Thursday, January 30, 2014

Terumah 5774

You shall make two keruvim (cherubs) of gold…” (Shemot/Exodus 25:18)

This week’s Torah portion provides instructions for building the Mishkan, a sanctuary in which G-d dwells. Atop the ark containing the Ten Commandments sit two keruvim (cherubs) made of gold. The Mechilta comments that if gold were hard to come by, all items in the Mishkan but the keruvim could be made of other precious metals such as copper or silver.

Why were the keruvim to be made only of gold?

Rav Meir Shapiro of Lublin teaches that the keruvim, which feature the faces of young children, symbolize tinokot shel bet rabban, young Jewish schoolchildren. They serve as a reminder to provide children with a Torah education as pure as gold. (Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein in A Shabbos Vort)

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in Growth Through Torah asserts that the gold keruvim remind adults to consider themselves as young children when it comes to Torah study. There is so much Torah to learn, and so much depth to each commentary, that it is always as if one is a small child beginning to learn. He writes: “The greater wisdom one has, the more one realizes that one is lacking wisdom.”

As parents, we must invest “gold” in our children’s Jewish education. The education must extend well beyond the age of bar or bat mitzvah (ritual coming of age for boys, age 13, and for girls, age 12.) During the teenage years and beyond, children become more capable of learning and applying Torah concepts. At the same time, we parents must continue to study Torah, not only as an example to our children, but in order to deepen our comprehension and reinforce our commitment to living with Torah as our guide.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mishpatim 5774

And these are (VAiLeH) the laws (HaMiShPaTiYM) that (ASheR) you should set (TaSiYM) before them (LiPNaYHeM).” (Shemot/Exodus 21:1)

Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein writes in A Shabbos Vort that the Ba’al HaTurim sees in the Hebrew verse an acrostic containing a hidden message about how judges should conduct themselves during hearings.

VAiLeHVchayav Adam Lachkor Hadin – A person is required to investigate the case.

HaMiShPaTiYM Hadayan Metzuveh Sheya’aseh Pe’sharah Terem Ya’aseh Mishpat -- The judge is obligated to find a middle ground before imposing a ruling,

ASheR Im Shneihem Rotzim – Assuming the two [parties] are willing [to compromise].

TaSiYMTishma Sheneihem Yachad Medabrim – Listen as the two [parties] speak.

LiPNaYHeMLo Pnei Nadiv Yehader; Hisnaker Meihem – Do not show favor to the wealthy man; estrange yourself from them [the litigants.]

As parents, we often find ourselves settling arguments between our children. The rules for judges that are implied in the verse can help us arrive at fair decisions and restore peace to our homes. First, we must listen to each child describe what caused the argument and what needs to be resolved. Then, if the children are receptive to our arbitration, we must deliberate until we can provide an equitable solution. Throughout the process, we must be careful to show no favoritism; we must not be influenced by a child’s promise in exchange for a favorable ruling. Our children will learn the value of finding a middle ground and of agreeing to compromise.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Yitro 5774

You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people who are with you, for the matter is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will advise you and the L-rd will be with you.” (Shemot/Exodus 18:18-19)

Yitro (Jethro), Moshe’s (Moses’) father-in-law, observes that Moshe alone serves as judge and advisor of the Jewish nation. He recognizes that if Moshe continues doing this important and time-consuming job on his own, he will very soon exhaust himself and render himself ineffective as a leader. Yitro thus advises Moshe to delegate his authority, to appoint others to share his heavy burden.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Lopiansky in Shabbos Delights notes that Talmud (Sanhedrin 17a) states that if a prophet is overworked he will lose his ability to receive prophecy. He writes: “Yitro was warning him [Moshe] that he must reduce his workload or else Hashem [G-d] will not be with him, since Hashem will not communicate with anyone who is not in the proper frame of mind.”

As parents, our important work never ends and is always a tremendous burden. We must be aware of our limitations. If we overextend or over schedule ourselves, we may experience burnout and will not be able to parent effectively.  We should therefore try to find reliable people with whom we can share some of our responsibilities. (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in Growth Through Torah)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Beshalach 5774

Speak to the Children of Israel and let them turn back (v’yashvu) and encamp (v’yachanu) before Pi-hachirot.” (Shemot/Exodus 14:2)

In this week’s Torah portion, Pharaoh finally frees the Israelites from slavery. G-d leads the people through the desert on the way to the Red Sea. He instructs Moshe (Moses) to have them stop at the Egyptian city Pithom, here renamed Pi-hachirot. Explains Rashi based on Mechilta: The chirot are two high upright rocks with a valley between them called pi, mouth. The word chirot is related to chorin, free, so Pi-hachirot is “mouth of the free.”

Above is the literal translation of the verse, according to context. Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein in A Shabbos Vort notes that the Ohev Yisrael finds an alternate translation of the verse that hints at an important lesson. While v’yashvu can be translated as “return” or “turn back” it can also be rendered as “sit.”  In addition to meaning “encamp” v’yachanu can also mean “pause.”  Thus, the Ohev Yisrael’s alternate translation is: “Sit and pause before freeing the mouth.”

As parents, it is critical to hold back before we admonish our children or speak negatively. Too often we express ourselves in the heat of passion, not letting a moment go by before we criticize or discipline. While speaking our mind might bring immediate gratification, we must remember that spoken words can never be retrieved. The sting of hurtful language pervades long after its expression.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bo 5774

And it will come to pass when your children say to you, ‘What is this service to you?’ You shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the L-rd, for He passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, and He saved our houses.’” (Shemot/Exodus 12:26-27)

The Passover seder service is designed to arouse the curiosity of the children. The youngest child asks Four Questions about the Passover symbols, foods and rituals; in the Passover Haggadah (text of the seder service and story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt) there is a passage about Four Children and their questions. The passage, based on these verses from this week’s Torah portion, teaches that we must answer our children’s questions.

Writes Mrs. Rosally Saltsman in Parenting by the Book: “Children ask questions because they need to know the answers…We need to give legitimacy to their questions by showing them that what they care about is important to us.”

Observes Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald on “The truth is that every thinking Jewish child will at one point say to his parents, teachers or friends: ‘Why do I need to be Jewish? Why do we need to keep kosher? Why do we have to observe Shabbat?’...Every thinking Jew has to face these questions: ‘Why am I a Jew, and what do these religious rituals mean to me?’”

Note Rabbi Yisroel and Rabbi Osher Anshel Jungreis in Torah for Your Table: “It is not unusual for men or women who never gave too much thought to their Judaism to undergo a total transformation once they become parents. They realize that if they are to convey something of lasting value, and if they are to tell ‘the story’ to their children, they must first and foremost possess that knowledge.”

As parents, we might find our children’s unrelenting questions annoying, time-consuming to hear and to answer, and challenging to our knowledge base and to our authority. Nevertheless, we must do our best to provide appropriate responses. Today there are more resources than ever to help us and our children find the answers we seek.