Parshas Vayeitzei – The Greatness of Tza’ar Gidul Banim


פרשת ויצא

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (19b) quotes the following possuk: לכן כה אמר השם אל בית יעקב אשר פדה את אברהם – “Therefore, so says Hashem to the House of Yaakov Who freed Avraham” (Yeshaya 29:22). Now, in the more simple interpretation of this possuk, we understand that the words “Who freed Avraham,” refers to Hashem, and we would read as follows: “So said Hashem, Who freed Avraham from the idol-worshipers of Ur Kasdim, to the House of Yaakov.” And that’s exactly how the Rishonim who learn poshut pshat explain this possuk.
However, Chazal, who paid attention to even the slightest variation, to the most minute change in a possuk, determined a hidden meaning in these words. They were bothered here by the order of the words: “So said Hashem to the House of Yaakov, who freed Avraham.” It sounds as if it was Yaakov, and his household, who freed Avraham. In some way, it was Yaakov who redeemed Avraham, say Chazal, and they therefore tell us the following: אמר רב יהודה: שפדאו מצער גידול בנים – “Rav Yehuda taught: Yaakov freed Avraham from the travails of child-rearing” (ibid.) Yes, Yaakov redeemed Avraham and Yitzchok from the yoke of raising children.
Now, we have to understand, what does it mean that Yaakov redeemed his father Yitzchok and his grandfather Avraham from the difficulties and travails of raising children? So let us try to understand what Chazal are teaching us here.
It is most noteworthy that Avraham and Yitzchok are never described as serving anyone else. From the beginning of his career, we find that Avraham possessed many servants and much property. ויקח אברם את שרי ואת כל רכושם אשר רכשו – “And Avram took Sarai and all of the possessions that they had amassed” (Bereishis 12:5). ואברהם כבד מאד במקנה בכסף ובזהב – “And Avraham was very heavy with livestock, with silver and with gold” (ibid. 13:2). And Yitzchok received this wealth from his father: ויתן אברהם את כל אשר לו ליצחק – “And Avraham gave to Yitzchok all of the wealth that he had amassed” (ibid. 25:5). We don’t find that our first two Avos were ever forced to work for anyone else, nor were doing menial labor on behalf of others. They always remained independent of others. They were independently wealthy, and lived self-sufficient lives. And then, along came Yaakov. He was forced to leave the domain of his father’s family, the place of security and independence. Yaakov lived a life that was very different than his fathers. He fled for his life and spent spend twenty years in strenuous toil, working for a very difficult and demanding boss. Unlike his fathers, Yaakov was not independent at all. And this glaring difference was not accidental, but it was part of Hashem’s especial plan for the creation of our nation.
Avraham was the originator of the knowledge and awareness of Hashem, and he was the most original thinker in the history of Mankind. And in order to facilitate his career of thinking and teaching, his career of ויקרא בשם השם, Hashem bestowed affluence upon him. And thus, all his life Avraham possessed what he needed in servants, wealth, independence and most important, the peace of mind to fulfill his role.
And Yitzchok followed in the footsteps of his father. He was also a thinker and a teacher. ויצא יצחק לשוח בשדה – “And Yitzchok went out to speak in the field” (ibid. 24:63). And this was not a one-time event, but it was his regular practice throughout his lifetime. ויצא יצחק means that Yitzchok always went out. The son of Avraham learned from his father to spend his time thinking thoughts of Hashem. And therefore Hashem gave him the wealth of Avraham which enabled him to find the leisure he required for his profound studies, continuing to develop the attitudes and ideals of his father. And like his father before him, he continued to spread the name of Hashem in the world. ויקרא בשם השם – “And [Yitzchok] called out in the name of Hashem” (Bereishis 9:25). On both of these great men we can truthfully apply the words of Pirkei Avos, “One who accepts upon himself the yoke of the Torah is relieved of the yoke of the kingdom and the yoke of making a living” (Avos 3:5).
And Yitzchok made even more progress than his father in these studies. עתידין ישראל לילך אצל אברהם ואומרים לו למדינו תורה, והוא אומר להם לכו אצל יצחק שלמד יותר ממני – “One day the Nation of Israel will go to Avraham and say: Teach Torah to us,’ and he will say to them: ‘Go to Yitzchok who learned more than I did’ ” (Sh’mos Rabbah 2:6). Avraham had no teacher in his youth; but Yitzchok received all of his father’s teachings, and he added to them. Like a ננס על גבי ענק, like a midget standing on the shoulders of a giant, Yitzchok took his father’s teachings about Hashem and progressed further, developing the Torah principles that would forever guide the עם ישראל.
