Rabbi Henoch Plotnik | Wednesday, August 10, 2011
It’s a common phenomenon. A young man is about to leave elementary school and move on to the next step in becoming the finest ben Torah he can be. His father initiates a conversation with his rebbi. “I want my boy in an Ivy League yeshivah, can you help get him in?”
“Why do you think he is best served in such a yeshivah,” the boy’s rebbi responds. “I think he is better off in a smaller place or in one where the rebbeim are more suited to his strengths.”
“Because MY son has to go to a famous yeshivah,” is the typical response.
In one such exchange, the rebbi recommended a specific yeshivah, but his advice was ignored. After a miserable ninth-grade year in Ivy League yeshivah #1, the boy was asked to move on, and year later, he was summarily dismissed from Ivy League yeshivah #2. By that time, the only thing resembling ivy was the color he dyed his hair, to go with the orange highlights and purple borders. He eventually wound up in the very institution the rebbi originally suggested. After pulling himself together, he blossomed and found his way to Yerushalayim, where he resides today with his beautiful family.
Another bochur was clearly not succeeding in his learning. His learning disabilities had caught up with him, and he couldn’t master learning Gemara. Maybe they could have been addressed earlier, but they weren’t. Now he was sixteen, depressed, and clearly needed a boost to get himself on track. He was turning his back on his parents and dangerously close to turning on his people. He had been in way too many yeshivos for a boy his age. I cornered his father at a chasunah and asked him if it was time to start thinking about a vocational career, instead of one as the gadol hador. “You want me to give up? You want me to send my son away from yeshivah? Should I just forget about him ever being able to learn?” His pain was palpable, his voice resounding through the wedding hall.
“It’s not about you,” I pleaded. “It’s about your son. He needs something different.” Baruch Hashem, this story has a happy ending. The boy eventually apprenticed in an appropriate field, an “umnus kallah un’kiyah,” married, and he designates time for learning each day.
Why are parents unable to perceive what may in fact be in their child’s best interests?
Out of all the desires, the one that is hardest for us to fathom is the urge to worship avodah zarah. Among all forms of avodah zarah, the most difficult to comprehend is the worship of Molech. The Ramban opines that parents would actually take their child and allow him or her to be burned to death in the fire of the avodah zarah. How can any parent take part in a service that counters basic human nature?
On the most basic level, the answer may simply be in the words of Pirkei Avos, a staple of our summer time learning, “Jealousy, desire, and the pursuit of honor remove a person from this world.” Remember, before the Sanhedrin abolished the desire for avodah zarah, people’s lust for it overpowered any sort of rational thinking. Just as jealousy (the first emotion listed in the Mishnah) can completely distort a person’s thought process, so can the power of unbridled desire destroy a person’s ability to think sensibly. Once in the clutches of taavah, all bets are off, and even one’s own child is fair game, R”l. One need only peruse news reports to see concrete examples of what people can sink to in pursuit of their addiction to taavah.
Thankfully, we no longer have the urge to roast our children to Molech. But that avodah zarah is unfortunately far from obsolete.
It is extremely difficult to strike the exact balance between “social acceptance” and focusing on the task of addressing our children’s individual needs. Parents have dreams for their children. But while it is vital that we do whatever we can to maximize our children’s potential, we have to know our children, and recognize when our dreams do not match their t’chunos hanefesh. We cannot force a child into a yeshivah/school that he or she does not belong in, or into a shidduch that is inappropriate. We cannot superimpose the needs we wish our child had over the actual needs of the child. Giving preference to our desires or fantasies over our children’s needs is, in some way, reviving the spirit of Molech.
Contrary to what people think, those who exercise the courage to be truly sensitive to their children’s needs are respected by their real friends and neighbors. Yet there is still reluctance to do what is right vis-a-vis what looks good. We think we might be scorned. And even worse scenarios, children become pawns for their parents self-aggrandizement, and the catalyst for the parents’ behavior — their desire for acceptance and prestige — may blow up in their faces.
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita, the Rav of Ramat Elchanan and son-in-law of Rav Elyashiv, related an incredible piece of history.
It was common in Europe for the father of a girl who wanted to marry a talmid chacham to visit the great Volozhiner yeshivah, describe his daughter’s virtues to the Netziv, and receive a suggestion as to which bochur was suited for her. One such potential shver presented his daughter’s “resume,” and the Netziv pointed him towards a certain boy who was learning in the beis medrash. To the man’s surprise, the bochur was substantially shorter than his tall daughter, and, for good measure, he walked with a limp. Feeling slighted that his gem of a girl was suggested to this bochur, the visitor promptly returned home. A mere few days later, the man returned, apologizing for his abrupt exit, and revealed to the Netziv that his daughter was “hearing impaired” (in today’s parlance) and after thinking it over, he decided to take the gadol’s suggestion.
In Volozhin, chassanim and kallos would barely see one another during their engagement, and the Netziv felt obliged to make sure that the chassan was keenly aware of the kallah’s disability before the wedding. The chassan’s reaction: “Will the kiddushin be valid if she cannot hear me declare ‘harei at’ under the chuppah?”
When the Netziv assured him that the kiddushin would be fine, the chassan remarked that her impairment could actually be an advantage, as she wasn’t as susceptible to hearing disparaging remarks against lomdei Torah or any other messages that might hinder his pursuit of greatness in Torah. “Besides,” he concluded, “how can I embarrass a bas Yisrael at this point?”
After Rav Zalman Sender Kahana-Shapiro went ahead with this marriage, he became famous throughout the Torah world. The best known of the couple’s four sons was the renowned rav of Kovna, the Dvar Avrohom, whose words are studied by thousands of bnei Torah to this day. Another son authored Na’os Yaakov, and is quoted extensively in the Dvar Avrohom’s responsa. The third son became an av beis din near Grodna, and the fourth married the daughter of the Rav Meir Atlas, whose other daughter was married to Rav Elchonon Wasserman Hy”d. After this last son died, his widow became Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky’s second wife.
Nowadays, how many people would be willing to take a short son-in-law with a limp? How will it look in the pictures and video? What will people say? And from the other side, how will the girl’s mother-in-law feel at the l’chayim when people say, “What? A deaf daughter-in-law?”
But four gedolei olam were brought into this world from that shidduch — because it was in the couple’s best interests.
Could this ever happen again? It’s hard to believe that in today’s times, when some parents even brainwash their children into accepting their prejudices and idiosyncrasies, such a shidduch would go through. But are we doing our children a favor, or sacrificing them on the proverbial altar of Molech?
The Sefer HaChinuch (208) offers us yet another insight into what Molech might look like in our times. The Gemara derives from the wording of the pasuk that one is only liable for Molech if he offers one child and spares the others. The Chinuch suggests that this is because Molech priests would entice worshipers with a promise: If parents sacrifice one child, they are guaranteed with success and nachas from the rest.
Does this sound familiar? Do parents avoid sending one child for therapy, lest it ruin the shidduch prospects of another? Will they refuse to do a shidduch with a certain family even though the match is appropriate for their child, because it might harm the potential shidduchim of the siblings? Haven’t we replicated the segulah of the Molech? But can we afford this replication?
There are harsh realities we must deal with in our lives. As responsible parents, we might need to take a step back sometimes in order to take the next step forward. Certainly, daas Torah should be our guiding light, but we need to muster the courage to follow through.
When we do, we — and more importantly, our children — will be the true beneficiaries of our freedom from Molech.
And yes, our friends will respect us for it too.