Every parent knows this challenging truth: We will not always be beside our children to give them a hand. We will not always be there to say “permitted” or “forbidden.”
True education is not in scolding “nu, nu, nu,” but in our influence over our children throughout the years. Ultimately, we need to let go, to trust, and allow them to progress on their own.
In this week’s parshah, we see the incredible fortitude Yosef learned from his parents. Yosef had many excuses to sin with Potiphar’s wife – his brothers threw him into a pit, he was living in Egyptian society, and who knew if he would ever return home?
So why does Yosef choose correctly? The answer of our sages is enormously powerful: “At that moment, the image of his father Ya’akov appeared to him.” And in another place, our sages added: “And he also saw the image of Rachel his mother.”
In a moment of crisis and doubt, Yosef is reminded of his father and mother, of their values, their home, and the moral compass they represent. Education is tested not when parents are there, but when they are not and their children see their image, are reminded of their character, and act accordingly.
Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch writes: “Aggressive parents cannot succeed in teaching patience, angry parents cannot teach moderation, vulgar parents are incapable of teaching manners, and deceitful parents cannot teach wholesomeness and honesty. All the speeches in the world do not make an impression on children as much as the living example that they see in their parents and teachers.”