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Rabbi Doniel Staum on Parshas Vayechi 5770 "Perennial Parenting"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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1/1/10

STAM TORAH

PARSHAS VAYECHI 5770

PERENNIAL PARENTING

The following excerpt is from Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski’s book, It’s Not As Tough As You think, chapter 62):

“You’ve heard of the “empty nest syndrome”. Children grow up and go off to study. They marry and move to another city. The house is empty. Mothers seem to be more affected than fathers, probably because the mother is often more intimately involved with the care of the child, whereas the father is at work all day.

“At any rate, mothers may get depressed when the house empties out. There is nothing much to do in the house anymore. Most of the beds are not slept in. There is very little laundry. Cooking for two takes little time, and the couple often eat out. Why mess up the kitchen?

““Empty nest syndrome” mothers become depressed because they don’t feel useful anymore. This is where they are making a great mistake. Parents are ALWAYS useful. It is just the nature of their function that changes.

“When the child is a tiny infant, he needs constant attention: feeding, bathing, diapering, carrying, and looking after him when he is ill. As he grows older, he can dress and bathe himself. His mother still has to do the laundry, prepare his lunch, cook dinner, and clean his room. Some of this activity continues when he is off at school. His father may feel needed because he is helping out financially. But when the child marries and moves away and becomes financially self-sufficient, that’s when the parent may feel that they are no longer functional.

“How wrong, how terribly wrong! I lived six hundred miles from my parents. I was established in my practice, and my parents did not have to do anything for me. But when the baby got his first tooth or took his first steps, I called and shared these great events with them. I sent them pictures of the children, and they called to tell me that these were unquestionably the most beautiful children in the world. When the children said something cute, my parents told me that my children were the brightest in the world. They came to the bar mitzvahs and graduation. There is abundant joy in raising a family when one can share good news with parents. And of course, one can receive comfort when things do not go well.

“One of the saddest moments of my life was when I could no longer call my father or mother to share the pleasure of my children’s progress. Sure, I received many congratulatory wishes from good friends, but a parent’s good wishes are irreplaceable. I do take great pleasure in my grandchildren’s achievements, but it would be infinitely greater if I could share the joy with my parents.

“So, dad and mom, you may no longer have to diaper or pay for dental braces. But, oh, how much you are needed! Your roles may have indeed changed, but your value never changes, except, that is, it increases.”

The Torah relates that, “Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years.” After twenty-two painful years of separation, Yaakov was finally reunited with Yosef in Egypt. Yaakov begrudgingly emigrated from Canaan, transporting his entire family to Egypt.

The Medrash[1] derives from the vernacular of the verse that Yaakov truly “lived” during his final seventeen years in Egypt. They were years of “ripe old age and tranquility”. After an entire lifetimes besieged with challenges and vicissitudes, Yaakov lived out his final years enjoying the nachas and pleasure of watching his burgeoning family’s growth.

It would seem that Yaakov earned the bliss of his final years. After living and traversing the challenges of Esav, Lavan, Dinah, and the loss of Yosef, Yaakov was surely entitled to enjoy the end of his life.

After Yaakov’s encounter with Eisav and after the abduction of Dinah and the Shechem debacle, the Medrash states that Yaakov sought to dwell in tranquility, whereupon G-d immediately wrought upon him the debacle of Yosef. G-d said, as it were, “Is it not sufficient for the righteous what is prepared for them in the World to Come that they seek to dwell in serenity in this world?”

The commentators struggle to understand this statement. Yaakov surely did not seek a life of physical indulging and pampering. The tranquility he yearned for was a life free of challenge so that he could devote himself to complete Service to G-d. What was wrong with that noble desire?

I was further bothered by the fact that at the end of his life Yaakov seems to have indeed achieved a period of blissful tranquility. Although the natural course of senescence took its toll on Yaakov, his final years were free of external challenge. For the first time in decades, Yaakov was able to devote himself solely to spiritual pursuits and the promulgation of his legacy after his passing. Why was Yaakov entitled to tranquility at this point whereas earlier he had to suffer the unbearable pain of losing Yosef?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l offers a novel interpretation of the aforementioned statement. Just prior to leaving home, Yosef, the second to youngest of Yaakov’s children was seventeen years old, practically a young adult and mature beyond his years. All of Yaakov’s sons had already achieved extreme levels of scholarliness and had developed into righteous young men. Thus Yaakov felt that his children had past the stage of life when he could educate them. He felt that from that point onward they no longer needed his constant guidance and education, and at this point he was free to reap the fruits of his labor of raising such a beautiful family. Yaakov thought that he could sit back and enjoy his family as they continued on the path he had set them on during their formative years.

