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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Tetzaveh 5774 "To Ascend on its Own"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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“Suppose, for example, that I am highly over-reactive to my children. Suppose that whenever they begin to do something that I feel is inappropriate, I sense an immediate tensing in the pit of my stomach. I feel defensive walls going up, I prepare for battle. My focus is not on the long-term growth and understanding but on the short-term behavior. I’m trying to win the battle, not the war.

“I pull out my ammunition- my superior size, my position of authority – and I yell or intimidate or I threaten or punish. And I win. I stand there, victorious, in the middle of the debris of a shattered relationship while my children are outwardly submissive and inwardly rebellious, suppressing feelings that will come out later in uglier ways.”[1]

“You shall command the B’nei Yisroel that they shall take for you pure, pressed olives for illumination, to cause the candle to go up constantly.”[2] Rashi[3] explains that the verse utilizes an unusual expression – to cause the candle to ‘go up constantly’ – to demonstrate that the kohain had to use quality wicks and oils that would ensure that the flame would ascend on its own.[4]

Me’or V’shemesh notes that this mitzvah is symbolic of a parent/rebbe’s obligation to educate their children in the ways of Torah and mitzvos. Their goal is to sufficiently inspire, and cause the flame within the soul of their students and children to ascend on its own, so that they will not require any exterior or added motivation.

The Chofetz Chaim would dolefully note that there are some fathers who limit themselves to teaching their children a little chumash, and some other basic Torah knowledge. They then invest the bulk of their energy teaching their children other matters. When asked about their children’s ultimate connection with Torah and Judiasm, they reply that their children were raised in good Jewish homes with good Torah values, so they have little fear that their children will develop into anything but good Torah Jews.

However, this is a tragic mistake. Both a fire and a pot of boiling water heated atop a fire are scorching hot and can burn someone. The difference is that no matter where the fire is transferred to it will retain its heat. The boiling pot however, only remains boiling so long as it is atop the fire. Once it is removed from the fire it immediately begins to cool.

In addition, one can continue lighting other fires from a fire, and it will not diminish the strength of the original fire. The pot however, no matter how hot it is, if the water inside the pot is poured into another vessel, it will cool significantly, and if poured into a third vessel it will cool even more.

The same holds true in regards to the education of one’s children. The Torah is analogous to fire[5], a fire which penetrates the hearts of those who study it. If one achieves some mastery in Torah through great effort and study, the fire of Torah begins to burn within him. That fire has the power, not only to warm him spiritually, but it can also light up the hearts of others, including his own children and grandchildren.

But if one doesn’t invest much effort in teaching his children Torah, reasoning that his children will appreciate Torah and its values through osmosis of his home and community, that is like a pot heated by an external flame. The pot can indeed become boiling hot, but that heat is external and will only last as long as it is in close proximity to the fire.

A child raised in a Torah environment, albeit without much exposure to Torah study and understanding, is not so secure. He is in great danger of forfeiting all he has gained when he will be tempted and challenged by the aesthetic and sometimes spiritually sinister luring of the society surrounding.

To prevent that danger, concludes the Chofetz Chaim, a parent must ensure that he has given his child the ability for their internal flame to ascend on its own, not merely to be heated with external heat.

Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch similarly explains that the job of a Torah teacher is to ultimately make himself superfluous. His ultimate goal is that his student will reach such love and achievement in Torah that he will feel connected to it even without the direct involvement of his teachers.

In regards to education, the verse from Mishlei[6] is often quoted: “Chanoch linar al pi darko – educate a child according to his way”. But the latter half of the verse is often forgotten: “gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimenu – even when he becomes old he will not deviate from it.”

Shlomo Hamalech is noting that chinuch is not just about compliance, but about instilling values into our children’s souls, so that it becomes part of them for life.

It is all too easy for a parent/teacher to become caught up in the heat of the moment, and to focus on the short-term issue, and lose sight of the long-term education that needs to occur. In fact, parents need to constantly take stock of each of their children’s growth, and contemplate whether they - as parents – are doing enough to build and foster the innate uniqueness of their child.

Parenting is never easy, and very often it’s downright overwhelming. But we must maintain the hopes and dreams we originally had for our children when we began as parents – to build the next generation of Klal Yisroel. The only way to do that is by constantly ensuring that the fires within each child are ascending on their own.

“To cause the candle to go up constantly”

“Even when he becomes old he will not deviate from it.”

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[1] Stephen Covey “The 7 habits of highly effective people” (p.105)

[2] Shemos 27:20

[3] Quoting Gemara Shabbos 21a

[4] If inferior wicks and oils were used the flame would not catch without tilting and other adjustments.

[5] “Behold my words are like fire” (Yirmiyah 23:29; see also Berachos 22a)

[6] 22:6

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