Parshat Vayechi 5778 – Parenting and the parsha

At the end of last week’s parsha we learn about how Yaakov and his whole family were required to leave Israel and travel to Egypt, where they settled in Goshen. (“Yisrael settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. They acquired property there…”(47:27). This week’s parsha is a direct continuation of the previous parsha without the usual break between parshiyot. We learn that Yaakov lived in Egypt for 17 years before becoming ill and passing away there. (47:28)

The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 1:8) comments that the period of slavery in Egypt did not begin until all those who had migrated with Yaakov during this time had passed away. Rav Ashear in his book Living with Emuna cites the Ohr HaChaim explaining that the reason the oppression did not start until after this generation had passed away was as a reward for them having accepted Hashem’s decree (see p.99). They might have argued that it would be preferable to just buy the grain in Egypt and bring it back to the land of Canaan. However, instead of feeling bitter at being forced to relocate “they recognized that this is what Hashem wanted and the accepted it with joy.”

The Ohr HaChayim concludes that the remedy for affliction is accepting it. (Breishis 46:7, p.100 Living Emunah). Note that he did not say “with joy”, though it seems that Yaakov’s generation did manage to summon joy in their acceptance.

We don’t all have a choice as to what course our lives will take and what challenges we will face. But we do have a choice as to how we respond to those challenges. Sometimes, the challenges seem so tough and difficult it may seem impossible to summon joy with our situation. But even in the absence of joy, we can still strive to accept with equanimity that this situation is from Hashem. To trust that He has given us precisely the challenge we need in that moment.

In Perek Shirah, the song of the swallow (s’nunit in Hebrew) is:

“So that my soul might sing to You and not be stilled, Hashem my G-d, forever I will thank You…”) derived from Tehillim 30:13.

Rav Scherman’s commentary on this passuk explains that Aron was silent when he faced the death of his two eldest sons. In contrast, David Hamelech’s behavior in times of adversity echoed the swallow, who sings continuous praise to Hashem even in the apparently bad times. For Hashem’s kindness never ceases.

Yet, aspiring to be joyful in times of apparent tragedy is lofty indeed. It may be unrealistic, inauthentic or seem downright impossible  to embrace all our difficulties with joy, especially at the time it is occurring . But it is arguably   more achievable and realistic to at least accept the difficulty as being from Hashem and for our best. To accept and even embrace our calamities with love, if not with joy.

Practically speaking, the best time to work on reaching  this place of loving acceptance is when our life is relatively calm. Then, when a nisayon inevitably hits, we can whip  out our heightened emuna seemingly effortlessly, serving it up on a plate like chefs on a cooking show and claiming “here’s what I prepared earlier”.

How can we apply this message to our parenting practice this week?

When our children experience a nisayon, a challenging time, it may be tempting to encourage them out of their despair by reminding them of emuna and bitachon and telling them that they should strive to accept it with joy. But this strategy might appear preachy and may probably be misinterpreted as a lack of empathy.

Instead, perhaps we can strive to empathize with their suffering, and remind them simply that there is a silver lining, a beautiful hidden gift that is just not apparent yet. Hashem sent them this trial because He has faith in them that they will become stronger, that they are ready for it, that they are worthy. Hashem trusts them. So even though it is natural not to enjoy such a challenge, we their parents are here to help them accept the trial with love.

Probably the most subtle but best way to teach this message is to demonstrate our loving acceptance of our own life’s challenges. In his shiurim for women (Women’s World, to be published),  Rav Ithamar Schwartz teaches that “the source for how we do chinuch is not our mouth or our actions, but our heart.” He cites the Maggid of Dubna as saying that the only way to influence other people is to “fill up your cup and let it spill over”. In the context of his shiur, he applies this teaching to chinnuch – that the best way to teach our children is to fill ourselves up with so much love for our children that it overflows out of us onto our children. Alternatively, we could say that filling ourselves up with the behaviour we are trying to teach will enable it to spill over, overflow and affect our children too.

Ironically, sometimes the best way to influence people to change is to accept them as they are now, with love. By accepting our children with love, including all their weaknesses and foilbles – we are demonstrating a very personal example of  loving acceptance of the whole of them, the full package. Hopefully, by living with loving, unconditional acceptance, this attitude of loving acceptance will spill over into our children’s attitude to their own lives. In turn, this may enable our children to more readily accept with love the apparently ‘bad times’ as well as the good.

Wishing you a peaceful Shabbas, full of loving acceptance of all that transpires.

With bracha

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