Children and Sacrifices
Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19 )
No, we will not be discussing child sacrifice, but rather, the sacrifices parents make for their children.
If we had to link two commandments in the Torah, there are many that would come to mind easily. What about the commandments of honoring one's parents and of sending away the mother bird before you take her young? Not exactly on the top of your list, is it? Yet there is a strong connection between the directive of "shliuach hakain," sending away the mother bird before you take her young, which is discussed in Parshat Ki Tetzei, and "kibud av va'aim," honoring one's parents.
The Torah says that if one finds a bird's nest where the mother bird is sitting and watching the eggs or the chicks, the finder is not allowed to take both the mother and the eggs, but must first send away the mother and then take the eggs. The reward for this is "length of days" [Devarim 22:6-7]. As we may be aware, there is only one other place where the Torah uses the expression "you will have length of days" as a reward, and that is concerning the Mitzvah of honoring one's parents [Shemot 20:12, Devarim 5:16].
There must be some kind of common denominator between these two commandments which otherwise appear totally dissimilar and unrelated. That common denominator is self-sacrifice. The Torah recognizes and grants great reward for commandments which involve our recognition of mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice). When the Torah instructs us to honor our parents, it is telling us that parents exhibit tremendous mesirat nefesh for their children. Beginning with being woken up at all hours of the night, during infancy and childhood, to the financial stresses of paying for the wedding, parenting by definition is about sacrificing your own comforts for your children. The Torah prescribed the great reward of "length of days" for honoring one's parents, in order to cause people to appreciate the mesirat nefesh that parents exhibit.
This is exactly the same concept we find concerning shiluach hakain, sending away the mother bird before you take her young. Anyone who has ever tried to catch a bird knows that it is a virtually impossible task. So when does a person ever encounter a situation where he can catch a bird? Won't the bird fly away? The answer is that the bird is a mother. Like all mothers, she is willing to sacrifice and give over her own freedom in order to remain with her children. For one to grab the bird and take advantage of the self-sacrifice present in the maternal instinct of the mother to her offspring is prohibited. By granting the mother her freedom and sending her away, we avoid utilizing her attribute of self-sacrifice against her.
By not taking advantage of her mesirat nefesh, we show our appreciation for the concept of self-sacrifice for children. Therefore, here as well, as a reward for that recognition and appreciation of parents' love and concern towards offspring, one is entitled to "length of days."
One's students are described in the Torah as one's children (see Rashi Devarim 6:6, for example). Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, of blessed memory, treated his students as his children and exhibited tremendous self-sacrifice for them. Although he was the spiritual guide for thousands, constantly being called regarding life and death issues, and issues involving the well-being of the Jewish nation as a whole, he was able to live the maxim that a Jew must always be concerned for 'Klal Yisrael and Reb Yisrael' - meaning that a Jew must care deeply about the great issues and problems facing the Jewish nation, but he can't do so at the expense of ignoring the 'smaller' issues of his next door neighbor.
Whether the issue was of grand, national scale or one where his students needed assistance with things of lesser significance, Rav Yaakov was always self-sacrificing. Let us cite a few examples from Rav Yaakov's life.
For a number of years, Rav Yaakov traveled every week to a small community in East Lexington, near Baltimore. A small band of young couples had invited him to expound on Judaism, secular and isolated though they were. The group eventually built a synagogue. Due to a lack of funds, they built it themselves. One of the members related that she remembered Rav Yaakov nailing shingles on the roof and stringing electric wire for the new Sanctuary. She further related that many of that group later had become Sabbath observant and sent their children to day schools.
Rav Yaakov once went missing from the Yeshiva for two days because a student expressed an intent to divorce his wife. For two days, Rav Yaakov counseled them in an effort to save the marriage. Another time, a young teacher phoned from out-of-town because he was lacking success in his new position. Convinced that he could not help him over the phone, Rav Yaakov flew at his own expense to observe the teacher in action, met with the principal and the teacher, and made suggestions.
