we should share our family histories with our children so they can learn from our experience. We should recount our struggles and failures, as well as our successes in overcoming difficult situations. Hopefully, our children will listen, absorb the lessons, and not repeat our mistakes. This time of year is an especially opportune time to explain that everyone makes mistakes, even our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, even Mommy and Daddy. If we do make mistakes, we should admit them, seek forgiveness and make every effort to change our behavior and not make the same mistake twice. We should assure our children that no matter what mistakes they may have made, we still love them and forgive them, as does G-d.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Nitzavim-Vayelech 5771

This week's double parsha begins: "You are standing (nitzavim) this day before the L-rd your G-d, the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women...that you may enter the covenant of the L-rd your G-d..."  The second of this week's parshiot contains the mitzvah of Hakhel, a public reading of Torah during the shmittah (sabbatical) year, during the Sukkot festival. "Assemble the people: the men, the women, and the young children, and your stranger in your cities, in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and fear the L-rd your G-d, and they will observe to do all the words of this Torah. And their children, who do not know, will hear and learn to fear G-d..."

What is the purpose of bringing young children to enter the covenant, and obligating young children to hear Torah at Hakhel?

Ramban explains that Torah refers to young children who are of an age approaching chinuch, the age when they must begin to learn the mitzvot.  They are old enough that when they hear Torah read at Hakhel, they will ask their parents what it means. According to Kli Yakar and Ohr haChaim, the children "who do not know" refers to those who have reached the age of chinuch.

The Jerusalem Talmud (Yevamot 1:6) relates that Rabbi Dosan ben Horkinas saw Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya and proclaimed: "'Whom to teach knowledge?...those weaned of milk' (Isaiah 28:9.) I remember his mother bringing round his cradle to the study hall, so that his ears should pick up words of Torah."  The Kleinman edition of Limud Yomi notes: "[From this we learn] that a lasting impression may be etched in the soul and brain of a child that will influence his entire life, though he has no discernible knowledge or memory of that stimulus."

Rashi comments that the purpose of obligating children to hear Torah at Hakhel is "to give reward to those who brought them."   In other words, writes Likud Yomi: "It is an assurance to parents who take an interest and work diligently to promote the wisdom of Torah and fear of G-d in their children even at an early age, that in good time their toil will be rewarded by having children who are true bnei Torah (Children of Torah.)"

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year 5772, begins Wednesday evening, September 28.  Make sure you take your children, the young and the older, to synagogue to hear the shofar, to hear Torah and to impress upon them the significance of these holy days.    


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ki Tavo 5771

In this week's parsha, Moshe continues to instruct the Israelites on how to behave when they enter (ki tavo) the Land of Israel. Moshe enumerates blessings and curses, and tells what will happen if his people fulfill the Torah, and if they do not. A reason for the curses is given: "All these curses will befall you…because you did not serve G-d, your G-d, with joy and with gladness of heart..."

Why is it that even when we fulfill Torah by performing mitzvot (commandments), if we lack this "extra" attribute of joy, we deserve such dire consequences?

The Maggid Mishneh explains that when we perform a mitzvah b'simcha (with joy), it proves that we understand that there is no greater happiness in this world than to serve our Creator, for the true purpose of creation is to serve Him. Simcha is the key factor in determining if we really are serving G-d. If we merely follow the laws and perform the mitzvot by rote and out of habit, without appreciating what we are doing, it can be said that we are not serving G-d at all, and therefore we deserve punishment. Simcha is the basic intention that must underlie avodah (service) of G-d.

As parents, we must show our children that we are happy to perform mitzvot, and that doing so, i.e., fulfilling the laws of Torah and living Jewishly, is meaningful to us and brings us joy. We cannot just go through the motions, without awareness and understanding. Further, we should be careful not to complain if we find that Torah laws are difficult to adhere to, lest our children adopt an attitude that Torah observance is a chore. Our children need to see that we have a relationship with G-d and that we perform mitzvot because we love, and are grateful, to G-d.

