My Yiddeshe Tatte
"Israel their father said to them, '...Take your brother and return to the man. And may Almighty G-d grant you mercy....' " (43:11-14)
One of today's most offensive and inaccurate canards must be the "Jewish Mother." The "Jewish Mother" emasculates her offspring with suffocating affection, refusing to sever the apron-strings that bind her brood. She wields emotional blackmail with the accuracy of a surgeon's knife and the mercilessness of a Machiavelli.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Talmud teaches us that someone who does the mitzvah of lighting the lamps of Shabbat and Chanuka will have children who are talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars).
What is the specific connection between lighting lamps and being blessed with children who will be Torah scholars?
One of life's great temptations is to think that we control events. "I got up at five every morning and that's why I made a million." "I practiced 12 hours a day and that's why I'm a concert violinist." Who do you think gave you the strength and determination to get up early? Who do you think gave you the gift of music? There are plenty of people who get up at four-thirty who are still paying their mortgage. There are plenty of Yehudi Menuhin wannabes who can't coax an Irish jig out of a fiddle.
Even when we do a mitzvah, we think: It's me doing the mitzvah. It's me putting on tefillin. It's me making kiddush on Friday night. Me. I'm doing it, aren't I?
The mitzvah of lighting Chanuka lights isn't just to light. The Chanuka menorah must also contain enough fuel to stay lit for a half hour into the night. Although I might feel that I'm the one lighting the candle, but I can't make it stay lit. No amount of encouragement from the sidelines will make that candle burn. No rooting, no cheer-leading will keep it lit if the Master of Creation doesn't will it.
Shabbos candles, too, are meant to remain lit. Without their light, someone might trip and fall. Lighting the lamps is only part of the mitzvah. The lamps must also give us pleasure and benefit; and for this, they need to stay alight.
The lights of Shabbos and Chanuka help us realize that we only start the process. The rest up to G-d.
Every parent hopes his children will grow to be healthy, wise and upright, but we get no guarantee. We protect our children as much as is reasonable, but we cannot lock them in a padded room. All we can do is to kindle in them the spark. The spark of loving G-d; of loving their fellow Jew. We cannot complete the process. It's up to them - and to G-d. Eventually, all we can do is stand on the sidelines with prayers and tears.
In this week's Parsha, Yaakov reluctantly allows Binyamin to go to Egypt. There was no guarantee Binyamin would return, yet Yaakov let him go. After doing everything reasonable, Yaakov put his trust in G-d.
After lighting Shabbos candles Friday afternoon, women customarily say a prayer which concludes: "Privilege me to raise children and grandchildren who are wise and understanding, who love G-d and fear G-d, people of truth, holy offspring, attached to G-d, who illuminate the world with Torah and good deeds...Hear my prayers at this time, in the merit of Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, our mothers, and cause our light to illuminate, that it not be extinguished ever, and let Your Countenance shine..."
Now that's a Jewish mother.
Talmud Shabbat 23b; Rashi ibid.; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 263:1;
Mishna Berura, ibid. 1,2; Rabbi Mordechai Pitem