Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Gentle Wake-Up Call
He discovered [the Jewish nation] in a desert
land - in desolation; a howling wilderness. He
encircled it, He gave it wisdom, He guarded it
like the pupil of His eye. Like the eagle
arousing its nest - hovering over its young; it
spreads out its wings and takes them, it
carries them on its wings. [32:9-10]
Moshe, in the above verses, reminds the Jewish nation of the Divine
kindnesses that should have made us eternally grateful. The Torah
describes the love shown by Hashem, using the metaphor of the
eagle caring for its young. Rashi explains that when the eagle wakes
up its children, it doesn't do so suddenly, so as not to shock them.
Rather, it gently hovers over its nest as they sleep, its wings beating
softly against the nearby trees and branches, until slowly they are
aroused. Most birds, explains Rashi, carry their young in their feet, for
they fear the attack of the mighty eagle from above. But the eagle,
who fears from no other fowl, carries its young upon its wings, thus
protecting them from the arrows of the hunters below.
However, isn't it sort of strange that the Torah's choice for a
metaphor to describe the love of a parent for its child, is the example
of the eagle rousing its young from their slumber? After all, wouldn't
it be even more compassionate for the mother bird to simply allow
her young to sleep on, until they awoke on their own accord?
More than two hundred years ago, there lived a great tzaddik, R'
Yitzchak Isaac Eichenstein of Safrin zt"l, who, together with his pious
wife Hinda zt"l, raised five sons, all of them Torah giants and leaders
of their generation. The greatest and most well known of their sons
was the holy tzaddik R' Tzvi Hirsch of Zidichov zt"l.
Hinda was renowned for her good heart and kind deeds. She also
had the custom of rising every night at chatzos (halachic midnight),
seating herself upon the ground, and quietly crying while reciting
Tikkun Chatzos (prayers recited over the destruction of the Holy
Temple and the Jewish exile). Even after she began to bear children,
she continued her ritual. In fact, she would wake her sons with her,
even when they were only infants, and sit them on the earth. They too
would cry (and scream - though perhaps not for exactly the same
reasons!). She explained that if she wanted to train her children that
a Jew must wake up at chatzos, she had better get them used to it
right away. If she "pampered" them (no pun intended) by allowing
them to sleep through the night, who knows if in later years they
would be able to break the habit.
While it might seem extreme, her logic apparently bore fruits. In later
years, she was wont to say that she has no fear of the Heavenly Court
that will judge her after her death. "Even if I personally do not deserve
a place in Gan Eden, they will have to give it to me because of my
five pious sons!" She paraphrased the verse (Bamidbar 20:19), "I will
ascend ba-mesilah (on the straight path)." The letters ba-mesilah,
she would say, were an acronym for the names of her five sons,
Berish, Moshe, Sender, Lipa, and Hershel...
It is told by one of the sons of the venerable sage R' Moshe Feinstein
zt"l, that as a young child, he remembers his father coming into his
room during the early winter hours, and placing his clothes on the
radiator. A short while later, when his father would come to wake
him, he would find his clothes warm and cozy; it made getting out of
bed to learn a little bit easier.
Perhaps this is why, explains the Bobover Rebbe zt"l hk"m, the Torah
uses the metaphor of the eagle arousing its young. To indulge ones
youth, even if done out of compassion and fatherly love, is ultimately
neither compassionate nor loving. He quotes the holy Sh'la, who
comments on the verse (Eichah/Lamentations 4:10), "The hands of
compassionate mothers have boiled their own children," that
indeed, the over-compassionate mother, by indulging her children
with misplaced love and lack of disciple, ruins them. She teaches
them to be spoiled, self-centered individuals.
According to the famous teaching of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair
(Shekalim 9b), zerizus - energeticness and alacrity - is the quality with
which one begins one's ascent to serving Hashem and becoming a
more complete individual. There is no greater gift we can give our
children than to help them conquer their natural tendency to laziness.
This is true compassion - not giving in to hollow sensations of
sympathy and love, but rather to consider what we can do for our
children to help them become the best, most well-adjusted individuals
they can be.
The eagle arouses its youth with great gentleness and care; but it
doesn't let them sleep. The Torah, by way of its metaphor, is trying
to distil for us the attitude with which we must relate to our children.
We must arouse them to serve the Almighty gently and caringly. But
we must be careful not to be mislead by mistaken compassion, which
leads us to indulge them and spoil them, thereby raising self-centered
persons ill-adept to take on life's challenges and deal with others in
a manner befitting a true ben-Torah.
Have a good Shabbos and a Gemar Chasima Tova.
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.