Many years ago, my maternal zaidie, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Tzvi Hirsh HaKohn, zt”l, who was an eminent rosh yeshiva in Hungary as well as the chief rabbi of Budapest, pointed out the difficulty in comprehending the passage in the Torah (Genesis 25) that states Yitzchak loved Eisav because of the venison (game) Eisav brought him.
Can anyone imagine that Yitzchak – a tzaddik, the epitome of sanctity and spirituality who was prepared to be sacrificed and who offered his life to G-d, who was bound on the altar and saw angels hovering over him shedding tears, whose soul reached the heavens above – would love Eisav because he brought him venison? Is it venison Yitzchak yearns for? Can such a scenario be conceivable?
“So how do we understand this?” my zeidie asked.
He then proceeded to explain that the word in the Torah that is used for venison is tzayid, which also means “weapon.” The very fact that the holy patriarch was able to love his wayward, wicked son is the weapon with which he was able to defend all Jews who strayed from the path.
“If I, a man of flesh and blood, am able to love my son unconditionally, surely You, Almighty G-d, whose compassion and love are infinite, have to love us, Your children, unconditionally”…and that was the most powerful defense the Jewish people had.
To illustrate this passage, my grandfather related the story of the Rebbe of Tzernovitz. He too had a rebellious son. The members of his congregation were so outraged by the boy’s behavior, and so fearful he might have a terrible influence on the other young people in the community, that they appointed a committee to take the matter up with the Rebbe himself. They were certain that once he was made aware of the problem, he would banish his son.
It was a few days before Yom Kippur when they came to the Rebbe’s house. They found him immersed in penitential prayers.
“Almighty G-d,” the Rebbe’s voice came piercing through the door. “I know full well that we, Your people, are not deserving of Your favor. I admit that we have transgressed Your commandments, but nevertheless, I beseech You to forgive and bless us with a year of good and plenty. And should You argue that I have no basis on which to make such a request because Your Jewish people are not deserving of Your bounty, then I will tell You that others may not, but I, the Rabbi of Tzernovitz do, for I am a father, and my son has also rebelled against me. And yet, I tell you my G-d, that if someone were to suggest that I disown him, that I cast him away from my sight, I would throw that person out, for no matter what, my son is still my son.”
The members of the committee, hearing the prayer of their Rebbe, trembled with shame. Without uttering a word, they left.
Now, unbeknownst to the Rebbe and to the committee, the errant son also heard his father’s prayer. Unable to contain himself, he broke down and wept inconsolably. In the midst of his tears, the boy made a silent vow that he would justify his father’s unbounded love.
Indeed, this has always been the Jewish attitude toward our rebellious children, Every parent must consider that casting a child out may cause him to further fail. At least while he is at home, he still sees a Shabbos, a Yom Tov; he still hears the voices of his parents, even if it appears that he doesn’t listen, doesn’t hear.
Moreover, while he is at home the parents can engage someone who has experience with such children and can work with them. Most important, the child will know in his heart that his parents love him unconditionally – and that, in and of itself, is strengthening.
Our patriarchs, our matriarchs, and our sages knew that in the neshamah of every Jewish child is a pintele Yid, and even if it appears to be smoldering, that pintele Yid can be reignited and overnight become a powerful flame. We dare not lose sight of that.
Nevertheless, there are many parents who voice their concern about keeping such a child at home. They fear he could destroy the shidduch opportunities of siblings. They fear he might influence other children in the family to go off the derech.
Oh, I am well aware of the arguments people put forth – “It’s easier to follow the bad than the good”; “It’s easier to fall through the cracks than to stand up straight and walk on the path of Torah”; “It wouldn’t work, my son/daughter is too far gone – he/she just won’t listen”; ”If they try, they will just end up in a nasty fight”; “Rebbetzin, you don’t begin to understand what goes on in our house – my son comes home at crazy hours and don’t know where he was or what he is up to, he drinks, he smokes….”; “You can’t imagine how he/she dresses. It’s an embarrassment!”
I know all that, yet I will tell you the power of love is the only thing that can reach them. Yes, the power of unconditional love and kindness goes a long, long way – and I speak from real experience rather than from some abstract theory.
It is with this approach that I established Hineni and have reached out to our people. This teaching that my holy parents engraved upon my heart has guided me throughout my life.
I have dealt with many teenagers who have been cast out of their homes and schools, and once again I must emphasize that the most potent way to reach them is with berachos and love. I am not saying this is easy. It is a terrible nisayon for all concerned.
I understand it is easy to be overcome by rage, but we have to bear in mind the consequences and ask ourselves what will be accomplished if we yell and scream and call the teenager derogatory names. On the other hand, if I hold my temper, respond calmly, and show him I am sad rather than mad, I have a shot at reaching him. Not in vain did our sages teach us: “Who is wise? – He who foresees the future.”
Obviously, our sages were not referring to prophecy, but to foreseeing the consequences of our actions.