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Parshas Shmos:Chinuch Habanim


Translated by the author of "When I Married Him He Didn't Even Know How To Turn On A Computer - And Now He Has The Worlds Most Popular Blog" Rebbetzin N.G.E

Parshas Shmos is the first of the “Shovavim” parshios. “Shovavim” is an acronym for the names of the parshios from Shmos until Tetzaveh and the weeks during which we read these parshios are an opportune time for doing teshuva as is hinted in the pasuk "שובו בנים שובבים" “Return, O wayward sons” . The Rishonim found hints to the various aspects of teshuvah in each of these parshios and in Parshas Shmos they draw our attention to the בנים, the children, the younger generation whose parents and teachers are responsible for teaching and directing them on the proper derech.

We learn a very important lesson from Moshe Rabeinu, the Jewish people’s first leader. Until this point in the Chumash, the Avos and after them Yehuda and Yosef stood at the head of the familial tribe, whereas now Hashem has appointed Moshe to lead the Jewish people as a nation. This towering leader’s greatness is revealed very early on, even as an infant. The gemara learns from the pasuk: "האלך וקראתי לך אשה מינקת מן העבריות...", “Shall I go and summon for you a wet nurse from the Hebrew women” that Moshe was brought to every single Egyptian woman but he refused to nurse from them because a mouth which is destined to speak with the Shechina (Divine presence) cannot possibly drink impure milk. As it states “To whom shall one teach knowledge? To whom shall one explain a message? Those weaned from milk, removed from the breast?” The Rama codifies this as halacha: “if possible, a Jewish baby shouldn’t be nursed by a non-Jewess because the milk of a non-Jewish woman corrupts the heart.” Some opinions maintain that this halacha is derived from Moshe Rabeinu’s behavior. Just as Moshe refused to nurse from a non-Jewess, so too all Jewish babies shouldn’t nurse from non-Jewesses. The Achronim wonder why this is a necessary precaution for all Jewish babies. Will they all speak with the Shechina? We must assume that every Jewish child has the potential of reaching Moshe Rabeinu’s spiritual level and we never know how high the child will soar. Therefore the parents of Jewish children must ensure that no type of forbidden food enter the mouths of their children even when they are still very young for it may corrupt their heart.

Furthermore, Miriam’s approaching Paro’s daughter offering her a Jewish wet nurse was an act of mesirus nefesh for in doing so she revealed the baby’s Jewish identity, endangering his life. Some commentaries bring this as a proof that Miriam was a prophetess who knew that Paro’s daughter wouldn’t harm the baby, yet the act itself, simply understood, was nonetheless one of self sacrifice. Moshe Rabeinu’s refusal to nurse from a non-Jewess was also an act of mesirus nefesh. From such a home, a home of mesirus nefesh for halacha, emerges a leader of Moshe’s stature, leader of the Jewish people and prophet whose level of prophecy was attained by no other. Every Jewish mother should keep this in mind when feeding her child, ensuring that only permitted food enter its mouth so as not to diminish the baby’s future chances of speaking with the Shechina.

Elisha ben Avuya best exemplifies the outcome of not being careful in this area. The gemara tells us how Elisha ben Avuya (also known as Acher) went off the derech. Tosfos cite various Tanaic opinions as to why this happened. R’Natan said: “when his mother was pregnant with him she would pass by Avoda Zara and would smell it.” This is very surprising for we know that one who unwillingly commits an aveira is not held culpable, (אונס רחמנא פטריה) If she passed by a house of idol worship and the odor filtered into her nostrils involuntarily, it is inconceivable that her fetus would be punished for this. Rather it must be that when Elisha ben Avuya’s mother smelled this forbidden odor she had two options: to enjoy the smell or to be repulsed by it, concentrating on its idolatrous source. She chose the former, reasoning that once she already accidentally smelled it why not enjoy it? Enjoying the smell however, affected her fetus, injecting it with the pernicious poision of heresy which lay dormant in him for many years only to one day surface and lead him astray from all that is holy until he became the infamous “Acher”. Another opinion regarding the cause of Elisha ben Avuya’s religious downfall is that his mother wasn’t careful enough not to eat any forbidden food during the time she nursed him. This source also demonstrates how a person’s spirituality can be affected even so early on in life. Thus we have seen the tragic results of a baby who was exposed to impurity on the one hand, and on the other hand the awesome heights achieved by one who as a baby was exceedingly careful to avoid such an exposure.

