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Home » Education, Vayeshev

Vayeshev: Our Children

Submitted by on December 2, 2012 – 4:36 amNo Comment | 3,589 views

Give Me A Break!

After years of wandering, labor and suffering, Jacob returned to his father’s home. All he desired was some peace and quiet to pursue his spiritual goals without distraction. But G-d had a different plan. No sooner had Jacob caught his breath, when tension began to brew between Joseph and his brothers. Thus, our sages taught, the righteous desire to sit in peace, but G-d turns them down. Enough that they enjoy serenity in the hereafter, He says, they expect it in this life too?[1]

Much has been made of this teaching. Some have suggested that the work of the truly pious is never complete. Others argued that it is improper for the righteous to focus on their own spiritual growth while ignoring the needs of others.[2] Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the famed Halachic authority of the previous century, offered a novel interpretation. He saw it as a homily on education.[3]

Having observed the mature and critical roles his children played during his encounters with Laban, Esau and Shchem, Jacob figured his children were spiritually mature and no longer required his focused attention. After years of devoting himself to teaching, training and raising them, Jacob was excited to finally tend to his own spiritual needs unencumbered.

To his chagrin Jacob discovered that trouble with his children was only beginning to brew. Now that the threats and challenges from the outside had been met and overcome, their own fissures and needs came to the fore. Jacob could not afford to take his eye off the ball for an instant. He was not able to transition into the elderly grandfather mode, doting on his grandchildren and returning to his studies. He was summoned to serve as the active, hands on father, who stands in the breach with his children.

Jacob responded with alacrity, but he had taken his eye off the proverbial ball for too long. The jealousy between Joseph and his brothers had simmered over and by this time it was too late to reverse the brothers’ eventual sale of Joseph into slavery in Egypt.

Our Children

There is an all important lesson here about our children. We are commanded not only to be good Jews, but to raise our children as such.[4] It is our task to teach our children responsibility and inculcate in them moral values. A child doesn’t grow in a vacuum. Children don’t automatically metamorphosis into morally upstanding adults, who resist temptation and dedicate their lives to noble causes, without role models who love them, guide them, mold them and shape them.

We are responsible for our children. Just as it is a sacred obligation to don Phylacteries (teffilin) every day so is it a sacred obligation to devote a portion of our day to the contemplation of our children’s education and the state of their spiritual and emotional maturation. (Hayom Yom 22 Tevet) What’s more, our duties are never complete. There is never a time when we can say we have done our fair share and nothing more is required. We can never sit back and say, my children are out of the woods, I have given them all they need. It is precisely when we turn our attention elsewhere that we realize how vulnerable they are.

Contemporary Dangers

If this was true in Jacob’s day, it is certainly true today, when all manner of forbidden temptation is literally at our fingertips.our children - innerstream From the internet in our home computers to the features and apps on our handheld devices, from the Iphones to the Ipads we are hardwired to seek ever widening horizons, ever more stimulating media and ever more exciting opportunities. With the world in the palm (pilot) of our hands, we and especially our children grow quickly bored with routine. We must watch ourselves like hawks because of how alarmingly easy it is to slip into inappropriate locations on the internet.

The internet is swarming with prowlers, who prey on our children’s vulnerability. Some are truly nefarious and seek to harm our children physically. Others are equally nefarious, but their aim is spiritual destruction. They create enticing sites designed to lure us and our children in and rob us of our innocence. If we are fortunate, our children will be drawn to relatively innocent vices where the significant danger is addiction. If we are not so lucky, we and our children will be drawn into truly harmful sites that are not only addictive, but also wanton, immoral and impure.


As a slave in Egypt, Joseph found favor in his master’s eyes, who entrusted him with the keys to his home. Unfortunately he also caught the eye of his mistress who tried every possible tactic to entice him. Joseph eluded her charms and refused her seductions, which only intensified her resolve.

One day when the house was empty she grabbed him by the sleeve and made a particularly alluring proposition. Joseph, resolute in his refusal, turned and fled into the street. Rabbi Feinstein pointed out that Joseph would not have succumbed to his mistress even if he had remained in the house, but he fled into the street because it is unwise to test our virtue. There is no glory in flirting with danger when the damage of compromise is so corrosive. Joseph knew that the public nature of the street was his greatest weapon against his mistress’ wiles so he took to the streets.[5]

This Biblical tale could have played out in our very homes in this day and age. Giving our children a free hand with their computers and handheld devices, allowing them to surf the net at will, tries their virtue. We must protect ourselves and our children from dangers, spiritual and material. We must ensure that our computers are in the public places of our homes so that if inappropriate sites pop up on our screens we won’t be tempted to explore. We must install up to date and secure safeguards to make it difficult for us and our children to surf inappropriately. No safeguard is impossible to circumvent, but the more laborious and time consuming it is, the more time we have to reconsider our choices.

Most importantly we must instill within our children a passion for good old fashioned values and a love for G-d. If their relationship with G-d is meaningful to them and if they have a desire to be morally upright, they will seek the strength to resist temptation. This is a lifelong endeavor for us and for our children. We are never out of the woods. Our task is never complete.

[1] See Rashi’s commentary to genesis 37 1, who quotes with variation from Bereishit Rabbah 84: 3.

[2] See Sfat Emet and Divrei Yisrael and others ad loc.

[3] Derash Moshe ad loc.

[4] Deuteronomy 6:7. According to many opinions the overall obligation to raise our children is rabbinical in nature.

[5] See Dvar Moshe on Genesis 39:12.

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