It is no accident that Avraham was childless for a great part of his life. And Yitzchok, after twenty years of childlessness, only had two sons. And among the purposes of this circumstance, this “travail,” was that these two giant thinkers should be unencumbered, in order to facilitate their study of the ways of Hashem.
And what about our father Yaakov? What was his role in the building of the עם ישראל? Once these two great thinkers, Avraham and Yitzchok, had already discovered the principles of Hashem’s ways in this world, and clarified them, the foundation was already laid for the establishment of the Holy People. And now what was needed was that special figure who would devote himself to the function of beginning to build the beautiful edifice, the family, upon the foundation that had been set down. And that man would be Yaakov. Only after the two giant minds of Avraham and Yitzchok had prepared the way, did Yaakov come to assume the burden of producing the future nation.
And assume the burden he did. Yaakov labored assiduously for his wives. And he labored with difficulty to support his children and raise them. And all of this labor was toil in the service of Hashem, in order to raise his children to be the Holy Family who would be the fathers of the Holy People.
And it was this work, the work of raising and developing his children, guiding them towards their future of being the progenitors of the שבטי י-ה, that redeemed Avraham and Yitzchok, and freed them to perfect themselves in thinking thoughts of Hashem. The leisure time that they used to meditate upon the study of Hashem; His greatness, His kindliness, and the great principles of His service. If not for Yaakov, then Avraham and Yitzchok would have had to spend their own lives in raising the future nation, and they would not have had the opportunity to attain the perfection that was necessary for the first fathers of our nation. Free from the task of raising a large family, from the responsibility of raising the שבטים, Avraham and Yitzchok used this “redemption” to become great in developing thoughts of Hashem, and the ideals of the service of Him, which continue to guide our people till today.
However, Chazal expound on this possuk in Yeshaya, and make a very profound and important point about this “redemption” that Yaakov took upon himself. Not only did Yaakov redeem Avraham and Yitzchok from the difficulties of raising a large family, but Yaakov achieved his own greatness. He achieved a greatness no less than his forefathers, by actually raising the building blocks, the foundation stones of the עם ישראל. Chazal tell us that Yaakov has nothing to be ashamed of when he stands before his great father and even greater grandfather. לא עתה יבוש יעקב ולא עתה פניו יחורו – “Yaakov will not be ashamed now, and his face will not pale” (ibid. Yeshaya). And the Gemara tells us: “Therefore Yaakov will now not be ashamed,” before his father. “And now his face will not be pale,” before his father’s father. And why not? Why wouldn’t Yaakov be ashamed when he measures himself against the great accomplishments of his fathers? כי בראותו ילדיו מעשה ידי בקרבו יקדישו שמי – ” For when he sees his children, My handiwork, in his midst, those that sanctify My name” (Yeshaya 29:23). The tremendous accomplishment of raising the שבטים, of raising what was to become the עם ישראל, the Holy Nation that sanctifies the name of Hashem, will forever stand to the credit of Yaakov Avinu and the אמהות who brought them into this world and raised them (Sanhedrin 19b). Yaakov need not be ashamed to face his fathers, because he and his wives raised the family, and produced the nation that would carry on the teachings that the first two fathers had discovered and taught.
And this was the goal that Yaakov and his wives strived for. They viewed it as their purpose in life; building the future nation of Hashem was what they lived for. “All of our work, all of our struggles having children and raising children was to build the עם ישראל,” said Yaakov and the אמהות. “All day long, and all night long, we dedicated our energy, our sweat and blood in raising Your people,” they would say to Hashem. “So why would we stand ashamed?!”
The Rambam tells us that “it was the chief aim of the entire life of the אבות and אמהות to create a people that should know and serve Hashem” (Moreh Nevuchim 3:51). They lived to build the עם ישראל. And this desire explains a most unusual language that we find in this week’s parsha. When Yaakov expressed his wish to marry Rochel after years of labor he said to Lavan הבא לי את אשתי… ואבואה אליה – “Give me my wife, and let me come to her” (Bereishis 29:21). On first glance, this appears to be the coarse words of a low man on the street. But actually this was a declaration of the most noble intent. Yaakov was well on in years, in his mid eighties, and he had lost another seven years by waiting for his wife. And he was intent on building the עם ישראל with great eagerness. “Bring me Rivkah,” he said. “I can’t deal any longer the building of the עם ישראל.” “Let me come to her” means “Let me create the twelve tribes of Hashem’s people!”
