One cold winter day, one hundred and fifty years ago, in the Polish city of Gura Kalvarya, the Chiddushei Horim was attending the bris milah of his great-grandson. The great Gerrer Rebbe lost most of his children and took nothing for granted. He loved his grandson, the baal simchah, who would later become known as the Sefas Emes. He had adopted his grandson who lost both his parents before he was eight years old.
With obvious joy, the Chiddushei Horim looked at the newborn baby, who was named Avrohom Mordechai and eventually became known as the Imrei Emes. He gazed at the child and commented, “What more can a person hope for? We see that when the Torah wants to tell the extent of Yosef’s blessings, it says that he merited to help raise his great-grandchildren, the sons of Mochir ben Menashe, as Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel explains (Bereishis 50:23).”
An astute chossid understood the rebbe’s cryptic message. The Torah writes of the birth of Yosef’s grandchildren in Mitzrayim as “yuldu al birkei Yosef,” which would seem to mean that they were born on his lap. Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel translates the word “yuldu” as “gazrinun,” indicating that the posuk is referring to the fact that Yosef was sandek at their brisos.
“Rebbe,” the chossid called out, “Targum Onkelos says that ‘yuldu Yosef’ means ‘rabi Yosef,’ that Yosef merited to help raising the grandchildren. Why suffice with being sandek?”
The rebbe sighed heavily and did not respond. The answer to why he quoted the translation of Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel and not Targum Onkelos became clear when he passed away two months later. He had merited serving as his grandson’s sandek, but he did not get to watch him grow up.
Since the time of the Avos, the prime Jewish wish and pride has been to merit being part of raising and enjoying nachas from future generations. The essence of Yiddishkeit is succeeding in transmitting it to the next generation.
Parents throughout history, in all parts of the world, parted from their children during wartime – while on the run from the Cossacks, pogroms, marauding Christians, Muslims, Greeks and Romans, and after being separated by Nazi beasts as they entered concentration camps – with the same final request: Remain an ehrliche Yid. Nothing marks a life as well-lived as much as the joy of seeing generations carrying forth the mesorah started at Har Sinai.
Last week, a distinguished Klausenberger chossid¸ Rav Moshe Weiss zt”l, passed away in Yerushalayim. A talmid chochom, he worked as a builder. He left behind great children, including a rosh yeshiva, Rav Asher Weiss; a dayan, Rav Yonasan Binyomin Weiss, av bais din of Montreal; and a rov, Rav Berel Weiss, rov of Kiryat Sanz in Yerushalayim and son-in-law of the Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l. Each of these sons leads a kehillah, yeshiva or kollel.
What did he do to merit such great offspring?
Reb Moshe would remember the darkest days of the last century. Following World War II, survivors numb with grief and mourning, sick and frail, worked to find energy to begin anew. Reb Moshe was immediately pressed into service by the Klausenberger Rebbe, who had obtained a truck from the Allied Forces to bring to kever Yisroel thousands of Jewish bodies strewn across the camps and forests.
One drove the truck and the other dug fresh graves, day after day. One evening, Reb Moshe, exhausted, emotionally spent, and still dealing with the loss of his parents and siblings, turned to the rebbe and said, “I can’t do this anymore.”
The rebbe looked at him and responded, “Moshe, you have to help me get this mitzvah done. What can I give you so that you will continue our partnership?”
Moshe Weiss saw an opportunity and jumped on it. He asked the rebbe to bless him that he would recuperate and “one day have sons who will know every Tosafos in Shas.”
Last week, Reb Moshe was niftar, seven distinguished gaonim around his bedside, products of a brochah, hope and sincere desire.
Ehrliche mothers shed tears weekly as they light Shabbos candles, begging Hashem for the ultimate gift. Parents invest money and energy to find the proper yeshivos, chavrusos and rabbeim for their sons, ready to do anything in exchange for nachas.
And in this week’s parshah, we see how Yaakov Avinu, the av of golus, expresses that hope, implanting it within each of us. Study the brachos he gives his children and you’ll see astounding things.
You’ll see his familiarity with the essence and destiny of each child, his appreciation of their challenges and triumphs. You’ll see the attention he pays to each and his acceptance of their differences. And in his farewell to his children, you’ll feel his love for them.
Yaakov carefully examined the strengths and personalities of each son and, before his passing, addressed them. He didn’t bless them all with one general brochah, “Hashem should watch over each of you and you should all be gezunt and shtark and be matzliach.”
Yaakov Avinu blessed them each with an individual brochah befitting them and their progeny. The way he acted that day was a prime example of proper chinuch. In order for parents to transmit the beauty and customs of Torah to their kinderlach, they have to love their children and their children have to love them. If they treat their child as a separate living, thinking entity, their child will love and respect them. That’s not modern psychology. It’s an approach as old as Yaakov and the shevotim.
Your children are not the same as you are. They are also different from each other. They are not formed by a cookie-cutter.
If you want to teach and reach your children and ensure that they will carry the torch that hails back to Yaakov Avinu, learn the lesson he conveyed through his brachos. Respect them and see them as the people they are, perceiving the world through their eyes.
One of the most impactful rabbeim of the last century was Rav Elchonon Wasserman. Although he was urged to deliver high-level shiurim at the most prestigious yeshivos, he cherished the role of “melamed,” teaching young bochurim and helping them develop a mehalech in learning. He would never give that up.
The depth of the mutual love that existed between the bochurim and their rebbi can be understood through the following incident. Each day, when the shiur ended, the bochurim would gather around Rav Elchonon and ask kushyos. The rebbi would stand at the top of the steps, an army of bochurim around him, a circle of holy fire surrounding them. It was the high point of the day.
The bochurim were disappointed when, one day, Rav Elchonon held up his hands and said, “No questions today.” With his cherished talmidim following, the great rosh yeshiva headed to the yeshiva dining room and entered the kitchen.
