A colleague of mine, Rabbi Avraham, is the nicest rabbi you could find. All his congregants love him. He always seems to have all the time in the world for them and he is so generous with his own money, giving charitably to worthy causes and needy individuals. What makes him so special is that he is incredibly nonjudgmental. He accepts everyone for who they are, and nobody ever feels that he is looking askance at their religious commitment or lack thereof.
Sadly, at home, it’s a whole different story. It seems that the moment he crosses the threshold into his house, Dr. Jekyll disappears and is replaced by Mr. Hyde. Avraham is so strict with his own children that it’s hard to believe that he’s the same fellow that is adored by his congregants. While he is ever-forgiving of his congregants’ behaviour, he won’t stand for any misstep his kids might take. Boy, does he ship them into line.
And maybe it would be one thing if, for all the extra expectations, he showed them extra love and care. Strangely, he doesn’t. Unfortunately, he never seems to have time to have dinner with his family, let alone read them bedtime stories or learn Torah with them. Somehow he has time for everybody else’s kids, but he has only rules and discipline for his own children.
Is that fair?
Rabbi Yossi bar Avin was a regular student of Rabbi Yossi of Yukras. Later he left him and went to study under Rabbi Ashi. One day he heard him reciting a tradition that Shmuel had said: If one takes a fish out of the sea on the Sabbath, as soon as there is a dry spot on it as large as a coin, he has transgressed the Sabbath laws.
Rabbi Yossi bar Avin asked him: Why does the master not add, ‘and between the fins’?
He replied, “Are you not aware that Rabbi Yossi bar Avin already stated this?”
He responded, “I am Rabbi Yossi bar Avin!”
Then Rabbi Ashi inquired, “Did you not frequent the discourses of Rabbi Yossi of Yukras?”
He replied, “Yes.”
Rabbi Ashi asked him, “Why did you leave him, sir, and come here?”
He replied, “How could the man who showed no mercy upon his son and daughter show mercy to me?”
What happened to his son? Once, Rabbi Yossi of Yukras had day-labourers working in the field. Night set in and no food was brought to them.
They said to his son, “We are hungry.”
They were resting under a fig tree and he exclaimed, “Fig tree, fig tree, bring forth your fruit so that my father's labourers may eat.” It brought forth fruit and they ate.
Meanwhile the father came and said to them, “Do not bear a grievance against me. The reason for my delay is because I have been occupied up until now with a mitzvah.”
The labourers replied, “May G-d satisfy you just as your son has satisfied us.”
Rabbi Yossi asked them, “How?” And they told him what had happened.
Thereupon he said to his son, “My son, you have troubled your Creator to cause the fig tree to bring forth its fruit before its time, may you too be taken from this world before your time!”
What happened to his daughter? His daughter was beautiful. One day he found a man boring a hole in the fence in order to catch a glimpse of her.
He said to the man, “What’s going on?”
And the man answered, “Master, if I am not worthy enough to marry her, may I not at least be worthy to catch a glimpse of her?”
Thereupon he exclaimed, “My daughter, you are a source of trouble to mankind; return to the dust so that men may not sin because of you!”
Whenever the charity collectors caught sight of Rabbi Eleazar of Birtah they would hide themselves from him, because he was in the habit of giving away all that he had to them. One day he was going to the market to buy a trousseau for his daughter. When the charity collectors caught sight of him they hid themselves from him.
He ran after them and said to them, “I adjure you, tell me on what mission are you engaged?”
And they replied, “The marriage of an orphan boy and girl.”
He said to them, “I swear, they must take precedence over my daughter.” And with that, he took all he had and gave it to them. He was left with one coin and with it he bought wheat which he deposited in the granary.
When his wife got home, she asked her daughter, “Nu, what did your dad bring home for you?”
She replied, “He placed in the granary all that he brought.” She then went to open the door of the granary and found that it was so full of wheat that the wheat protruded through the hinges of the door and the door would not open on account of it!
The daughter then went to the study hall and said to her father, “Come and see what your Beloved One has done for you!”
He replied, “l swear, you must consider it as dedicated to charity and therefore off-limits, and you shall have no more right to share in them than any other poor person in Israel.”
Tragically, Rabbi Avraham is not the first rabbi in our history who failed to understand his role as a parent. Rabbi Yossi bar Avin ran away from his teacher after seeing the way he treated his children and the standards he expected them to live up to. Rabbi Eleazar would not open his eyes to his daughter’s needs and treated her just like he would any other little girl. Even when the Almighty sent them an open miracle, he still failed to show favour to his child.
That’s why we find so many rabbis’ kids who just aren’t interested in following in their parents’ footsteps. Being the rabbi’s kid is not always the most pleasant experience, and rabbis need to be particularly sensitive to their kids’ needs.
Of course, it’s not only true for rabbis. Many people are pretty good at putting on their best face for the world. But then they get home and their true self is revealed. Sadly, very often, all the pent up frustration of the day is then taken out on their loved ones.
Your children are not your bean bag. Nor is your spouse. Not only should you not be treating them any worse than you would a friend or stranger, you should be treating them much better! They are your loved ones!
Treat them with the utmost love and care. Give them your undivided attention. Shower them with your generosity. Speak to them respectfully and kindly. They must be the greatest beneficiaries of your time, effort and love!