Parshas Ki Savo
A Spiritual Time
If you listen carefully to God, your God, and observe and to do all His
commandments which I command you today, then God, your God will raise you
above all nations of the earth. (Devarim 28:1)
Every time we open the Aron HaKodesh to take out a Sefer Torah from which to
read, we say the prayer, “ B r i c h Sh’mai,” which is Aramric for,
“Blessed is His Name,” found in the Zohar. It is a spiritually propitious
time when the Ark is open, and thisprayer was designed to take advantage of
such a moment.
Towards the end of the prayer, and sometime in parentheses, it says:
… Open my heart to Torah (and give me male children who perform
Your will) …
Unfortunately, when it comes to prayer, the words often flow too fast to
really make an impact. I can only speak for myself, but so much of the time,
I am just trying to keep up with the minyan, which always seems ahead of
me, and having intention for the words is tough enough.
However, once in a while, on a good day, even as I race to keep up with the
minyan, and say the words carefully, the words impact me enough to make me
think about the deeper meaning of what they say. And, on one such day, I
wondered why the above phrase says “who perform Your will,” as opposed to
the more obvious expression, “who keep Your Torah,” something that every
Torah parent dreams of, and works so hard to make
And, then it occurred to me that, perhaps, this verse is not only a request,
but a lesson as well to all parents who ever dreamed of having their child
grow up to be a righteous Torah Jew, made every effort they could think of
to make it happen, and then had to suffer as they watched their child not
strive for the same Torah goals, or worse, God forbid, reject Torah
There is only the will of God. There is no way to go against it (Chullin
7b), so much so that we have special terms — kavshei d’Rachmanah, allilus,
etc. — to refer to those times when it seems that everything but the will of
God is being done. Ultimately, this is what the all-purpose, time-honored
phrase, “all is for the good” means: all — even the bad — is for the good —
the will of God.
As a Torah parent, it seems so obvious. Keep Torah, raise your family in a
Torah community, enroll them in Torah schools, perform Torah activities, and
then watch them grow up and become righteous Torah Jews. If only it
was so straight-forward, so simple. That’s like planning to get home on time
for supper within 20 minutes by using the main highway, without taking into
account that it is rush hour, when 3,000,000 other people are doing the same
First of all, there is the soul of the child itself. Unlike the physical
body of the child, it is not a genetic replication of the parents, and may
be driven in directions that the parents never considered. Secondly, there
are so many outside influences that cannot always be blocked, that can
distract the child along his or her way. And then, there are life’s
experiences that can rarely be anticipated, than can impact the child in
either a positive or negative way.
There are the financial issues as well, that may add terrible pressure to
the family dynamics, and the parents’ own personal hang-ups can make for
problems in shalom bayis — peace in the house — which always pull the
children down. Even grandparents can add elements to the family that can be
a bad influence on the children, things that can often only be appreciated
after the fact, after it is too late to do anything about them.
In other words, it is clear: parents have such little control over the
destinies of their children, which is why they tend to overcompensate,
trying too hard to mold their children in their own image, or at least in
the image that the parents have for their children. It is the easiest thing
to do, sometimes out of personal need, sometimes out of fear, to try and
force a child to walk the path that his or her parent has decided for him or
To this, Shlomo HaMelech responded by saying:
Teach a child according to his way; even when he grows old, he will
not turn away from it. (Mishlei 22:6)
“His way,” which is not necessarily your way, but which is definitely the
will of God. Of course, as parents, we have to do our best to make it as
easy and as “natural” as possible for every Jewish child to choose the path
of Torah, according to his or her own way. But, guarantee it? Not likely.
Chizkiah was one of the most righteous kings in all of Jewish history,
almost being Moshiach himself (Sanhedrin 94a). Yet, it was his son, Menashe,
who turned the country to idol worship for 33 years, after his father spent
his entire kingship turning the people away from it.
How many stories are there like this? When the parents are careless in the
way they raise their children, barely doting over their young ones to make
sure that they grow up straight and true, we have no questions. However,
ironically, some of the most moral and important people have emerged from
such families, even though the parents barely cared that they did.
On the other hand, there have been so many families who wanted
nothing but to raise their children in the path of Torah, and spent time,
energy, and even money, doing so. The amount of prayers they offered to God
for His help and guarantee that they would succeed, not to mention all the
segulos they performed to help the matter, is quite praiseworthy. And yet,
at the end of the day, their children still didn’t turn out to be classical
Torah observant Jews, breaking their parents’ hearts.
