Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Avoid Rigidity

Soft as a Reed

The Gemara tells us, לעולם יהא אדם רך כקנה ואל יהא קשה כארז "A person should always be soft like a reed, and not tough like a cedar tree" (Taanis 20). During מכת ברד when hail fell on the crops, only the full grown, stiff crops were ruined. The new, softer shoots were able to sway in the storm and they didn’t break. As the passuk says, "The flax and the barley were smitten, because [they were stiff and fully grown]. The wheat and the spelt weren't smitten, because they develop slower" (9:31). They were still soft and flexible and they bent and turned away when the hard hail fell on them. 

There are two types of people: Those who are flexible, and those who are rigid. The flexible ones have their desires and opinions but when things don’t go their way, know how to bend to the side and let matters pass. They are pliable and adjust to reality. They are ready to be mevater. They won’t break down when things don't go according to their expectations. Then there are the tough, rigid people. They don’t want to compromise. Their opinions and desires must be fulfilled. When matters don’t go their way, they try to forcefully have their wishes fulfilled. If they fail, they break down and collapse. We are urged to be soft like a reed. We won’t always get our way, yet, it is the wiser approach to life. A person should also be soft in the way he deals with others. A father and a teacher should educate their children and disciples with a soft hand. There are times when strictness is in place, as Chazal say, “The left should push away and the right should bring close,” (Sotah 47) but the dominant motion is to bring close with love and compassion. 

A mashgiach in a yeshivah will generally need to use a certain amount of strictness and discipline to enforce the rules and regulations of the yeshiva. Reb Eliyahu Dessler zt'l was the mashgiach of Ponovezh and people told the Chazon Ish zt’l that Rav Dessler is running the yeshiva with softness and kindness. The Chazon Ish replied, "He is correct in his approach because the kinyan, acquisition, of meshichah is stronger than the kinyan of chazakah." (In the halachos of acquiring an item, there is a kinyan called משיכה, pulling the item, and there is an acquisition called חזקה [forcefully showing ownership over the item]. The kinyan of meshicha, pulling the item towards you, is a better acquisition than chazaka. The Chazon Ish was implying that pulling the students to you with love and compassion will accomplish more than trying to win them by a show of might.) 

It is essential that a child feels loved. There must always be a strong connection between parent and child. When Yaakov saw Yosef's coat soaked in blood, he thought that Yosef died. The family came to console him but the Torah says, וימאן, Yaakov refused to be consoled" (Bereishis 37:34). The word וימאן, refuse, is stated again. When Yosef was tested with אשת פוטיפר, the Torah says, וימאן, Yosef refused. There is a connection between these two pesukim. It’s explained that Yosef received his strength to refrain from sin because his father Yaakov never lost hope. Yaakov refused to be consoled; his mind was always on Yosef – perhaps he even davened for Yosef – and this connection gave Yosef HaTzaddik the impetus to refrain from sinning. Parents should learn from this never to lose hope on their children. Even if a child goes astray, chalilah, parents should continue to love them and should  yearn and pray for the child’s return. This connection is felt in the child's heart even from the distance and it empowers the child with willpower to return.

[Rav Elimelech Biderman]