When they make their own decisions

Friday, 16 June, 2017 - 6:39 am

Two of our children left home this year: Our 16-year-old daughter went to study in the Chabad School in Israel, and our son went away to the Chabad Yeshiva in Antwerp. It is not easy for us parents to have the children leave home, but there are many advantages to this, and we do our best to focus mainly on them. The most significant point is that the children suddenly become independent, and have to make their own decisions. We’re not talking about life decisions, but still, when it comes to their lives as teenagers, these are important and significant decisions. It could be a financial decision – what they should spend their allowances on; or a social decision – how to handle some friend; it might also be a spiritual-Torah decision – what and how much they should take upon themselves in Torah and Mitzvot (beyond what they are obligated, of course).

Parents reading this will most probably agree with me, that when we see our children making a decision on their own, we feel very proud, especially when the decision is in line with the education we gave them. These are moments of pure Nachat – pleasure and satisfaction. We watch from the side, and say to ourselves that the investment – those sleepless nights, for one thing – has paid off.

How is this connected to the weekly Parasha? Well, this week’s Parasha contains a fundamental message to us, to our lives in general and to our lives as parents in particular.

Bnei Yisrael asked Moshe to send spies to scout out the land. Moshe consulted with Hashem and received a strange answer, as Rashi spells out: “Send forth men, if you please. I am not commanding you; if you want, send.” When I read this I wonder: I would think that a flashing red light would go on in Moshe Rabbeinu’s mind, that he would understand the clear hint and not go ahead with sending the spies. On Shabbat Parashat Shelach in 5749 (1989), the Rebbe described it as follows: “He was told ‘I am not commanding you, rather you should send if you want…’ this is very unusual behavior (on the part of Hashem) – something to be noted! It should have awakened a doubt (on the part of Moshe) that something is different, and why did he decide on his own to send the spies?!”

The truth is that Moshe did notice the red warning lights. He understood the risk he was taking and that is why he changed the name of his disciple from Hoshea to Yehoshua, saying “Hashem will save you from the evil counsel of the spies.” If so, how did he decide to send them anyway?

And here, in a fascinating discourse, the Rebbe taught us on that Shabbat an important and basic rule in running one’s life, which can be summed up in one sentence: We received from Hashem a brain and a heart, hands and feet, so that we will know how to handle ourselves on our own. What if we make a mistake? In that case, apparently, that is our way to learn – through our mistakes. Yes, just like a father and mother who raise children and give them the tools they will need, so that when the day comes they will be able to run their lives on their own. And if they err? So what? With Hashem’s help they will learn from that mistake for the future.

Only thus will everything we do be “ours”. Our sages have already taught us that though the level one can reach when being led, hand in hand, from above, is higher, the work that we do on our own is more precious.

And the Rebbe continues there: “When Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Send forth men, if you please. I am not commanding you; if you want, send,” then not only was Moshe not afraid that this was an undesirable matter, but the opposite – he was happy about the novelty of this message from Hashem, that the work below will be done by way of free choice – according to man’s will and knowledge.”

You might ask, why specifically in the matter of sending the spies did Hashem say, “Send forth if you please”? This was unlike what happened with other questions and suggestions that originated in the people, such as Pesach Sheni and the offerings of the princes of the tribes, where Hashem responded and gave exact orders as to what to do. Why did Hashem start in this case to “trust” his sons? The answer is that sending out the spies was the last stage before entering the land. And in the land, the Jewish People would no longer be children who receive everything from Hashem – no more Mann and Clouds of Glory; in the land they were to plow and sow from sunrise to sunset, and guard their borders all the time. From the moment they enter the land, they will be taking responsibility for their lives, for the first time. “Entering the land” is when the child leave home and goes to study in a different country. As preparation for this change, Hashem gave them, for the first time, the chance to decide on their own, to use their minds and hearts in order to figure out how to conquer the land.

One more thing: Hashem allowed the spies to make a mistake; even Moshe, the faithful shepherd, who saw the flashing lights, decided to risk it. We too, as parents, like Moshe the shepherd, should let our children make mistakes. And if they actually do so? Well, let us hope that with Hashem’s help, thanks to all that we taught them, they will know to learn from the mistake, and grow from it.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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