Over the centuries many people have debated the morality of the Biblical story of Jacob taking the blessings of the birthright from his brother, Eisav. Destiny had it that Jacob was supposed to receive the blessings from Isaac, his father, and ultimately the blessing came about in a circuitous way. Why did it have to come about in such a roundabout and dangerous way? Why did it need to involve Rivka (Rebecca), Jacob’s mother, sacrificing her marriage and her life to make sure the blessings found their way to its rightful owner?
From the day Jacob received the blessings his life became complicated, filled with tension and anxiety. It began with his being attacked by his nephew, who assaulted him on the command of his disgruntled father (Eisav). Then, Jacob, who is known for the trait of scrupulous integrity, was forced to live and interact with his deceitful father-in-law, Lavan, for many difficult years. Eventually he had to encounter his not so brotherly brother and the small army he had brought with him. Then his daughter Dina was raped, his son Joseph was kidnapped and in general regular heartbreaks were a part of his life.
The Midrash asks, how was Jacob able to deal with so much pain and grief, and not allow himself to give up his (Jewish) commitment? Jacob constantly maintained a realization that if he abandoned his commitment and gave in to despair he would forfeit all the blood and tears his mother gave in order for him to get the Blessings. His mother’s pain is what stopped him from giving up on himself and the Jewish people. She was willing to give up everything so that he would receive the birthright blessings 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 and give them but they are keen and can tell what sacrifices have been made on their behalf and how much effort we put into them for their own benefit.
If you truly sacrifice for your child, s/he will always hold on to your sweat and tears as a wonderful security blanket through the trials and tribulations in his or her life. Even in the darkest moments when life seems too hard to deal with, what s/he won’t do for himself or herself s/he might do for Mom or Dad. 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), popularly known as Ridvaz, was originally a rabbi in Slutsk, Poland and in his later years moved to America and was elected chief rabbi of the Russian-American congregations in Chicago. He spent the last years of his life in the holy city of Tzefat in 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 a private tutor. He charged one ruble a month, which was a large sum of money in those days, especially for my parents who were very poor. 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 becoming a Torah scholar. When my father went to shule 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, for it was used to both heat the home and cook the food. When he 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 Torah.
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 my whole family 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 so that their child should learn our holy Torah.”
May we all give up everything-if necessary-to insure our children remain loyal Jews and may we always remember what our parents have sacrificed for us.