There was once a distinguished Chassidic Rebbe in Eretz Yisroel whose daughter rebelled, having been drawn to the kibbutz ideology. Her father realized that there was no stopping her from going in that direction yet made just one request. “I can’t force my lifestyle on you” he admitted “but I ask that when the day comes and you decide to marry, please keep the laws of Taharas Hamishpacha (family purity). How do I justify my request? By using your very own reasoning. You have reached the conclusion that one should “live and let live”, allowing each individual to choose his own path in life. If you do not keep Taharas Hamishpacha then you are denying your children the opportunity to choose their own path. For if they should ever desire to return to their roots, they will be considered spiritually blemished because their mother didn’t keep these laws.” The daughter consented and kept Taharas Hamishpacha even on the kibbutz. The interesting end of the story is that her children did eventually do t’shuva, returning to the ways of their grandfather.
A research was once done on prematurely born babies. These babies, all under a month old and still incubated were divided into two groups. The parents of the first group were asked to come three times a day and try to bond with their babies as much as possible, smiling and talking to them just as the parents of a full term baby would. The parents of the other group were of the opinion that there was no point in visiting a baby in an incubator who wouldn’t notice them anyway. These parents didn’t make the effort to bond with their babies daily. The families of all the babies were visited at a later stage and it was discovered that those children who did receive love and warmth during that first month spent in the incubator had a calmer childhood and a warmer, healthier relationship with their parents than the other children had. The research intended to prove that even during the first month of a baby’s life there is significance to parental love and affection. Chazal teach us that even a fetus in its mother’s womb can be affected so profoundly as to have considerable ramifications many years later.

Later in our Parsha we are told that Hashem wished to kill Moshe for being negligent regarding his son Eliezer’s bris. Targum Yonasan teaches us that Moshe Rabeinu, prior to his marrying Tzipporah, swore to Yisro that he wouldn’t circumcise his first son and would sacrifice him to Avoda Zara, while his second son he was permitted to circumcise. This is learned from the pasuk: "ויואל משה לשבת את האיש" for the word אלה always refers to an oath. According to this Moshe is held culpable only regarding Eliezer’s circumcision and not Gershom’s for he was forced to swear regarding Gershom’s but his negligence regarding Eliezer’s was inexcusable. The Chizkuni cites a midrash which claims that the punishment came as a result of negligence regarding both children’s circumcision. Now that Moshe was negligent regarding Eliezer’s bris we can’t be sure that at the time of Gershom’s bris the only deterrent was Moshe’s oath to Yisro. We suspect that maybe there too there was an element of negligence.

