Massei: Don’t Spare the Children – R. Yemima Mizrachi

Why was it important for Moshe Rabbeinu to enumerate all 48 masa’ot in the Torah? Why do we need to know the precise details of am Yisrael’s endless travels? We find our answer in the days of Bein Hametzarim: Without a past, we as a nation cannot have a future. If we don’t know what we’ve gone through, down to the minutest detail, we cannot fully appreciate the future. This is a very important message to us mothers at this time of year. We often try to spare our children the pain and fear engendered by telling them of our angst filled history.  We reason, “Why do I need to horrify them with details of the Holocaust? Why overwhelm their pure little souls with traumatic tales of the churban?” In this week’s parshah, however, Hashem teaches us that there are certain things we must tell our children. We cannot expect them to yearn for the future if they know nothing about our tumultuous past. When teaching my secular students about the churban, I often find that they are clueless of even the basic timeline. I once asked them, “How come you know nothing about this?” They told me in all honesty that because there’s no school during Bein Hametzarim, they had no other source from which to receive this vital education. Sadly, I hear that
this is the case even in many frum communities. Perhaps the calendar is arranged the way that it is so that parents can fulfill their obligation to communicate these things to their children. We parents must realize that the responsibility to transmit the details of our people’s journey rests on our own shoulders. I remember sitting on the floor of our living room as Abba captivated us with tales of the churban, not sparing any details.

Even as a youngster I yearned for the geulah because I learned what we’d lost and how much we’d suffered. This principle is emphasized in Parshat Masei, that only those who are aware of our past can properly yearn for the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash. The more we talk to our children about the Beit Hamikdash, the more we educate them about what we’ve endured, the more heartfelt their tefillot will be. The prayers of children are very powerful; why should we prevent them from utilizing their power? We need the tefillot of our innocent children! The Menorat Hamaor tells us something that we women already know: it isn’t always easy to be a mother. Especially now, during vacation season, not a moment goes by that our children don’t voice their requests. First they want to eat, then they want to drink, then they want us to take them somewhere and entertain them. And before we know it, they want to eat again. The Menorat Hamaor suggests that it is precisely then, when the sweet, high-pitched voices of our children fill the room and they are tugging at our skirts, that we should immediately seize the opportunity for tefillah. Why should we take advantage of this special moment to beg Him to fulfill our requests? Because the voice of a child is sweet in the ears of Hashem, and that is what He hears as we pray. The Menorat Hamaor quotes the pasuk from Mishlei, “v’lashon rakah tishbar garem,” literally, “A soft tongue can break hard bones.” However, he suggests that we read it as “v’lashon rakah tashbar—tinokot shel beit rabban—garem—gezeirot ra’ot mevatlim.” The soft voices of our young children can eradicate harsh decrees. It is written that when the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, the kohanim went into galut but the Shechinah did not accompany them.

The same was true with the Sanhedrin— the Shechinah did not go with them when they were exiled. It wasn’t until the babies and young children were exiled that it says “galtah Shechinah imahem,” that the Shechinah accompanied them. In Megillat Eichah we read, “Olaleha halchu shevi lifnei tzar; vayeitzei mi'bat Tzion kol hadarah.” It wasn’t until her infants went into galut that Zion lost her beauty, referring to the Shechinah. The Shechinah knows that if the innocent children stay close, they will daven for the Shechinah. There’s a beautiful techinah we say on Tishah B’Av entitled “Miyamim Yamimah” that tells the story of the two children of Rabbi Yishmael Kohen Gadol, a boy and a girl. The girl was as beautiful as the sun, and her brother was as beautiful as the moon. When the Romans captured Yerushalayim they took both of them into exile and sold them as slaves to two different masters. One day several years later the two Roman masters happened to meet. One said to the other, “You know, I have a servant who is as beautiful as the sun.” The second replied, “I have a servant who is as beautiful as the moon.” Together, they came up with a brilliant plan. They would marry off the two servants, and the beautiful children the marriage would undoubtedly produce would bring great wealth to both of them. Several nights later the Romans gathered for a festive party to celebrate the arranged marriage of the two servants. After an evening of drinking and merriment, they led the boy and girl into a secluded room and left. As soon as they were alone, the boy, huddled in one corner, cried out, “I am the son of Rabbi Yishmael Kohen Gadol. How can I marry a gentile girl?” From the other corner the girl cried out, “I am the daughter of Rabbi Yishmael Kohen Gadol.

How can I marry a gentile?” When they each realized the other’s identity, they immediately fell on each other’s shoulders and wept until their souls departed. In the morning the Romans opened the door to find their two lifeless bodies on the ground. Why is this heart-wrenching techinah so beautiful? Because it teaches that these children were saved from sin because instead of  focusing only on the future, they remembered  their past. They didn’t say, “We must move on. How else will we build future generations?” Instead, they reminded themselves of their yichus, where they had come from, which prevented them from transgressing. Sadly, we see today that those parents who wanted to “move on,” and to provide their children with material comforts while de-emphasizing our tumultuous past, lost the opportunity for a nachat-filled future. It is our duty to ingrain in our children a deep appreciation of what our nation has gone through, to let them feel it in their bones so they will want to carry on the legacy. “Eileh masei Bnei Yisrael.” If you want your children to be banim of am Yisrael, tell them “these are the travels.” Don’t spare them the pain. Don’t try to raise them in a world disconnected from our rich heritage that is also unfortunately drenched in blood and filled with mesirat nefesh, because it is precisely these tales that will enable them to harness their incredible power of tefillah to bring the geulah closer.


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