“Can you please prepare a portion of lunch for me?” he asked the cook. “Please give me the exact lunch you give the bochurim. I want to know what they eat.”
The startled cook prepared a meager portion of kasha for Rav Elchonon. He ate the simple food in silence, then went off to find the yeshiva’s administration. “This is not al pi Shulchan Aruch,” he announced. “If you accept bochurim to a yeshiva, you are responsible to feed them. Tomorrow I will not say shiur.”
The bochurim were dismayed at the thought of Rav Elchonon forfeiting saying shiur. Their dismay turned to panic when word spread the next day that Rav Elchonon would be traveling to raise money for the yeshiva so that the bochurim could eat better meals.
A talmid who was present shared the story and painted a magnificent picture of the unfolding drama. As Rav Elchonon put on his coat and hat and prepared to set off on his journey, lines of talmidim formed before him. “Rebbe,” they cried, “we don’t need food and we don’t need drink. We just need you, rebbe!”
He faced them and responded, “Nein. Bochurimlach darffen essen. No. Bochurim need to eat.”
Sad as it was, it was a moment that encapsulated proper chinuch, a flow of mutual respect: talmidim yearning to hear their rebbi’s voice and a rebbi dedicated to their wellbeing above all.
Here, in postwar America, few yeshivos made the difference that the Telshe Yeshiva in Wickliffe, Ohio, did during its early years. Hundreds of American talmidim went through its doors, with European roshei yeshiva, Rav Elya Meir Bloch and Rav Mottel Katz, shaping them.
A story retold by Rav Mottel himself sheds light on why they were successful. Telshe was and is a place of punctiliousness and seder, but one evening, the scheduled time for Maariv was changed, moved back a few minutes. There was a major heavyweight boxing match on the radio and the bochurim wanted to listen to it. Rav Mottel admitted that to him, it was the height of bittul Torah to spend time listening to sports. Aside from that, boxing embodied barbarism and crudeness, he said.
He told them that he understood that they were American boys raised in a culture quite different than Lithuania, where he was raised and where he lived until his miraculous departure for America.
He told them that he noticed that in this country, respectable people attended boxing matches, so the boys had yet to perceive the inherent offensiveness of the activity. Rav Mottel was confident in his product – Torah – and that, in time, his talmidim would become elevated and refined enough to reject both the activity and the bittul Torah on their own, but he approached the topic with respect. He didn’t laugh or disparage them, for he knew that wouldn’t work. Instead, he changed the time of Maariv to accommodate them. He was bringing an elixir to a new land, and he wouldn’t reach his students and accomplish his goal of building here what was there by mocking and disparaging his new charges, who were unfamiliar with the ways of the great yeshivos of Lita.
Generations later, his victory is apparent.
Sometimes, parents forget that their children are people too, albeit small people. The Manchester rosh yeshiva, Rav Yehudah Zev Segal, was at a hotel one bein hazemanim. When he prepared to recite Kiddush on Shabbos morning, a gentleman asked the rosh yeshiva to be motzie his young son, who had come late and missed hearing his father make Kiddush. The child looked dismayed. “Daddy, I want to hear your Kiddush,” the boy said, his eyes filling with tears. The father nudged him forward, ignoring his cries, but Rav Segal put down the becher. He was not going to be making Kiddush yet, as he had a chinuch lesson to impart. It was a teaching moment.
“A child is also a person, and you have to do chessed with your children, just as you do with other people. If it means something to him to hear your Kiddush, there is no reason for you not to say Kiddush again.”
The core of Yiddishkeit is transmitting the fire of Torah living to our children, passing on to them the torch held aloft by those who came before us and entrusted us with that eternal flame.
“Vayevorech es Yosef,” the posuk says (Bereishis 48:15), but it doesn’t tell us how Yaakov blessed Yosef. Rather, the brochah of “Hamalach hagoel osi mikol ra” is addressed to Menashe and Efraim. The Rashbam explains that “birkas habonim hi birkas ha’av,” there is no brochah more precious to a father than a brochah to his children.
We will conclude the parshah this week with “Chazak,” as we finish Sefer Bereishis. The entire seder is the story of fathers relating to their children. Let us review the parshiyos before moving on to study the parshiyos of the Jews’ experiences in foreign lands.
We must recognize the need to love our children and not view them as burdens to be contended with. We must deal with them the way they are if we want them to have a chance of becoming what we want them to be. When we bring them home after birth, they are so soft and snuggly. We can’t put them down. But then, as we change diapers and wait for them to walk so that we don’t have to carry them around, we start becoming frustrated. The more children grow, the more some parents begin running out of patience. A young child feels it. His life and dreams are altered if he is not enveloped in a cocoon of warmth and love.
As children grow, not everything is the way we want it to be. Sometimes, we have to look aside. Sometimes, we have to punish. But we must always ensure that the punishment is being administered out of love, not anger. We should look for the good in each child’s soul and seek to help him reach his individual potential. When love is replaced by apathy and respect with dissonance, dangerous behavior is soon to follow.
Look around you and you’ll notice so many unhappy, lonely young people. Generally, it is not their fault. Somewhere along the line, they didn’t realize expectations others had for them and sort of fell out of the system. When you meet one of those young people, you immediately recognize the emptiness in his eyes, his soul and his life. Reach out to these youth. Show some friendship, share a nice word, and find something to compliment. Give a smile. It’s worth more to them than anything else. By doing that, you can make a difference in their lives and return them to happiness and fulfillment. What greater satisfaction could there be?
Let us carefully study the brachos of Yaakov so that we merit the words we all call out as the parshah is completed in shul this Shabbos: Chazak chazak venischazeik.
Much nachas, brochah and hatzlochah to all.