In Parshas Korach Moshe states: "לא חמור אחד מהם נשאתי ולא הרעתי את אחד מהם" “I have not taken even a single donkey of theirs, nor have I wronged even one of them” Rashi cites the midrash explaining that Moshe, when traveling with his family from Midyan back to Mitzrayim, didn’t take a donkey from B’nei Yisroel rather he took his own. How indeed could Moshe have taken a donkey from the Jewish people if he was still in Midyan? Maybe the Tanchuma meant that upon returning to Mitzrayim, Moshe could have requested reimbursement from B’nei Yisroel for his traveling expenses but he chose not to. On a deeper level R’Menachem Mendel of Riminov explains that it was important to Moshe Rabeinu not to take anything from the people, just as this would be important to Shmuel Hanavi. Abaye said, or if you wish you may say it was R’Yitzchak who said: one who wishes to derive benefit from the kindness of others may derive such benefit, as we learn from the practice of Elisha (who accepted lodging from the Shunamite woman). But one who does not wish to derive any benefit from the kindness of others need not accept such benefit as we learn from the practice of Shmuel Haramasi (who was careful to never rely on others for his needs) as it is stated: “And his return was to the Ramah, for his home was there” And R’Yochanan said that in all the places that Shmuel visited, his home was with him (for he brought with him whatever he might need so he wouldn’t need to take from others) R’Mendel differentiates between the manhig, the leader of the nation, and the tzaddik hador. Each has a different task to fulfill and therefore their behavior differs. Moshe Rabeinu and Shmuel Hanavi were leaders. They both knew that in order to maintain authoritativeness and objectiveness in their leadership they must never benefit even slightly from the nation’s resources. The tzaddik’s task is of a different nature thus entitling him to be supported by the people. Therefore at the very onset of Moshe’s leadership, as he began his role as leader, Moshe conveys this message to his family. We are now embarking on our first mission for Klal Yisroel and we are not taking anything from them. We will not be traveling in a fancy company car rather on our old trusty donkey. I was chosen for this position in order to be subservient to the needs of the people and not for any personal benefit.
The gemara relates that Yehonasan was asked how it came to be that he, Moshe Rabeinu’s grandson became a priest to Micha’s idol. “Do you not descend from Moshe…? He replied to them: I received this by tradition from the house of my grandfather לעולם ישכור אדם עצמו לעבודה זרה ואל יצטרך לבריות Indeed a man should give himself out to avodah zarah and not subsist on charitable donations of other men. And he (Yehonasan) interpreted this aphorism literally, he understood it to justify involvement in the actual service of idols. But in truth when Moshe said “avodah zarah” he meant avodah, work, which is zarah, foreign or unfamiliar to the person… When Dovid Hamelech saw that Yehonasan was exceedingly fond of money, he appointed him overseer of the royal treasure houses as the pasuk states: “And Shevuel the son of Gershom the son of Moshe was overseer of the treasure houses.” Was Shevuel his name? Was it not Yehonasan? R’Yochanan said: The pasuk calls him Shevuel because he returned to Hashem with all his heart.”

How did Dovid Hamelech notice that Yehonasan was fond of money? Moshe’s grandson Yehonasan when choosing a means of livelihood could have understood his grandfather’s words “avodah zarah” to mean a job which is foreign to you (i.e. beneath your dignity). Since he instead chose to interpret the term “avodah zarah” literally (idol worship) we are compelled to reach the conclusion that his understanding was motivated by a love of money. One may suggest another explanation. Perhaps when Moshe Rabeinu left Midyan with his own personal donkey, in order to convey to his family the message of not taking from the nation’s money, his newborn son Eliezer was still young enough to absorb this idea but it was lost on his older son, Gershom (who would later be Yehonasan’s father) because he was not circumcised. We have already seen how seemingly small things deeply affect a child expressing themselves only years later, in this case we see it only a generation later when Gershom’s son misinterpreted Moshe Rabeinu’s lesson and became a priest to avodah zarah.

In Seder Hadoros we are told that R’Chaninah ben Dosa was a gilgul of Eliezer the son of Moshe Rabeinu. R’Chaninah ben Dosa was a model of one who is satisfied with little, subsisting on only a very small amount of carobs from one erev Shabbos to the next. This is the midah (character trait) which Moshe Rabeinu wished to instill in his children as they left for Mitzrayim. Eliezer indeed absorbed and internalized this message but Gershom did not. Once again we see the affect of those small things which may seem small and insignificant to the parents, yet are magnified and dominant in the child’s life even though we may only see the harmful effects much later on.

It is incumbent upon us as parents and educators to internalize this and be extra careful regarding anything related to our children’s chinuch. We mustn’t make incorrect decisions while thinking “he’s still so young” rather we must realize that any divergence from halacha may chalila affect the child emotionally or spiritually later on in life. May Hashem help us succeed in this important task of raising children to Torah and Yiras Shomayim and may they grow to be a source of pride and joy to Klal Yisroel and bring Mashiach Tzidkeinu bemheira beyameinu Amen.

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About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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