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CAUTION: PARENTS AHEAD

by Yosef Rodbell    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Everyday experience proves that parents are more cautious and protective of their kids than kids are about themselves. Sometimes children perceive their parents as being unfair.

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Everyday experience proves that parents are more cautious and protective of their kids than kids are about themselves. Sometimes children perceive their parents as being unfair.

Jonny: Daddy, I want to pet that big, black, furry thing with the sharp teeth.

Daddy: Sorry son, I can't allow you to do that.

Jonny: But Daddy, pleeeeease...

Daddy: I said no.

Or, often, it seems like they're just being outright mean.

Jennie: But Mom, the movie's only PG-13 -- my friend's mother let her go see it.

Mom: Your father and I already discussed this matter. The answer is no.

However, in retrospect, it usually becomes clear that Mom and Dad were not really so cruel and unfair. It was all in the child's best interest. Thanks to their intervention, the dog didn't bite and the movie didn't corrupt.

Jonny and Jennie, ten years later: Yeah, I guess they were right.

Parents go to great lengths to take care of their children because they are precious to them, definitely something worth guarding. Also, parents have the advantage of experience and foresight, and they intuitively apply it to protect the things in life that they value. And it's no coincidence that Hashem has programmed their mindset with this loving precaution; many phenomena in this world have obvious spiritual parallels, and in this case, parents, by their very nature, reflect one aspect of how "Our Father in Heaven" treats His loving children, the Jewish people.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, the 18th century scholar and Kabbalist, in his book Mesillas Yesharim (Path of the Just, Chapter 11), points to this week's Torah portion as proof to this concept. The Torah (Numbers 6:2-4) describes someone who, in the hope of fostering a more meaningful relationship with Hashem, volunteers to restrain himself from drinking wine: "A man or woman who declares the oath of a Nazir" falls into a special halachik category in which they must follow specific guidelines. Some of these rules are to be expected: "From new or aged wine shall he abstain." Easy enough. But that's not all that Hashem demands of a Nazir: ". . .and he shall not drink vinegar of wine or vinegar of aged wine; anything in which grapes have been steeped he shall not drink, and fresh and dried grapes he shall not eat." In fact, the Nazir must distance himself so fully from wine that, "all the days of his abstinence, anything made from wine grapes, even the skin or pits, he shall not eat." Hashem set all of these precautions simply because he accepted to refrain from drinking wine!

The case of a Nazir provides a clear precedent for safeguarding our ever-important relationship with Hashem. The Nazir does not see these restrictions as a punishment or burden. On the contrary, the fact that Hashem cares enough to advise him on how to improve his efforts must be taken as the highest compliment. It indicates that Hashem cherishes the Nazir's attempt to draw closer and is therefore reciprocating. Concern means "I care."

In applying this message, we should realize that Hashem has given us two invaluable presents: life -- a one-time opportunity to grow, accomplish, and succeed; and a detailed set of instructions -- a guideline for living -- the Torah, a word which literally means "instructions." What a privilege to live a life enriched with Torah! Surely, knowing just how valuable these gifts are, we must take precautions to maintain them. Indeed, Jewish leaders throughout the ages have taken action to insure the integrity of the system of mitzvot that Hashem has given us to guide our lives. The very first statements of the codified Oral Tradition echo this theme. The Mishnah (Tractate Berachot 1:1) asks, until what hour can one fulfill the mitzvah to read the evening Sh'ma? The Sages say "until midnight." Rabban Gamliel says "until the north star rises in early morning." The Mishnah goes on to explain that really the Sages also agree that the mitzvah extends until the north star rises. If so, why did they obligate us to say Sh'ma before midnight? In order to distance us from sin. Because, although we honestly and innocently mean well, sometimes we procrastinate just a bit too long. Our Sages had the foresight to steer us away from losing the opportunity to perform a mitzvah.

The tendency to guard that which is important seems to be universal. Superficially it seems harsh, but, ah, how sweet it really is. . .

Jonny: Oh, come on, Mom -- just let me stay another few minutes. Of course I won't miss the plane!

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Yosef Rodbell, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a rising junior at Yeshiva University in New York.

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