Published in the merit of a refua shlema (complete healing) for Nesha bat Freda Leah.




Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ki Tetze 5771

This week's parsha contains instructions for dealing with a ben sorer u'moreh (wayward and rebellious son.) "If a man has a wayward and rebellious son, who does not obey [literally, "hear the voice of"] his father or his mother, and they chasten him, and [he still] does not listen to them, his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, and to the gate of his place. And they shall say to the elders of his city, 'This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not obey us [literally, "hear our voices"]; [he is] a glutton and a guzzler.'"

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 71a) says that there never was a case of a wayward son. Why then does Torah include instructions on how to deal with one?

Rabbi Shimon answers: "So that it should be studied and we should be rewarded [for studying it]." Even if there never was a rebellious son, we can learn about raising children from studying Torah's description of the rebellious son.

The law of the rebellious son applies only when the child is age 13 and for the next three months, that is, immediately upon his bar mitzvah, the beginning of his adulthood. This shows how important it is to provide children with a proper educational foundation. As Chiddushei HaRim says, we must put the words of Torah on the heart of the child so that when the heart opens up, the Torah found on it will sink into the receptive heart.

Rabbi Zev Leff, spiritual leader of Moshav Matisyahu, explains that Torah describes the rebellious son as not heeding the voice (kol) of his father and mother. Maharal points out that kol denotes a voice or noise, something not necessarily intelligible. The rebellious son listens to his parents when their words make sense to him, but when he does not understand their directives, he ignores them.

Writes Rabbi Leff on "A child must be taught to rely on his parents' instructions and trust in their desire and ability to guide him on the proper path, even though he may not understand or grasp the wisdom of their directions. Though a parent should try to explain to the child the reasons for his directions and instructions, the child must be taught that in the end, whether he understands or not, he must accept his parents' authority."

Further, Talmud learns from the phrase, "he does not listen to our voices," that to be deemed a rebellious son, both parents must have similar voices. Both parents' guidance must reflect the same values, and they must be consistent in their instruction. If we parents do not speak with one voice, our child cannot be deemed rebellious, because the blame for his rebellious behavior is not his alone.

(Excerpted from an article by Rabbi Zev Leff. Read the article in its entirety at

Friday, September 2, 2011

Shoftim 5771

This week's parsha contains the laws for waging war as the Israelites prepare to conquer and settle the Land of Israel. When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to seize it, do not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them; for from it you will eat, and you shall not cut it down; is, then, the tree of the field a man that it should enter the siege before you?

Why does Torah compare man to a tree?

The Vilna Gaon notes that the word etz (tree) and the word tzelem (image), as in "man was created in G-d's image," have the identical gematria (numerical value) of 160. We are considered to be in G-d's image when we are as fruitful as a fruit tree, that is, when we are productive. We must enrich the world, increase its knowledge and behave morally in order to deserve to be called the image of G-d. Even when we engage in a destructive act such as war, we are enjoined against wanton destruction. The Sages apply this principle, known as bal tashchit, globally, forbidding us from ever destroying or wasting resources.

G-d gave us the world and appointed us its caretaker. While G-d created nature for us, we are part of nature, "for man is as a tree of the field." When we harm a tree, or any natural resource, we hurt ourselves. Rabbi Ari Kahn writes on, "The natural world was given as a gift to humankind, to be enjoyed and cherished. Mankind is expected to appreciate the value and importance of this gift, and to safeguard it, taking great care when making use of precious resources, and being careful about waste and conspicuous consumption."

As parents, we have many opportunities to avoid wastefulness and to prevent the destruction of useful items. For example, we can plan menus so that leftovers become tasty side dishes; we can hand down outgrown clothing or give it to the needy; and we can save money by sticking to shopping lists and avoiding impulse buys. Likewise, we can teach children to take smaller portions and ask for seconds if still hungry; to take care of their clothing so it lasts longer; and to spend money judiciously.