Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Parent’s Advice

Audio Version By Rabbi Sholem Perl
Print Version
The Haftora for parshas Vayechi, tells of King David's last words and instructions to his son Shlomo and it gives a tally of his years as king.

The connection to our parsha is Yaakov's last words to his children and Yosef's last words to his brothers.

The Haftora begins  to tell us, that when the time of David's passing was nearing, he instructed his son Shlomo. "I am going the way of all the earth, and you should strengthen yourself and become (ish) a man."

At this point, Shlomo was twelve years old, before Bar Mitzvah. These words are a message from every parent to their Bar Mitzvah boys crossing into Manhood, "strengthen yourself and become a man." Why does he need to strengthen himself to become a man?

In Hebrew, there are four terms for the word "man," adam, ish, enosh and gever. Adam, refers to the intelligent aspect of man, the mind, brain, etc. Ish, is the emotional side of man, feelings, heart, etc. The last two, enosh and gever, are the way adam and ish express themselves. Enosh, refers to emotional or intellectual weakness. Gever, refers to emotional or intellectual strength.

What is strange in this verse is the use of the word "ish," which refers to the emotional. The reason why a boy enters Manhood at thirteen, is because, that is when he becomes a Bar Daas, which is the natural development of his intellectual properties. However, here David uses the word "ish," which has to do with his emotions. Wouldn't it make sense to say "adam?"

The intellectual aspect of man, remains in his thoughts and can only be expressed by coming through his emotional self, in speech and action. The development of a person's mind, does not ensure that he will act correctly, that is why we find a lot of smart people doing stupid and destructive things. It takes effort to apply what you know, so that it affects how you act. So while a boy enters Manhood because of the natural development of his intellectual properties, it takes personal effort to apply what he knows to how he acts, because that is not natural. Therefore David's instructions to Shlomo are, as if to say - I know that you are smart, but that won't help you, unless you can apply it to the way you act. So "strengthen yourself," meaning, you will have to put your own effort and hard work, to become an " Ish," an emotionally well developed person. Only then will your great wisdom be useful and serve you well.

The same is true for every Bar Mitzvah boy, if he wants to become an ish, he will have to put in the effort.

The first mitzvah that a Bar Mitzvah boy becomes obligated to do, is the reading of the Shema. Here we see the same idea, that knowledge doesn't necessarily bring to action.

The Shema begins, "Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one. And you will love Hashem your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your means." But between the first two verses, our great sages inserted another verse,"The name of Hashem's glorious kingdom is blessed forever and ever." Why did they feel the need to add this verse? Isn't the knowledge of Hashem's oneness enough to bring him to love Hashem?

The answer is the same as before. Just because you understand something doesn't mean you feel it. The extra verse, is to apply it to yourself, by actively accepting Hashem's dominion over you.

Another mitzvah that comes with Bar Mitzvah is Teffillin. The Torah says, "You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand and they should be as totafos between your eyes." By the Teffillin that goes on the arm, the Torah says, "You shall bind them." However, by the head Teffillin, it says, "they should be." Why the difference? Another interesting thing, is that the head and the arm Teffillin are two separate mitzvahs, but in order to put on the head Teffillin, you are required to first put on the arm Teffillin. Why?

The answer is in the same vein as the previous answer. The head Teffillin sit on the part of the head where the brain is, it is connected to the intellect. Because the intellectual properties of a person develop naturally, all the Teffillin needs to do, is "be" there. Whereas the arm Teffillin are near the heart, which is connected to emotions and the arm and hand are all about action. Therefore, effort needs to be exerted to "bind" them, because emotional development comes through effort. And being that our intellect is expressed via our emotions, the emotional self needs to be developed first, so that the intellect could be properly expressed. Hence the Teffillin of the arm has to be on before the head.

I see this with my children as well. Thank G-d, I have been blessed with smart children, but I see how much work it takes for them to be the great kids they are. For me, there is no greater nachas, than watching my children growing up and becoming a mentch and a Torah observant Jew.

From both parshas Vayechi and the haftorah we see the importance of advising our children before the day comes.

The thing is, that we don't know when that day will come. As for me, Hashem has chosen to give me ALS, and since the diagnosis, the day has been staring me in the face. My wife Dina, and good friends whose parents have passed on, have been trying to impress upon me, the importance of writing a living will. At first, I was being stubborn, not wanting to consider the suggestion that the day might come. But then, a few of my friends suddenly passed, which got me thinking, that it is probably a good idea for everyone to do, even those that are healthy.

Now that I have started, it has become so meaningful to me, as it has given me a clarity of what I really want, for my family in general, and for my wife and each of my children specifically. I don't plan to wait for them to find out, when my time comes. As soon as I am done, I will share it with them, so that they know how I feel about them, what I think they are capable of, and what I wish for them.

A father's and mother's advice, is so powerful and cherished by their children. Even if they ignore it now, eventually it will have a tremendous impact.

My suggestion to every parent, and anyone who has been a teacher or mentor to someone they truly care about. Start the process of writing a living will, and you will find it meaningful, it will give you clarity and your family will be grateful that you did it.

May our efforts we put into our children be fruitful. May we watch them grow into mentchen, and may they always be a source of nachas, to Hashem, to the Jewish people, and especially to us.


  1. Thank you
    I very much relate the Haftora since my boy just turned twelve
    Shabbat Shalom

  2. Thank you
    I very much relate the Haftora since my boy just turned twelve
    Shabbat Shalom