I concluded last week’s column with some questions that, if answered honestly, will give us insight into whether we as parents reflect chesed and rachamim to our children. As promised, here are some more:
Have you ever wondered about the “photographs” your children are taking of you? Our children are living, breathing “smart phones.” They snap our “pictures” constantly, even when we are not aware of it or least expect it. They store these “photos” in their hearts and minds. One day they will show them to their own children who in turn will show them to theirs.
Would you want your grandchildren to see those “pictures”? Is that the way you would like them to remember you? If you respond with honesty, the rest will come easy and in no time at all the old, embarrassing “photographs” will be replaced with new, inspirational ones.
Do you teach your children to lie? “Jack, tell Ben I’m not home.” “Don’t tell anyone we’re going on vacation; just say we’re visiting Bubbie.” “Don’t tell anyone what we did over the summer; I can see the school raising the tuition and pressuring me for another donation.”
Do you encourage your children to be selfish and mean? “Don’t help him with his homework, he didn’t help you when you asked” or “Don’t invite him to your party, he didn’t invite you to his.” Or do you say the following: “Do what is right, don’t hold any grudges against anyone. Be a Torah Jew.”
Did you ever teach your children how to cry? I know they know how to cry for toys and candy and then, as they get older, cars and vacations and credit cards. But did you ever teach them how to cry for the pain of another? When you hear or read that a family or individual has, G-d forbid, been killed in a terrorist attack, do your children see you stop for a moment to express your pain? Do your children see you pray for those who are ill or hurting – and do you instruct them to do the same? Do you encourage them to share, give tzedakah, and reach out with a helping hand?
When guests come to your home, do your children welcome them? Do they greet them with respect or do they remain glued to their computers or whatever else they are doing? And if greeted by your visitors, do they mumble something under their breath or do they respond with a warm smile? Have your sons and daughters ever seen, even in miniature, the hospitality that marked the dwelling place of Abraham and Sarah?
Do your children see you pray with concentration and feeling? Or do they see you gossiping in shul or carrying on conversations about business, sports, etc.? Do your children see you studying Torah with sincerity or do you leave your studies behind and jump as soon as you hear your cell phone ring?
If you’ve failed this test, does that mean you are branded forever? Or is there hope you can change? Not only is there hope, but as a Jew, change is your reality. Chesed and rachamim are intrinsic parts of your nature. These values were engraved upon your neshamah at Sinai when you heard those electrifying words – “I am the Lord thy G-d.” At that moment, the image of G-d in which you were created was etched for all eternity on your heart and soul. You must only bring it forth and possess it.
It is your heritage and in an instant you can reinvent yourself and your home can be a place where the light of Torah shines and where peace and harmony prevail.
I have devoted several columns to the subject of chesed and rachamim because we are living in a time of peril. The ugly sounds of anti-Semitism are heard everywhere. To be sure, anti-Semitism is as old as our history. Our sages explain that Sinai is a play on the word sinah – hatred – teaching us that from the very moment Hashem gave us His Torah at Mt. Sinai, hatred descended on our people.
At times this hatred is overt and at other times it is covert, but it is always there. We are living in a time when this hatred has become both overt and worldwide. This is a period our sages have described as a “time of travail for Jacob.” But that same passage also concludes with the promise of redemption – “from that very suffering our salvation will emerge.”
I have explained before that the best place to find answers to our questions on this subject is to study the account the Torah provides of our Egyptian exile. It was in Egypt where we encountered the first Holocaust – we were placed in hellish labor camps, beaten and tortured. And then Pharaoh came up with his satanic “final solution,” decreeing that every male Hebrew infant be murdered.
Our Torah teaches that our people were saved from this butcher’s clutches because of the chesed and rachamim our ancestors displayed to each another. Every person felt the pain of his fellow, and despite the fact that all were equally tormented they sublimated their own suffering to give courage and hope to their brethren. Our ancestors lived under bestial conditions, and though they may have forgotten the majestic heritage of Yaakov, the laws of chesed and rachamim remained forever engraved on their hearts.
When Hashem sees that we are united in loving compassion, we merit His miraculous intervention. It was this weapon that broke the iron chains of Egyptian bondage. And so it was throughout our history.
However, it is not only in the world arena that we need the healing balm of chesed. Internal strife, jealousy, hatred, greed, corruption, immorality – all have torn our families, our communities, and our institutions asunder. It is for this reason that I have dedicated my recent columns to chesed and rachamim – pillars of our faith that can heal us of our pain and bring salvation from above.