Thursday, August 29, 2013

Nitzavim-Vayelech 5773

And Moshe (Moses) went and he spoke…to all Israel.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 31:1)

Ibn Ezra explains: Before Moshe dies he goes to each tribe to notify them that he is about to die. He reassures them that they should not be afraid -- he is leaving them with Yehoshua (Joshua), who will be a capable, trustworthy and devoted leader.

Writes Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in Growth Through Torah:  “Moshe knew that even if they [Bnei Yisroel, the Jewish people] felt fear, it was based on an error. Nevertheless, fear is a painful emotion and it is an act of kindness to help a person overcome it.” Rabbi Pliskin concludes that we learn from Moshe that whenever we see that someone has fears, we should do all we can to alleviate those fears.

As parents, we must never laugh at our children’s fears. Mocking will just cause more emotional pain than the fear already has. Even if the fears seem silly and irrational, we must acknowledge that our children truly are afraid. We must find ways to help them understand that there is nothing to worry about, that they are safe, and that they can trust us to keep them safe.

We must also teach our children to trust that G-d watches over us and protects us. Remind your children that the letter shin (or the longer shin-dalet-yud) on the mezuzah on your doors stands for Shomer Daltot Yisroel, guardian of the doors of Israel.  (Shaddai, spelled shin-dalet-yud is a name for G-d.) We affix the parchment-filled mezuzah to our doors to remind ourselves upon entering and leaving that G-d is in charge and He guards us from entrance to exit.

Dedicated in memory of Shaina Dina bas Refuel Gershom. May her memory be for blessing and may she have an aliyah (rise) is Shamayim (the Heavens).

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ki Tavo 5773

You shall rejoice with all the good that the L-rd, your G-d, has granted you and your household…” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 26:11)

This verse, near the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, immediately follows instructions for bikkurim, which requires that we bring the first fruits of our field to the Temple in Jerusalem as an expression of gratitude to G-d.

Why, immediately following a bountiful harvest, such a great accomplishment, would people have to be commanded to be happy?

Rabbis Yisroel and Osher Anshel Jungreis in their book Torah for Your Table explain that Torah understands human nature, which never allows a person to be satisfied or content with what he has. Instead, people compare themselves and their attainments to those of others. We become jealous and think we should have more. Our jealousy mars our joy.

Write the Rabbis Jungreis: “To overcome these negative feelings, the Torah commands us to appreciate that whatever we have has been given to us by G-d [Who] knows what we require for our well-being….If we absorb this basic principle, if we bear in mind that it is G-d Who is in charge, that it is He Who provides us with all our needs, then we will be blessed with simchas hachayim [a life of happiness].”

As parents, we can only be as happy as our unhappiest child. When our children are content, we usually are, too.  If we want our children to be happy and well adjusted, we must train them to focus on what they have, rather than what they do not have, and teach them to express gratitude for what they have. There will always be someone whom they perceive to be wealthier, more intelligent, or more attractive. We must show our children how to find happiness and contentment in all the good that G-d has provided them individually and personally, starting with the simple gift of life which cannot be taken for granted.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ki Teitzei 5773

Send away the mother bird and take the fledglings to you in order that it be good for you and that you will live long.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 22:7)

Rabbi Yissocher Frand notes that only two of the mitzvot (commandments) in Torah promise good and long life as a reward for fulfilling them – the above mitzvah (commandment) to send away the mother bird, and the mitzvah to honor one’s parents. What do these mitzvot have in common?

Rav Yaakov Weinberg suggests that both of these mitzvot acknowledge self-sacrifice. We honor our parents because we must show that we appreciate their sacrifice of time, energy, financial resources, hearts and souls. (The Hebrew for self-sacrifice is mesirat nefesh, literally sacrifice of the soul.)

Likewise, the mother bird sacrifices for her fledglings. She will not fly away when her nest is full but would rather sacrifice her own life. If we were to capture her, we would disrespect and take advantage of the self-sacrifice of maternal instinct. When we shoo her away, we show appreciation for her self-sacrifice, in the same way we honor our parents’ self-sacrifice.