And our אמהות, our Mothers, fulfilled their role to perfection. That was their goal, to build the עם ישראל. And so when Rochel saw that Leah had begun to have children, the Torah tells us that ותקנא רחל באחותה – “And Rochel envied her sister” (ibid. 30:1). This is said in commendation of Rochel, not as a criticism. The emotion of envy, when used correctly, is a spur for the acquisition of righteous achievements. קנאת סופרים תרבה חכמה – “The envy of the bookmen, increases wisdom” (Avos). And so Rochel said “Give to me sons, and if not, I shall die” (ibid.). Because she lived for this righteous purpose, and life was almost worthless to her if she could not achieve this goal.
These two great personalities, Rochel and Leah, were intensely envious of each other, because they were intensely aware of the vast consequences of contributing a greater share to the future of the Eternal People. And being keenly aware of their important role, the achievement of the service of Hashem of all the successive generations, they wrestled in prayer and in fervent entreaty before Hashem (see ibid. 30:8). Every additional child was a greater share in the future nation, and it is quite understandable that Rochel and Leah were supremely desirous of outdoing one another in acquiring a greater share in the nation’s future. As much as a woman desires a child, our אמהות desired each child tens of thousands of times more intensely, because each son represented a future tribe of ten thousands. And therefore, to us, it is well-nigh impossible to imagine the fever of righteous envy which burned in the hearts of “Rochel and Leah, the two that built the House of Israel” (Rus 4:11).
And with that, we come to our subject, the subject of the greatness of raising a family. And by that I mean the greatness of raising a family of servants of Hashem, following on the well-trodden path of Yaakov and the אמהות, whose heroic deeds created our people.
And there is no doubt in my mind that the true heroes of כלל ישראל are the mothers and fathers who are living lives of single-minded and complete dedication to bringing up children בדרך התורה and בדרך קדושה. We are surrounded on all sides by the dregs of society, and in this cesspool of a most immoral and גשמיות oriented culture, the mothers and fathers are entrusted with raising a brood of holy children. And they’re doing it. They’re doing it better than anyone would have ever imagined sixty years ago, when I was growing up [The Rav said the previous words in 1979.]
Big, frum families are a glory. Here you have a mother pushing two babies in a carriage, with six older children holding on. It’s the most beautiful sight one can imagine. Now, this woman is a plain woman to the outside world. She’s dressed simply, she’s looks harried – of course she does; she has her children on her mind. She’s worried about them. She’s thinking about supper, and bedtime, and cleaning the house, and this child’s problem, and that child. She’s running a big operation, a big company, and has a lot on her shoulders. So to the outside world, this woman is not the personification of the beautiful woman, of the perfect woman. But to us, those who see the world through the eyes of Hashem, there is nothing more beautiful and more perfect than the mothers of our people. That’s the genuine beauty!
And let me tell you something else. This woman is wealthier than all of the people who the world considers wealthy. Walk outside tonight and look down Ocean Parkway. Look at the rows and rows, the blocks and blocks of apartment buildings. That’s nothing compared to one child. Each child of yours is like owning blocks and blocks of tall skyscrapers. You’re a wealthy person. And so what if the world doesn’t recognize it! It’s a world of darkness, and we don’t expect anything better from the blind fools who walk in that darkness.
The raising of the families of the עם ישראל is one of the greatest achievements possible in this world. And I have to publicly thank Rebbetzin Kaplan, and her Bais Yaakov schools. A lot of the accomplishments are to be attributed to her. She herself had fourteen children, and she instilled in a generation of girls the idealism to go out and build large Torah broods.
And building busy homes of Torah ideals is not only a toil; it is a great happiness. There is no greater happiness than the happiness of raising a family. Raising children is one of the pleasures of life. One day you’ll look back on these days. When you’re already an old great-grandfather, or an old great-grandmother, you’ll look back with longing at the days when the house was busy, and you’ll miss the never-ending hustle and bustle of having children in the house.
And כן ירבו, the עם ישראל is growing and growing. A certain liberal newspaper printed a long article reporting that Boro Park is bursting at the seams. כן ירבו, the Jewish people are growing by leaps and bounds to the great consternation of the New York Times. You walk by a big yeshiva when the boys are coming out. On ערב שבת, let’s say. And there are twenty buses waiting to take them home. Twenty buses! Twenty buses packed with children; packed with Yaakov Avinu’s great-grandchildren.
And you walk by a girls’ school and it’s the same thing. Buses lined up. It’s a most beautiful sight. I walk in the streets on Friday, on ערב שבת, and the streets are filled with buses. Everybody is going home for Shabbos. And walking home as well. You find thirty girls walking, with long skirts. צניעותדיגע girls. Thirty girls here. Twenty girls here. It’s the most beautiful sight. כן ירבו, כן ירבו. This is all the work of Yaakov Avinu, and of all the mothers and fathers. The liberals don’t know what to do with themselves. They don’t know what to do about the population explosion by the Jews. And they can’t do anything about it. You know, that gay people don’t have children. You know that, don’t you?! In Manhattan, nobody is pushing baby carriages.
