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Home » Education, Vayishlach

Vayishlach: Believe In Your Child

Submitted by on December 10, 2016 – 7:44 pmNo Comment | 2,873 views

Obey Your Parents
This week’s Torah portion introduces us to Esau’s son Eliphaz although our sages already mentioned him in last week’s portion.

When Jacob left his parents’ home to flee his brother’s rage, he stocked up on provisions. His wealthy parents made certain that he had plenty of gold and silver himself Yet, he arrived to his uncle Laban’s home, penniless.

What happened to his gold and silver? Our sages taught that Esau learned of Jacob’s departure and dispatched his son Eliphaz to murder him. Alas, when Eliphaz reached his uncle Jacob, he experienced a change of heart. Having been raised in his grandfather Isaac’s home, he couldn’t bring himself to murder his uncle. “What should I do about the Mitzvah of obeying my father,” he asked. “Take my money,” replied Jacob,” for a poor man is counted as dead.” [1]

This is a curious story. We know that the law of honoring parents is suspended when the parent instructs the child to transgress G-d’s law. When Eliphaz asked, what shall I do about my father’s orders, Jacob should have told him that on this occasion he was required to disobey his father.

One might have answered that Jacob was not implying that Eliphaz was bound by his father’s orders, but was simply providing Eliphaz with a means by which to pacify Esau. Indeed, the Midrash teaches[2] that Esau flew into a rage when he learned that Eliphaz spared Jacob’s life and confiscated Eliphaz’s gold.

Yet, this answer is not satisfactory because Jacob should have at the very least explained to Eliphaz that he was not under obligation before providing the means and rationale with which to pacify his father. Why did he leave Eliphaz under the impression that he was under obligation to obey his father?

Believe in The Child
My nineteen-year-old son was playing soccer against his much younger cousins. Although it was one against three, my son went easy on his cousins so they would feel they were playing a fair game. Several minutes later, his five-year-old cousin joined his team and my son began to play harder for his teammate’s sake. When the little boy joined the team, my son was down by several points, but by the end of the game, my son turned the score around and won for his little cousin.

The little boy went around bragging that he had won the game. Until he joined the team, his nineteen-year-old cousin was losing, and only after he joined the team, did their team win. I can’t tell you how proud I was to watch my son smile and allow his little cousin to believe in himself.

Believe in a child and he will prove you right. Don’t believe in a child and he will prove you right.

When Thomas Edison was a boy, his teacher thought he was addled because he was dyslexic. He mother marched into the schoolhouse and demanded that his teacher apologize. The teacher refused to apologize whereupon Mrs. Edison pronounced that she would withdraw her son from the school and teach him herself. Years later, Thomas Edison had this to say: ““My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me: and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”[3]

Jacob and Eliphaz
When Jacob saw that Eliphaz was committed to honoring his father, he did not want to tear down the young man’s reverence for the Mitzvah. Eliphaz wasn’t a murderer, but he wasn’t a nice man. The Torah tells us that he followed in his father’s ways, violating women, destroying families, committing adultery and incest with impunity. Yet, the boy cherished this one Mitzvah.[4]

Jacob was not about to take this Mitzvah away from him. If Jacob would give Eliphaz license to disobey his father, he might never have obeyed his father again. Instead, just imagine the kind of impact Jacob had on Eliphaz, who surely did not fail to notice that Jacob was prepared to stake his entire fortune, to help Eliphaz obey his father. He never once pleaded for mercy. He simply took it as a given that Eliphaz would obey his father. This vote of confidence, must have made Eliphaz proud.

True, Eliphaz was not a nice man, Esau was not a righteous father, and this was one occasion when Eliphaz was not required to obey his father. True, it cost Jacob his entire fortune, and forced him into twenty years of hard labor, but he was willing to accept it all, to encourage Eliphaz in his Mitzvah.

The best way to encourage children is to build them up. Identify their strengths, let them shine, show confidence in them and let them feel good about themselves. This approach yields much greater dividends than fighting to correct their faults. Sure up their strengths, and their faults will self-correct.[5]

The Teacher Believed
Jennie Ivey, fresh out of teaching college, got a job at an inner city high school teaching history. To her surprise, she was given the honors class. When the students filed in on the first day of school with attitude, she assumed they resented being assigned a rookie teacher.

She decided to treat them with the respect they deserved and told them what an honor it was for her to teach them. She spent the entire first period seeking their guidance, asking them what they did NOT like about history. As the students shared their pet peeves, Jennie took careful notes. She went home that night and built her strategy. Her classes would contain no lists of names, places and dates. No multiple choice or fill in the blank test questions. She would teach history with relevance to current events and would explore the hearts and minds of the real-life people that lived so many years ago.

The students responded to her efforts and thrived in her class. The discussions were lively, the subjects engaging and the atmosphere light. Her classes were so fun and enjoyable that the students looked forward to them all day. They were so enthused that they entered national competitions and brought home a trophy. The days and months rolled by so fast that she couldn’t believe the end of the year had already arrived.

On the last day of the year, the principal commended her work with the remedial class. Jennie was confused. None of her classes were remedial. They were all honors. The principal pointed out that her history class in period A was remedial, but Jenny, showed the principal her copy of the class list and across the top, the word Honors was clearly marked.

They were both in shock. Jennie really didn’t know she was teaching a remedial class. She treated then like an honors class and they rose to the challenge. Jennie learned a lesson that day that is never taught in teaching college. There is no such thing as a remedial student. It all depends on how you treat them. Treat them like honor students and they will find their honor.[6]

[1] See rashi’s commentary to Genesis 29:11 and Midrash Agadah Genesis 28:2.

[2] Sefer hayashar, end of Parshat Toldot

[3] Louise Egan, Thomas Alva Edison; the Great American Inventor, [Solutions, 1987] p. 13.

[4] He inherited this trait from his father Esau, who, despite his many faults, was devoted to his father Isaac.

[5] Sadly, Eliphaz did not correct his many faults, but that does not diminish the poignancy of Jacob’s attempt.

[6] Adapted from www.jennieivey.com/chicken-soup-for-the-soul/the-honors-class/