Women of the Wall 2013 (390).
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Other than the commandments, the stories, and the ideas written explicitly in
the Torah, there are many hidden messages that can be “found” only with repeated
Every time a person reads the Torah, he can discover another
layer of ideas, messages, and even advice for life.
Let us look at one of
these educational messages hidden in this week’s parsha.
describes for the nation of Israel a situation in which a son, a child or youth,
or even an adult wonders about the significance of the Torah and commandments:
“When your son asks you in time to come, saying: ‘What mean the testimonies, and
the statutes, and the ordinances, which the Lord our God has commanded you?”
(Deuteronomy 6, 20) We should note: This is describing a wise young man who
knows how to differentiate among the various hues of the commandments and
details them: Testimonies, statutes and ordinances.
We should also note
the defiant tone that accompanies his question. He does not ask the question
delicately, “Why do we have to keep the commandments,” but expresses himself by
lack of agreement, “What mean the testimonies, the statutes...”
answer proposed by Moshe is comprised of two parts. The first part deals with a
short review of the history of Am Yisrael: “... then you shall say to your son:
‘We were Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a
mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt,
upon Pharaoh, and upon all his house, before our eyes. And He brought us out
from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land which He swore unto
our fathers.’” (Deuteronomy 21-23) The father, donning the hat of the explainer,
opens his explanation with a description of the bitter years of slavery in
Egypt. He continues by telling of the wondrous exodus from the land of the
slaves which was accompanied by severe punishment of the enslaving nation. All
this was done in front of the nation about to be liberated, when the purpose was
having the nation reach the Land of Israel and fulfilling the vow made by G-d to
the fathers of the nation, Avraham, Yitzhak and Ya’acov.
After this, the
father reaches the main part of the answer to his son’s question: “And the Lord
commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good
always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. And it shall be
righteousness unto us, if we observe to do all this commandment before the Lord
our God, as He has commanded us.’” (Deuteronomy 24-25) Here, the father tells
his attentive son about the main purpose of the commandments – to benefit those
who keep them, and provide them with a life of significance and happiness. He
continues and tells his son of the expected reward for the person who loyally
keeps the commandments.
Why did the father need to describe for his son
the history of the enslavement in Egypt and the exodus to freedom? How does that
answer the son who is troubled regarding the significance of the commandments?
Why wasn’t the second part of the answer sufficient, that which deals directly
with the purpose of all commandments and the reward for those who keep them? The
answer to this is hidden in the understanding that we do not completely
comprehend all the commandments. Though we do understand many commandments, and
it is easy to discern how they cause us to have a better and happier life, there
are other commandments that, in order to understand them, we must invest and
learn, look and investigate. And, there are commandments which are just hard for
us to understand why they should be kept.
The father who is about to
bequeath to his son the most important message knows that he is not able to
stand and explain at this moment the significance of every commandment. It is
even possible that he himself finds it difficult to understand certain
commandments. If so, how will he be able to persuade his son that even those
commandments contain a promise for a happy life? The solution Moshe Rabbeinu
suggests to this father is – Trust.
“Look,” explains the father to his
young son, “though there are things that I cannot comprehend, I can promise you
that the G-d who gave us these commandments wants only what is best for us. This
I know when I look back on history and see that G-d took care of us, liberated
us from slavery and punished before our eyes those who tortured us. I am
convinced that everything G-d instructs me to do – even if right now I do not
understand why – it is only for my own good.”
From this we learn an
educational message relevant to every parent. It is very advisable for a child
to understand the purpose and significance of the instructions he receives from
his parents, but it is not always possible to explain
Sometimes the explanation is too complex for the
Sometimes the parent is not clear on the correct way to explain to
the child why he has to do what his parents want.
But there is a
solution. First of all, we must make sure that the child clearly knows that his
parents want only what is best for him; that his parents love him and worry
about his well-being.
When we successfully convey to the child that his
parents have no interests other than what is best for him, he will agree to do
things that he does not yet understand.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is rabbi
of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.