However, besides for this great עבודה, the great achievement of building the עם ישראל, there is another very important achievement that I want to speak about. There is an inherent perfection that is available to all of us when raising a family.
The raising of a family, the צער גידול בנים that we are busy with, and that Chazal praise Yaakov for, is also a great honing of the character for a father and a mother. Having to guide a family, having to fulfill the needs of many people who are dependent on you, makes you a better person. A husband and a wife, a father and a mother, cannot be loafers. They have to support, feed, and be the mainstay for their family. And it’s a difficult undertaking. You’re busy providing for the emotional needs, and the physical needs of a family that is relying on you. It exhausts a person’s time and energy.
While raising the next generation of the עם ישראל, they are achieving greatness and perfection of character. Giving, listening, caring, being patient, keeping your mouth closed, being מוותר, these are all perfections. These are all preparations for the next world. And the man and woman who understand this, they are able to better appreciate all the trials and difficulties of צער גידול בנים, as they become better and better every day.
Here’s a young selfish girl of eighteen. Of course she’s selfish. Why not? Her life revolves around herself. She does whatever she wants. And then one day she gets married, and now, it’s a few years later, and she’s pushing a carriage with a baby and a two year old in front. And she’s a different woman altogether. A completely different person. Her days and nights are spent giving, giving and giving. She has almost no time for herself. And she’s changing. Every day she’s becoming more and more perfect in the eyes of Hashem.
But there is another greatness that one must achieve even while in the midst of achieving the perfection inherent in raising a holy family. And that is the עבודה of making time for yourself, for your own perfection in the service of Hashem. Because the most important child, more important than all of your children, is yourself. The most important child that you must raise is yourself.
In the beginning of פרשת נח we are told ואלה תולדות נח, נח איש צדיק – “And these are the generations of Noach; Noach was a righteous man” (Bereishis 6:9). Now, the chachomim were bothered by these words. If the possuk says, “These are the generations of Noach,” why is Noach the first one mentioned? “And these are the generations of Noach; Noach was…” Why is Noach mentioned as the first in the list of his own progeny? And the answer is this: It is teaching us that Noach’s most important child, his most important project, was Noach himself. Your own children are so important, but you have to worry about yourself as well. Noach comes first. So besides for this greatness inherent in raising a family, it is of utmost importance that you spend time raising yourself.
Even if you have a big family, you still have a responsibility to yourself. חייך קודמין. Your own life, your own progress, is more important than anything else. Just like Yaakov, even while withing hard to support a large family, and even as he spent his time hovering over his children helping them develop their potential, he still made sure to develop his own potential and become great. And you can’t wait till it’s too late to realize that. All of a sudden, you’ll be an old man of eighty, and you’ll be sitting in a rocking chair in your quiet home. And you’ll be reminiscing about the good old days when you had a mouth filled with your own teeth, and a house filled with your own children. Your children and grandchildren – they’re your accomplishment – are already out on their own, and you’re at home alone. And you’ll look back at all those years, years that were full of opportunity for your own perfection, and now they’re all gone. You won’t get that opportunity back.
Every person must make something out of himself in this world, because there will be no second chances. While you’re here, still flesh and blood, you still have the opportunity to achieve, to grow. But once you leave this world, once that awesome and frightful day comes, when you will have to stand in front of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, then it’s all דין וחשבון; there’s no רחמנות, no mercy, in the Next World. כל האומר הקדוש ברוך הוא ותרן הוא, יותרו חייו – “Anyone who says that Hashem will overlook his misdeeds, and his lack of achievement, he deserves to have his life overlooked” (Bava Kama 50a).
And therefore, however busy you may be with גידול בנים, you must also make time to be busy with yourself. You must strive energetically not only to build your family, but also to steal away time for yourself, to build your own self.
I always tell you the following משל from the Dubno Maggid. He says that the two broken halves of the matzoh, the two pieces of יחץ, one represents עולם הזה and one is עולם הבא. So the father’s עולם הזה is eaten up by his family. He gives it out to his family and they eat it up. And the father hopes to hide away a little piece for himself; a little time for himself, for his own עולם הבא. And then, as if that’s not enough, his children try to steal the other part, the little time that is leftover for עולם הבא. They’re trying to steal the afikomen, his עולם הבא.