It was at that point that the debacle of Yosef began to unfold. G-d’s message to Yaakov was that it is only when the righteous depart this world and enter the upper worlds that they become exonerated from their responsibility to educate their children. But as long as one is still alive he must always be a guide and educator for his children. The manner in which he gives over that education changes drastically throughout the course of life, but the idea that a parent always remains an educator never changes.

Perhaps we can utilize this idea to understand why there was no complaint against Yaakov’s years of tranquility at the end of his life in Egypt. Throughout those seventeen years Yaakov was in fact the consummate educator. The Torah relates in detail the blessings that Yaakov gave to each of his sons, and to Menashe and Ephraim as well. The aged Yaakov utilized his remaining energies to direct and guide his children.

The Torah records the end of Yaakov’s life by stating, “When Yaakov finished instructing his sons; he was expired, and gathered to his people.” The last period of Yaakov’s life may have been a time of relative calm, but Yaakov utilized the time to teach and guide his children about the future, literally until he breathed his last. It was only when he finished instructing his sons that he passed on to the world of true tranquility.

Every yeshiva boy is familiar with the concept of a “chosson schmooze”. It is a special heart-to-heart conversation that every engaged yeshiva boy has with a rebbe with whom he feels very close just prior to his marriage. Among other things the Rebbe impresses upon his young student the importance of marriage, the need for constant work to ensure the beauty and preservation of the marriage, the need for commitment and guidance, etc.

I am often bothered by the fact that there is no concept of a “Ba’al Habayis schmooze”. The reality is that most yeshiva boys leave the yeshiva world at some point to fulfill their responsibilities of supporting their family. The stark and harsh truth is also that the yeshiva world is vastly different from the ‘working world’. When one steps out of the spiritual security of the yeshiva he is exposed to all sorts of temptations and challenges that were completely taboo and foreign to him while he was a full time student in the yeshiva.

Many of my friends have compared the experience of leaving yeshiva and being thrust into the working world to a cup of ice cold water being poured over their heads. It’s not only a challenging transition it is a potentially spiritually hazardous transition as well.

So why is there no “Ba’al Habayis schmooze”? When the time comes for a student to depart yeshiva why is there no candid lecture in which the potential challenges he will imminently face are discussed with him? Why is there no lecture about the realities he must now face and given some ideas for spiritual survival[2]?

Perhaps some will argue that it is indeed the responsibility of the yeshivos to have such conversations and it is a criticism on them that it is not done. I humbly disagree[3].

According to Rabbi Feinstein the lesson Yaakov learned is that a parent must be an educator as long as he/she lives. It is we - as parents - who must be the guides and consultants for our children. What greater bonding and meaningful conversation can there be than for a father to speak to his son, or for a mother to speak to her daughter, about the challenges of the workforce and what he does to protect himself from its dangers! Who but a parent can best address and understand the specific challenges that his/her child will have to contend with!

Although as adolescents we all know more than our parents, Mark Twain quipped, “The older I got the smarter my father became.” Parents muse be wise enough to know how to say things to their older children, but they must also realize that their children still need them and their guidance[4].

In his well-known song entitled “Zaidy”, Moshe Yess poignantly sang, “Who will be the Zaidy of our children; who will be their Zaidy if not we?”

Who will be the parents of our children if not we?!

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[1] Medrash Hagadol; also see Zohar 1:216

[2] I do not mean to imply that this is never done. I am sure that those rabbeim who build strong connections with their students indeed have such a conversation. But it is not as widespread as the ‘Chosson Schmooze”. I also do not mean to negate the need for girls to have such conversations before they head out into the working world. It is surely no less important than for boys. However, I am writing from the vantage point of my personal experience.

[3] We have already cast enough misappropriated blame on the underpaid and overworked staff of our yeshivos and do not need to add this to the list.

[4] Certainly there are situations in which a parent is unable to have such a conversation with their child for various reasons. Still it is the parent’s responsibility to ensure that someone close with their child has that conversation.



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