Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Re’eh – Keeping Our Children Close

I was recently listening to a shiur by noted speaker, Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein, founder of Ohr Na’ava. When he was young, his father was a traveling salesman who would only come home from work on Friday. His father was exhausted from a long week, but he had his priorities! When little Zecharia and his brothers came home from yeshiva on Friday, their father was always waiting on the front stoop of their home with a football in hand, ready to play a game with his sons. Rabbi Wallerstein recalls, “I was a rough teenager. I could have easily fallen into the wrong crowd. The only thing that kept me strong in my commitment to Yiddishkeit was my connection to my father. I saw how much Yiddishkeit meant to him and how much he loved me and realized how broken he would be if I got involved in unsuitable behavior.”

Rabbi Wallerstein’s father knew that the key to passing on Torah to the next generation is a positive parent-child relationship.

My good friend Avi had a group of rowdy friends in high school. Trouble was their middle name. He was friendly with the group, but he never participated in any of their antics. Avi had a devoted father and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. As a youngster, Avi was really into cars. His father made him a deal: Learn the entire Mishnah Berurah, be tested on it…and if he did well, he’d buy Avi a new sports car. Avi accepted the deal! The challenge was perhaps more than he realized. After two years, he had only completed the first of the six volumes of the Mishnah Berurah. He did take a test on the first volume and he aced it! His father saw the effort and the great results of his son and invested in him: He bought him the car! He also told him he should finish the other five volumes. Today, Avi is a rebbe in a yeshiva in the mornings and oversees an auto body shop that he owns, in addition to being a car dealer. He is combining both of his passions.

The power of a close parent-child relationship is learned from Parshas Re’eh. Rav Ahron Kotler says the most important pasuk in the entire Torah is “Banim atem laHashem elokeichem, You are children to Hashem your God.” The pasuk continues, “Do not cause a mark on your flesh or pull out hair from sadness of passing of relatives.” How are these points connected? Rashi explains that you should not make a mark on yourselves because you are children of Hashem and should therefore look presentable!

This teaches us the value of inherent self-worth. Our elevated status vis-à-vis the Creator prevents us from deforming ourselves physically; surely the same is true spiritually.

The bottom line is that if we truly feel we are children of Hashem and realize how much Hashem loves us, this will prevent us from getting involved in any improper behavior. Temptations are not so appealing when we feel like we’re part of a royal family—Hashem’s family.

Undoubtedly, having this attitude serves as the key to our personal success in Torah and mitzvos and to our success in passing on Torah to the next generation. The world at large recognizes this fact: they expect a higher degree of morality and refinement from us as Jewish people. We should expect the same higher standards from ourselves!

As a postscript…When I was writing this dvar Torah, I received a call from a friend who works with me to ensure funding for a teen drop-in center for troubled youth. He mentioned an idea for a fundraising campaign before Yom Tov. He said perhaps our message for this campaign should be that just like we are children to Hashem, these teens are also our children and we need to look after them. He had no idea about the theme of my dvar Torah this week, but it was a clear message to me from Hashem that my theme of the week was completely on target!

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