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Saturday, 24 October 2015

Guilt does nothing for G-d

Daf Yomi Nazir 62

When we were teenagers, my friend Shmully would have to sneak out of the house to come out to see a movie with us.  His father was a rabbi and he knew that if his parents ever found out, he’d be in big trouble.  Anyway, one day his dad caught wind of what was going on and called him into his office.  He entered and sat in the little chair normally reserved for congregants.

“Shmully,” his father began, “It’s come to my attention that you’re involved with certain activities that aren’t consonant with our family’s values.  You’ve been sneaking around and coming home all hours of the night.”
“I’ll tell you what,” he continued, “I know that going to the movies and playing arcade games cost money.  I want to start giving you an allowance so that you’re not sponging off your friends.  But on one condition: that we have an open and honest relationship and you tell me how you’re spending your free time and money.”

This interesting arrangement continued for the next year and a half.  Over that period, Shmully became closer with his father than he’d ever been.  At that juncture, however, Shmully’s parents decided to take him out of the Mesivta (Jewish studies only) program and place him in the regular Jewish school.  Their open relationship had brought them to the realization that he wasn’t achieving his full potential with his schooling and that he would be better suited to a full academic curriculum.  Today, Shmully is a successful lawyer, president of his shul, happily married and proud father of six. 

Mishnah: Servants may take a vow of nazirism; however their masters may override the vow.  If the servant ran away, Rabbi Meir says: he may not drink wine (i.e. the vow then takes effect), but Rabbi Yossi says: he may drink wine (i.e. the override is still in effect).
Gemara:  Shall we say that they are arguing about Shmuel’s principle?  Shmuel taught:  If one declared his servant ownerless, he is free and does not require a document of emancipation.  Rabbi Meir appears to agree with Shmuel (and allows the servant complete independence due to his newfound freedom), whereas Rabbi Yossi does not agree with Shmuel.
The Gemara answers: No.  They both agree with Shmuel’s principle.   Rather, the one who says he may drink wine believes the servant will eventually return home, and he should drink wine so that he will not become weak in the meantime.  And the one who says he may not drink is of the opinion that the master would want to cause distress to the servant in order that he return home sooner.

Much as we would like children who are created ‘in our own image,’ it doesn’t always work out like that.  Every child has their own free will to make their personal life choices.  Ultimately, after you’ve done your best as a parent and your child makes their own decisions that do not align with yours, you have two ways you could react: either you could cause them distress, in the hope that you will guilt them into ‘returning home.’  Chances are you only going to create ill-feeling between you.

Or you could allow them to drink the proverbial wine in an effort to strengthen them, to boost their confidence and self-esteem.   Had Shmully’s father taken a hard line with him, he probably wouldn’t be the stable, well-functioning, frum, happily-married father and lawyer he is today.  Today he is a pillar of his community, because his father chose to embrace him rather than reject him.

If mortal parents have the power to treat their ‘rebellious’ children with love, how much more so does our Father in Heaven.  He knows that even when His servants run away, they will eventually return home.  He’s not a vengeful G-d, out to destroy you.  No, he loves you!  The escapee that spends the rest of his life walking around burdened by the guilt of fleeing from before the Master will never return.  Instead, he will wallow in self-pity. 

Your Father in Heaven wants you to be happy.  He wants you to be joyous, whether or not you have made the right decisions.  He knows that the best path home is a strong, healthy self-esteem.  Stop beating yourself up – be happy in the knowledge that G-d loves you no matter what!  May you merit joy and happiness throughout your life, knowing that the door is always open, the cookies are hot and G-d’s milk is Heavensomely refreshing!  

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