And, what about when children pre-decease their parents, God forbid,
sometimes even just before birth, or just after it? The Talmud says that the
great Rebi Yochanan had to bury 10 of his children during his lifetime. How
does a parent survive that, or what parents had to survive during the
Holocaust? We’re told, as a people, to strive for perfection, both in our
own lives and those of our offspring, but in reality, it almost seems like a
cruel joke sometimes, given all the obstacles Heaven puts into our path
along the way.
That is why we have statements such as:
All is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven. (Brochos 34b)
Many are the thoughts of man, but the will of God is what prevails. (Mishlei
According to the effort is the reward. (Pirkei Avos 5:26)
They tell us two things. They tell us that there is the world of our
thoughts, plans, and efforts. And, they tell us that there is another world
that is in synch with ours, but that it is not one that necessarily mirrors
our own. For, whereas we, as human beings, must follow the Torah to the best
of our ability and life situations, God, being the Master of the Universe
and not bound by time or any limitation, takes into account a much bigger
picture, one which may not always define success as we do.
For God, there is no such thing as error. Everything that exists and will
ever happen is for the sake of achieving His ultimate goal for Creation. We
may deviate from our intended path, seemingly, but Creation NEVER deviates
from the will of God. It is all for the sake of tikun olam — world
rectification, even the most destructive aspects of history, something we
will only be able to see and understand, for the most part, much later in
the future, in the World-to-Come.
Hence, failure, in Torah terms, is not defined by what we produce, because
no matter what we produce, and no matter what the reason is why we produce
it, it is the will of God that it came into existence. Otherwise, it would
not have, no matter how hard we tried to create it and make it exist. We
cannot go against the will of God for good or bad.
Rather, failure is determined by our lack of effort to bring about good
results, as defined by the Torah. A parent who carelessly raises a child
that eventually grows up to become a righteous individual is a far greater
failure than one who did everything he could to raise a righteous child, but
failed to do so for reasons beyond his or her control. Indeed, in the latter
case, the parent may have failed to raise the child of his dreams, but he
succeeded as a servant of God, which is all that counts, in the end.
In other words, though we feel successful when we raise perfect children,
or produce anything else of spiritual perfection, including ourselves, in
truth, what must concern us most is the fulfillment of the will of God,
whatever that may be. Sometimes, happily, they are one and the same thing.
However, often, they are not, and when that happens, we have to remind
ourselves that we are here in this world to advance the purpose of Creation,
no matter how unpopular our results may be in our own eyes, or in the eyes
of our community that seems to expect external perfection even more than
That is a true eved Hashem — servant of God, the person whose entire
mandate is to do the will of God, no matter what form it takes, and no
matter how much it produces results that go against his own vision of what
should be. Likewise, a true eved Hashem knows that, even after making his
best effort to produce “favorable” results, he lived to see just the
opposite — Avraham witnessed the life of Yishmael, Yitzchak lived to see the
evil of Eisav, and Ya’akov had 12 sons to worry about — that too is for the
good, that is, that too was the will of God.
Thus, there are Jews who scrupulously perform the mitzvos of God, and
yet barely have enough money to put bread on the table, while others who
barely perform the mitzvos of God, have more money than they can personally
use. And, while righteous people become sick, and even die young, leaving
young families and many orphans, less-than-righteous people live healthy
lives, and are there for their families well into their old age.
Furthermore, there are those who are committed to the will of God, who apply
their lives to the fulfillment of the purpose of Creation, and yet they
suffer obstacle after obstacle to make a difference. This is while others,
less committed to the ultimate goals of the Jewish people, have great
success with their plans, being duly rewarded in every respect in this world.
So be it. So be it, because that is the way it often turns out. After making
your best effort to get it right, things did not go the way you planned, or
thought they ought to. It is b’shert. It was meant to be. It is the will of
God. It can be nothing else, and learning to live with that reality, as
opposed to trying to compensate for it, is what keeps a person close to God,
the Jewish people on track with the national goals of the people, and the
Final Redemption on schedule.
That is why the parshah tells us to listen carefully to God. For, what we
hear at first, on a superficial level, may not always be what God is saying,
something that becomes a lot clearer when you learn to listen to God on a
deeper, big picture level.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.