“Hear my child the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the instruction of your mother” (Mishlei 1:8).
Our sages teach us that “teachings of your mother” refer to emunah and bitachon in Hashem. “Fortunate are his sons after him” (ibid. 20:7), says Shlomo HaMelech about one who remains faithful, since his children will likewise walk in the ways of Hashem without deviation.
Only when children don’t discard the traditions of the earlier generations, and grow and develop like branches of a tree (whose life source is its roots), do the merits of their fathers – measure for measure – support them so that they don’t depart from the Torah or listen to the Evil Inclination.
The Ishbitzer maintains that “mussar avicha – the discipline of your father” refers to words of Torah while “toras imecha – the instruction of your mother” refers to the inner essence of these words. Love for Torah should be transmitted just like a mother’s love for her child.
The Ishbitzer says we must integrate our family’s cherished traditions into our performance of mitzvos. If we don’t, our service of Hashem is deficient. “Do not forsake the instruction of your mother” means: Don’t contemplate abandoning a particular familial tradition since it’s “only a custom.” It’s much more than that. It’s an integral element of one’s avodas Hashem.
The Talmud (Sukkah 32b) tells us that R’ Acha the son of Rava would purposely seek a hadas that had two leaves emerging from one base and one emerging from a lower base because his teacher Rav Kahana deemed it kosher. Rashi writes that although every set of three leaves on a hadas usually grows from one base, R’Acha nevertheless opted for a less beautiful hadas in deference to his teacher. He didn’t wish to deviate from what he had heard from his rebbe even though he had a different view. The Ritva mentions that he wanted to demonstrate that the halacha followed Rav Kahana.
We learn from R’ Acha’s behavior that although a person might think his own variation is an improvement – and may even be a more stringent way of performing a mitzvah – he should embrace and hold fast to the tradition of his forebears.
Remaining true to the traditions of one’s forefathers also helps one personally. We know that Yosef was extremely handsome, and Rashi notes that he began to arrange, curl, and beautify his hair in a manner that was atypical of members of his family. The great R’ Yissochor Dov of Belz points out that an immediate outgrowth of this behavior was the wife of Potifar enticing Yosef to sin. Hashem said, “Your father is currently mourning over your loss, and you’re occupied with improving your looks?”
The wife of Potifar tried her utmost to transform Yosef completely into a Mitzri. Each day Yosef fought her persuasions, but it was difficult for Yosef to withstand the challenge. But then, the Talmud tells us (Sotah 36b), the image of his father, Yaakov, appeared in the window. Our sages say his father “appeared” to him, not that he “saw” him, meaning that at that moment it “clicked” for him; Yosef understood that if he had retained his manner of dress and looked like his father, he wouldn’t have been exposed to such a difficult nisayon.
On Shabbos and Yom Tov, Slonimer baalebatim in Baranovich would take home poor people who had come to their city. In order to ensure that no one was left without food or lodgings, the Bais Avraham (the Slonimer Rebbe) made sure to be the last one to leave the beis medrash so he could verify that no one had been forgotten.
Once, after everyone had left with their guests, the Bais Avraham saw that a poor person remained in the beis medrash and had nowhere to go. The Bais Avraham looked around and noticed one lingering chassid, so he turned to him and said, “This guest is on your shoulders,” and left.
The chassid went over to the poor man, invited him to his home, and then bent down and lifted him up onto his shoulders. The chassid then walked through the streets of Baranovich carrying the man.
When the poor man protested that it wasn’t necessary, the chassid replied, “As soon as my rebbe told me it should be on my shoulders, I had no other choice but to take his words literally.”