During the week of the shiva mourning for Rav Yaakov, an old woman phoned the house, apparently unaware of Rav Yaakov's passing. She inquired as to why she did not receive the money for her medicine that week. The family immediately surmised that their father must have been personally sending the money. Not wishing to burden her yet with the tragedy, they explained that perhaps the address had been lost. "For 20 years you have been sending money to the same place and now you lost the address?" she replied incredulously.
There was a time when Rav Yaakov, at the frantic request of a small Yeshiva, spent a few months as its 'temporary Rosh Yeshiva, Dean'. Rav Yaakov slept in a house owned by the Yeshiva, but the house had no heat. An electric heater was installed in his room. The students became concerned when Rav Yaakov caught a winter cold that did not go away. One student went into Rav Yaakov's room to make sure the heater was working properly. When he checked, the heater was nowhere to be found.
The yeshiva's cooks, a Russian immigrant couple, slept in another part of the house, and for some unknown reason, no one had thought to take care of the heat in their quarters. Rav Yaakov had secretly moved the heater from his room to theirs because, "I didn't want them to catch a chill," he later explained.
Yitzchak studied with Rav Yaakov every Thursday night for many years. He would anxiously wait all week, gathering and saving all the his questions to ask Rav Yaakov. One Thursday, Rav Yaakov went to Atlanta for a family celebration and Yitzchak did not expect Rav Yaakov to be at the session so he didn't come to Rav Yaakov's house that night. On Friday night, Yitzchak wished Rav Yaakov his usual 'Good Shabbos'. Rav Yaakov asked him "Where were you last night? I was waiting for you."
Yitzchak said, "I thought you were out of town."
Rav Yaakov replied, "I was away but I left the celebration early and took an earlier flight so I could be back for our session." Rav Yaakov knew how much Yitzchak enjoyed their weekly study time together so he cut short his own pleasure for the sake of his student.
It was a hectic Friday afternoon and the Siyum Hashas (Sept. 1997), the grand celebration of the completion of the worldwide 7-1/2 year Daf Yomi - one page of Talmud daily - program held at Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum, and broadcast live to numerous places around the world, was to be held on Sunday evening. David had tickets for his wife, himself and three kids at Nassau Coliseum. They had been talking about this all summer with their kids as a very special event to be a part of. They had plans to drive from Baltimore to New York on Sunday and drive back that night or the next morning. For three weeks leading up to the date, David was swamped by a major deadline at work and was probably averaging 3-5 hours of sleep per night. He was very tired.
On Thursday night before the big event, Joanne, his wife said, "You're too tired to drive, it's not safe for you to make this trip. We can't do it." Joanne had a cast on her ankle at the time. Prospects of going to the celebration seemed dim. Yet, they had made a very big deal about it with the kids for the whole summer.
They checked out plane flights, train, hotels etc. The best scenario they could come up with was significantly beyond their budget. They were agonizing. Should they spend money they can't really afford? What should they tell the kids?
Finally, Friday afternoon, Joanne said something she had said so many times before, "Just call Rav Yaakov." Whatever advice he would recommend, they would follow with 100% confidence and serenity.
David called Rav Yaakov, explained to him the scenario, and Rav Yaakov said, "Please hold on for a moment." Then David heard him call to his wife, the Rebbetzin, "The Goldman's need a ride to the Siyum Hashas on Sunday. Who can we find to help give them a ride?"
When Rav Yaakov got back on phone, David was speechless. The last thing he had intended was to have Rav Yaakov spend time finding him a ride to New York. After a brief conversation Rav Yaakov said that it was worthwhile to spend the extra money to take the kids to the Siyum. He insisted, however, that if it was a financial hardship, David should call back and he would make sure we got a ride there and back.
Rav Yaakov had many other things on his mind that Friday afternoon. His own health, family needs, Yeshiva needs, national needs, many calling him for one pressing reason or another, and yet it was like he had nothing else to do with his time other than to find David a ride. That is an example of the love Rav Yaakov showed his students.
May we learn from the extraordinary sacrifices that our parents and teachers made for us, and do the same for our own children and students.