Cold as Ice
Isaac was Abraham’s successor but who would take over after Isaac? Two possibilities: Jacob or Esau? Their mother (Rebecca) knew that Jacob was the rightful heir and she masterminded a scheme. Esau didn’t take his loss well and jealously pursued his brother. But aside from that, Jacob’s life was wrought with misfortune, including a kidnapped son and a raped daughter.
How was Jacob able to cope with so much pain and sorrow but never give up? The Midrash answers that he thought of his mother and the sweat and tears she had so that he would get the Blessings. His mother’s devotion is what stopped him from quitting or allowing potential self-pity to overcome him. She was willing to give up everything so that he would receive the birthright and continue the monotheistic teachings of Abraham and Sara. It was Jacob’s appreciation for his mother’s commitment that allowed him to stay strong and not buckle under the pressure that life had sent him.
Children do not always appreciate what their parents do on their behalf but they can tell when sacrifices are made, which can be a wonderful security blanket to hold onto through the trials and tribulations in his or her life. Even in the darkest moments, when life seems too hard to deal with, the idea “my parents gave so much for me” gives a unique inner strength that cannot be duplicated. The following story alludes to this idea.
[Rav Yaakov David Wilowski (1845-1913), known as Ridvaz, was a rabbi in Slutsk, Poland and spent the last years of his life in the city of Tzefat, Israel.]
One cold winter afternoon in Tzefat, on the day of his father’s yahrtzeit, the Ridvaz came to shul earlier than usual for Mincha, the afternoon service. He sat down and became lost in thought. Tears welled up in his eyes and slowly trickled down his cheeks. A close friend went up to him and said, “Reb Yaakov David, why are you so upset? Your father was eighty years old when he passed away, certainly not a youngster, and he died almost fifty years ago”. “I’ll tell you,” said the Ridvaz; this is the story that he related.
When I was a young boy my father arranged for me to have the best teacher in our town, a certain Reb Chaim Sender, as my private tutor. He charged one ruble a month, which was a large sum of money in those days, especially for my impoverished parents. It took quite an effort to put the money together every month. My father made his living building furnaces. One winter, business was very bad because there was a shortage of cement and lime. My father couldn’t meet the payments to Reb Chaim Sender. Three months went by and still he had not paid the teacher. Then one day, I came home with a note from the teacher which said that if he did not get the money the next morning, he would be unable to continue teaching me. When my parents read the note, they were devastated. To them, my Torah study meant everything. They felt that nothing should stand in the way of my learning. When my father went to shul that evening, he heard a wealthy man complain that the contractors building a house for his son and future daughter in law could not get a furnace because of the cement and lime shortage. He offered six rubles to anyone who could get him a furnace. In Russia, a furnace was a vital household item; it was used to both heat the home and cook the food. When my father came home from shul, he discussed the matter with my mother and they agreed that my father should take apart our oven, brick by brick, and build a new one for the rich man. Then they would have the six rubles for my teacher. My father did just that and received the six rubles which he immediately gave me to pay Reb Chaim Sender.
“Tell the teacher,” he said to me proudly, “three is for back pay, and the other three are for the next three months.” That winter it was bitterly cold and we all froze and shivered, but they sacrificed their personal comfort in order that I should have the best teacher and grow in my Torah studies.
The Ridvaz paused, took a breath and continued. This afternoon it was cold outside and I thought that maybe I should arrange for a Minyan to come to my home instead of coming to shul. Then I decided that in honor of my father, I should make the extra effort to go to shul instead. When I came to shul, I thought about the self-sacrifice of my father and mother during that bitterly cold winter—just for me and my Torah learning. That’s why I cried, because I remembered the boundless affection and devotion that only parents can have for their children.
Jacob never gave up due to his mother’s sacrifice on his behalf. Since then, Rivka has served as a paradigm for Jews of all generations to sacrifice on behalf of their children’s Jewish commitment. May we all have the strength to give up everything—if necessary—to insure our children remain loyal Jews, even if it means to be as cold as ice.