April 16, 2024
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In Sefer Yirmiyahu, Chapter 31, Yirmiyahu details the scene in heaven as Am Yisrael leave Eretz Yisrael following the second Beit Hamikdash’s destruction. The pesukim describe Rachel Imeinu crying for her children and their descent into exile. The Navi then describes God’s poignant response:

“Thus says God; hold back your voice from crying; and dry your eyes from tears. For there is reward for your action; your children will return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for you in the end; your children will return to their rightful borders.”

Why was Rachel answered so positively?

The standard explanation is that it was Rachel’s selfless act on behalf of her sister Leah. When she learned that Lavan planned to replace her at the chuppah with Leah, Rachel gave Leah the secret signs that she and Yaacov had set up to avoid Leah’s embarrassment.

However, Rav David Fohrman suggests a new perspective to this episode. If we look closely in Yirmiyahu, God says to Rachel, “yesh sachar l’pe’ulateich, there is reward to your actions” and the words “yesh sachar” spell the name of Leah’s fifth son, Yissachar. This implies, suggests Rav Fohrman, that Rachel’s true act of heroism revolved around the birth of Yissachar.

The birth of Yissachar, and the events surrounding it, are enigmatic. Reuven, Leah’s firstborn, gives duda’im to his mother. Rachel asks Leah for some duda’im, and Leah responds, “Isn’t it enough that you have taken my husband, now you want to take my duda’im as well?!” Rachel offers for Leah to sleep with Yaacov that night in exchange for the duda’im, and Yissachar is conceived.

What’s going on here?

Rav Fohrman suggests that to understand this story, we first need to consider Rachel’s perspective. She waited seven years to marry Yaacov, only to have her sister sent in her place. Ultimately, she marries Yaacov as well, however, Leah quickly gives birth to many children while she remains barren. From Rachel’s perspective, first Leah steals her husband, then overshadows her with many children.

Leah’s oldest, Reuven, gifts her duda’im—a symbol of his love for his mother. Rachel asks Leah for a few of the flowers in order to also share in the symbolic love of a child that she did not merit.

Yet Leah’s responds dramatically, “Isn’t it enough that you took my husband, now you also want to take my duda’im?”

Leah’s words seem strange. In what way did Rachel take her husband? It was Leah who married Rachel’s intended husband?!

And yet, Leah’s words cause Rachel to re-consider the entire narrative, and see Leah’s perspective. From Leah’s standpoint, she was forced into a marriage she hadn’t asked for, marrying a man who really wanted to marry her sister. Her sister then willingly married the same man, effectively rupturing her relationship with her husband, as Yaacov naturally favored Rachel over Leah. Leah feels unloved and unappreciated. One day, her oldest son gives her a gift, and Rachel has the gall to ask for some of that gift!?

Now Rachel was finally able to see Leah’s perspective. Her response? Giving Leah the one thing she desires more than anything else—a real relationship with her husband. She offers Leah to spend the night with Yaacov. Whereas on her wedding night, Rachel was forced to allow Leah to be with Yaacov, here Rachel willingly offers her the opportunity to be with Yaacov, resulting in the birth of Yissachar.

This was the power of Rachel’s actions. She stepped away from her own pain and saw things from Leah’s perspective. Rachel recognized that there are two sides to a story and that the key to resolving conflict is to see the other person’s perspective. It was that heroic effort that ultimately forced God to respond to Rachel’s pleas.

Understanding another’s perspective is crucially important in the realm of parenting. We encounter our kids at various stages of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. At each stage, our child experiences the world from a certain standpoint, cognitively and emotionally. As parents we can sometimes be dismissive of our child’s perspective—failing to understand it and not having patience for it. Yet such dismissiveness could have a negative effect on that child and on our relationship with him.

A couple of examples:

1) A young toddler builds a palace of pillows and blankets, declaring himself king of the castle. A few minutes later, someone walks by knocks the castle down. The toddler is devastated that his castle is destroyed. Our initial reaction may be to say “What’s the big deal? It wasn’t a real castle anyway.” Yet to this child, at this emotional and cognitive stage, it was as real a castle as can be. And when we belittle that reality for him, he feels unheard.

2) A teenage child undergoes a medical procedure that alters their physical appearance. They are devastated at how they look, and refuse to leave the house. Our initial reaction may be to say “What’s the big deal? No one really is looking at you. You look fine, it will go away soon anyway.” Such a response reflects a failure to appreciate the role that physical appearance and social status play in the lives of adolescents. If we are dismissive of their feelings, then our children will get the impression that we don’t “understand them” and may stop sharing with us.

To be clear, understanding the perspective of others doesn’t mean that we need to give in to them, or completely dismiss our own point of view. What it does mean is that we should consider how we react to certain conflicts or events in the lives of our children. We should first take a moment to consider things from their perspective, and only then decide upon the proper course of action. Doing so will make us more empathetic parents, and ultimately more effective parents as well.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!

By Rav Yossi Goldin

 

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