They’re constantly trying to steal their father’s time. “Abba, take us to the park! Abba, take us to the zoo!” A man must raise his family, of course. But you have to be a wise fellow. You have to guide your decisions with cleverness. Because there is no question that you must provide your children with what they need. The zoo, the park; nothing wrong with that. You have to raise your children. But you must raise yourself as well. You must always keep before your eyes, the obligation to make something from yourself.
A person must make time for himself, to go to a shiur in the morning , a chavrusa in the evening. To go to shiurim all day on Sunday. You have to make something out of yourself. Call an old chaver and set up a chavrusa again. Get out of the house and start learning again. Your wife doesn’t need you in the kitchen, opening her cabinets and giving your advice. All you’re doing is making her crazy. On a long Friday night, you can accomplish so much. On מוצאי שבת as well. I know a man who set aside a full hour every מוצאי שבת for a חשבון הנפש. He sits down with a pen and paper, and reviews his behavior during the past week. “Did I treat my wife properly like she deserves all week long? Am I still wasting too much time?” This man started doing this years ago, and he’s still doing it today. And that’s how he became a tzadik. He’s a regular fellow like all of us; but he made himself into a tzadik.
Make time; create time, for yourself. Set aside time for mussar and Torah. Wake up a little earlier, and so something with your life. For a big money deal, a big business meeting, you would get up early in the morning. So to prepare for your great meeting with your Creator, you can do so as well. Your children are doing the best they can to steal the afikoman, your Olam Habah time, so you might as well chaparein some for yourself.
And it’s not only your children who are stealing your time. It’s the child inside you, who is enticing you to be a failure. This world is full of inducements, tempting you to waste your time with foolishness. Of course, it’s foolishness dressed up as fun, and pleasure, and relaxation. So when you see a store that sells fishing rods, you start to think of spending time fishing by the bay on a Sunday afternoon. Who needs fishing? Do you think Yaakov Avinu took his sons fishing, so that they would waste their lives?!
Or maybe you’re a hechereh mentsch, you have bigger השגות. A sailboat, sailing the river on Sunday morning. Fishing, sailing, playing ball. Nothing wrong; no sin to go fishing. But it’s a ruination of your life. You have one day in the week besides Shabbos when you can accomplish something, and you’re sitting in your fishing boat sailing your life away. You’re wasting your life.
There’s so much to do. So much! How can you spend your time reading a newspaper?! Sitting down on the couch with a newspaper or a magazine?! Even an orthodox newspaper. A koshere’ newspaper. It’s a meshugas! But nobody wants to tell you, so I’m going to tell you. It’s a waste of your life. A קביעות to sit down and read a newspaper or a magazine?! There are so many good books in English that are interesting and inspiring. Stories about the tzadikim of our nation. Men tzadikim, women tzadikim. You can relax with better things than a newspaper.
Once you are reading a newspaper every day, or even once a week, that’s not relaxing. That’s taking something worthless, and cementing it into your life. You have to read a magazine because it’s laying around? Are you concerned that when you get to the next world, one of the questions that they will ask you is if you made sure to read the Jewish magazines?
There’s nothing wrong with needing to relax. Take a walk, or read something for a few minutes. There are so many good books in English that are interesting and inspiring. Stories about the tzadikim of our nation. Men tzadikim and נשים צדקניות. You can relax with better things than a newspaper! There are enough ways to relax without wasting your life away. But you’re not fooling anyone! So you need to read about every meshugas in the world for a full hour in order to relax?! Do you know how much you can accomplish in an hour. And I’m being kind when I say an hour. Some people spend hours and hours, week after week, with nothing. Mamash nothing! There are many good ways to regain your good frame of mind without throwing away your opportunity to make something of yourself.
The little time that you have for yourself must be spent on personal growth. There’s so much to think about. So many Torah ideals that you have to get into your head. Mussar seforim! English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, French; there’s no excuse. So many seforim, so many ideas, so many areas you have to grow in. And you’re on the couch reading a newspaper like an Italian.
And therefore, to be the true success that Yaakov was, we have to fulfill our role in raising our שבטים, our children, the same way that Yaakov and the אמהות did. They knew that the future of the עם ישראל was in their hands. The צער גידול בנים was the great achievement of raising the future Holy Nation. And we are busy doing the same, no less than they did. But as much as a mother and father must strive energetically to build the עם ישראל, they must also steal away time for themselves to personally grow. For when someone climbs to that pinnacle, that greatness of raising the עם ישראל, and raising himself at the same time, then he is crowned with the title ישראל and he grows with increasing belovedness in the eyes of Hashem.
Have a wonderful Shabbos