By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Parenting has become a big industry. People are confounded and confused about how to raise their children. They need not look further than this week’s parsha, where Yaakov lovingly explains, praises exhorts and admonishes his sons. Successful parenting requires all of 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 Parshas Vayigash, we learned of the reunification of Yaakov Avinu and his beloved son Yosef after a multi-year separation that began when he was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Although Yaakov had been told that Yosef was killed by wild animals, he continued to believe that one day 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 necessary to persevere.
The Torah (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 that “nireh el oviv,” Yosef appeared to his father.
The Sifsei Chachomim explains the depth of Rashi‘s explanation. When Yaakov came to Mitzrayim, he went directly to Goshen, where Yosef had selected for him to live until the hunger would pass. Upon his arrival, Yosef went there to visit him. Thus, it was Yosef who was going to show himself to his father.
The posuk still needs explanation. What does the Torah want us to learn from stressing that Yosef went to show himself to his father?
Perhaps we can understand that although Yaakov was happy that his son had survived the years of separation, he may have been apprehensive that Yosef had assimilated into the Mitzri culture. Additionally, it was possible the kavod of being a ruler had gotten to his head and the angelic son he remembered and loved would have changed so much that he wouldn’t recognize him.
Yosef respectfully traveled to Goshen to appear before his father and to show him that he was the same Yosef Hatzaddik that Yaakov had 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 that fateful day when 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 in this week’s parsha which relate (47:29-30) 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 children. When parents require a favor from a child, they shouldn’t mandate 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 should be taken advantage of, not even a child. We should treat children the way we want to be treated and be considerate of their needs and feelings.
At the end of their meeting, Yaakov bowed towards his son, displaying respect for the 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 to him.
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 tochachah, 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 sefer Minchas Shmuel writes that his rebbi, Rav Chaim of Volozhin, said that in our day, in order for tochachah 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 similar quote in sefer Keser Rosh, 143.]
The greatest gedolim served as the conscience of their generations. They saw their main responsibility as being the ones to motivate their students and followers to grow in Torah, avodah and middos tovos. They demanded excellence and total dedication to the goal, yet they were loving and realistic, helping their students climb the ladder to greatness one rung at a time.
A prominent mashgiach was visiting Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach when the elderly rosh yeshiva’s young grandson came into the room. Rav Shach offered the boy a candy, asking him if he preferred a green, yellow or red one. The boy considered the options carefully and happily chose the red one.
The rov turned to Rav Schach. “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’?”
The rosh yeshiva 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 world. 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 high 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 in Ponovezh Yeshiva, he sought to admonish through giving chizuk.
Talmidim who visited him the first Chol Hamoed that he was there were amazed by the reception they were afforded. “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 upset him.
Once, talmidim behaved in a way that demanded rebuke. The owner of a nearby makolet complained to Rav Dessler that bochurim were not paying their bills and that he was feeling the pinch. Rav Dessler delivered a shmuess, discussing the severity of the middah 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. Everyone knew what was expected of them and modified their behavior accordingly.
A teen-aged talmid had questions on emunah and his bais medrash 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 returned to Rav Shach. “No, I didn’t,” he answered. “When we were there on Purim, through his conversation with me, he surreptitiously 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 Rav Shach 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 and cared about him and 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 impurity and 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. He explained with great reverence to Yosef that he had done so “al pi hadibur,” 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 exile, 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.