19 May NASO
A first grade melamed was confronted with a problem; one of the students of his class was stealing. He first realized that there was a problem when the children of his classroom began complaining that their snacks, which they brought from home, were missing. Then, the melamed noticed that several classroom items were also missing – such as books, pens and toys. He began coming to the classroom when the children were out for recess and he discovered the child who was responsible for the thefts. It was a sweet boy, Yochanan. From all children, the melamed would never suspect Yochanan.
This six-year-old boy had exceptionally good middos, he behaved well in class, and as far as anyone could see, he was brought up in a very warm, loving, G-d fearing home. The melamed called Yochanan’s parents and told them what he discovered. “We can’t just let these episodes pass,” he pointed out to the parents. “We must stop the trend, before it becomes a habit.” The parents said that they also suspected that there was a problem. They also saw that items of their home (including money) were disappearing, and they promised that they would speak with their son Yochanan. After speaking with Yochanan, the parents discovered the root of the problem. The mother’s elderly mother lived with them and she slept in Yochanan’s room. She wasn’t permitted to eat sugar, but because of her old-age and failing mind, she didn’t totally realize her situation. At nighttime, when no one was around, she would sneak into the kitchen, steal some sweets and conceal them into her drawer. Later each morning, when the elderly grandmother wasn’t watching, the mother would secretively open up her drawers, and steal the snacks back. Yochanan would watch this happening.
He saw his grandmother stealing, he saw his mother stealing, and this is how he acquired this bad habit. This story reminds us that children learn from what they see. Parents should therefore be cautious that children see good middos and yiras shamayim in the home, and then, they will copy these traits. Parents send their sons to cheder, their girls to school, and they think that with that, they’ve completed their obligation of chinuch. They’ve forgotten just how influential the home is. Before Mattan Torah, Hashem said, “Koh Tomar L’Bet Yaakov V’Tagid L’Vnei Yisrael” (Shmos 19). The women are called “Bet Yaakov” (see Rashi). Some ask, if Bnai Yisroel are the men, shouldn’t the women be called Bnot Yisroel? Why are they called Bet Yaakov?
We can answer this question with the following mashal: Someone had a lot of phlegm in his throat; he couldn’t even speak. Doctors told him that there were two remedies to his problem. One method is to take medicines, which will clean his throat. The other method is to be in a heated room with many spices and incense. The smell of the spices and incense, together with the heat of the room, will clear up his throat. These are the two paths that people can use to conquer the yetzer hara. One path is to take medicine, and that medicine is Torah study, as Chazal say, “I created the yetzer hara, [and] I created Torah as its remedy” (Kidushin 30). When one studies Torah, he is cured from the influences of the yetzer hara.
Chazal therefore say, “If you are confronted with this disgusting [yetzer hara] draw him into the beis medrash. If the yetzer hara is hard like a stone, it will melt. If it is like iron, it will shatter…” (Sucah 52). Torah is always the first and strongest remedy people should use to overcome the yetzer hara. But what should women do? They don’t study Torah. They can’t take this medicine. They should use the second remedy: They need to be in a warm house, where good smelling incenses and spices permeate the atmosphere. Or in other words, girls should be raised in a warm and loving home permeated with the scents of Torah and yiras shamayim. They should experience in their home the warmth of Yiddishkeit. When they do, the yetzer hara will automatically leave them. The yetzer hara, and all its inducements, cannot compete with the wonderful atmosphere of a Jewish home. All enticements of the yetzer hara will be ignored, because she has experienced far better. We now understand why the Torah refers to women as Bet Yaakov, the house of Yaakov, because it is the house, filled with Torah and yiras shamayim that is so essential for women. This is their remedy against the yetzer hara. 8 The Gemara (Succah 56) says, “A story happened with Miriam the daughter of Bilgah who was an apostate and married a Greek official. When the Greeks came into the heichel of the Beis HaMikdash (to defile it, in the days of the Chashmona’im) she kicked the mizbeiach with her sandal and said, ‘Lukos! Lukos! (Fox in Greek, referring to the mizbeiach). For how long will you devour the money of the Jewish people…?’ When the chachamim heard about [how she disgraced the mizbeiach, they punished her entire family].” The Gemara asks, why should the entire family suffer if one member sinned?
The Gemara replies, “A child speaks in the marketplace what she hears from her father or mother.” The chachamim understood that if Miriam bas Bilgah was kicking and disgracing the mizbeiach, she must have acquired this attitude from her parents. Her parents never kicked the mizbeiach, as Miriam bas Bilgah did, however, Miriam bas Bilgah’s behavior implied that her parents didn’t value the avodah of the Beis HaMikdash. Her father was a cohen; he served in the Beis HaMikdash, but his negative view influenced his family, and this resulted with Miriam’s disrespectful deed. Her parents therefore deserved to be punished together with her. A father was trying to teach Mishnayos-baal-peh (by heart) to his son, but the child would immediately forget everything he learnt. Apparently, he was born with poor memory, the father decided. One day, he was with his son in the market where an Arab was selling fruits and vegetables. To attract people’s attention, he was calling out his wares: “Watermelons, sweet like honey! Delicious pineapples! Largest selection of dried fruits! Come here for the best prices…!” Later that day, the father overheard his son mimicking the Arab merchant. He repeated each and every word that the merchant said, without missing a syllable. So he does have a good memory, after-all. The father said to his rav, “I am afraid that there is something wrong with my son. He can’t remember Torah. I thought he has a bad memory. But I discovered that he has an excellent memory when it comes to worldly matters. Only when it comes to Torah, he doesn’t remember anything.” The rav told him, “Nothing is the matter. Your son is fine. If you will learn Mishnayos with your son with the same fervor the merchant sells his wares, your son will remember every word of the Mishnayos as well.” Children pick up on what is important for the parents. If emunah, Torah, and yiras shamayim is important to the parents, the children will realize it and acquire it.