The Midrash says that sending away the mother bird is the easiest mitzvah, while honoring one’s parents is the most difficult.

The Ramban teaches that performing the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird imbues in us compassion, which is an instinctive human emotion at the sight of an animal in distress. Writes Rav Frand: “When we develop and reinforce our natural faculty of mercy through a compassionate act towards a mother bird, we will feel a stronger impulse to be merciful when we see a person suffering.” He explains that sending away the mother bird is the easiest mitzvah because it taps into a natural tendency in human nature.

On the other hand, honoring parents goes against human nature, so it is the hardest mitzvah. It requires an acknowledgement of our parents’ self-sacrifice and of the fact that we needed them to the point that we owe them our lives. The mitzvah demands that we humble ourselves and admit that as children we were neither independent, self-sufficient nor invincible. Therefore, we must show our parents eternal gratitude.

As parents, we must be prepared to sacrifice everything for our children. Eventually, our children will be mature enough to realize what we have done for them and they will be able to acknowledge our loving self-sacrifice.  For some children, this may not happen until they, themselves, become parents and we become grandparents.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Shoftim 5773

What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house…” (Devarim/Deuteronomy20:8)

This week’s Torah portion contains laws concerning warfare, including the following exemptions from going out to battle: the newly betrothed, those who have just built a house or planted a vineyard but not yet inaugurated or redeemed them, and the “fearful and fainthearted”.  Rosally Saltsman in Parenting by the Book (p. 206) suggests that this refers to someone who fears for his life either because he doesn’t have enough faith in Hashem, or he feels he is not worthy of a miracle to survive battle.

Writes Mrs. Saltsman: “Fear is a very powerful thing. Sometimes we underestimate the fears of our children. We brush off the cobwebs of their nightmares and force them to do things they are genuinely afraid of doing. Although we need to encourage them to have faith in themselves and prod them a bit when they hesitate to try new things, we should never force our children to do anything they are genuinely afraid of doing.”

There are things that children will eventually have to do: swim, go to school, stay alone at home, marry. Mrs. Saltsman advises that children can either be led gradually into these situations, or parents can wait until the time feels right. “Throwing a child into deep water either figuratively or literally will only traumatize the child,” she writes.

Mrs. Saltsman warns that forcing a child to do something for which the child is not ready can leave emotional and psychological scars.  Children should only be forced to face their fears if it is a life-threatening situation. Otherwise, we should gently coax, but never, ever coerce.

Concludes Mrs. Saltsman: “If G-d emphasized the danger of an adult going to war against his will even under His promise of protection, then surely we [parents] can relax our demands on our own children.”    

Friday, August 2, 2013

Reeh 5773

“…you shall seek out His Presence and come there.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 12:5)

Bend your ear and come to Me.” (Yishayahu/Isaiah 55:3)

Rabbi Yisroel Jungreis on observes that there appears to be a discrepancy in the Torah verse. He asks why Torah does not first mention the “coming there” (going to the Temple in Jerusalem, or as Rashi notes, to the Mishkan [Tabernacle] in Shiloh) and there, in that holy place, find G-d.

Writes Rabbi Jungreis: “The Torah is teaching us a very profound lesson, one which we should incorporate into our everyday lives. If we are bent on finding G-d – no matter where we may be, no matter how far we may have distanced ourselves from Him – if we truly seek Him, we will find Him.”

On Wednesday, August 7 this year, the Hebrew month of Elul begins. Elul is an acronym for Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi Li (I am my beloved and my beloved is mine). This verse from Shir haShirim (Song of Songs) signifies our loving relationship with Hashem. According to Chassidic wisdom, during the month of Elul, G-d comes out of His palace and stands waiting in the fields, accessible and ready to greet us.

The verse immediately after the Haftorah implores: “Seek the L-rd while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.” (Yishayahu/Isaiah 55:6)

Dear parents, this is the month to intensify our Torah studies; pray with greater concentration and articulation; say blessings with precision and forethought; and do mitzvot (commandments) with more care. Let your children see how you draw close to Hashem. Show them that G-d can be found whenever we seek Him and wherever we make room for Him.