June 17, 2024
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Using Our Parental Foundation

My cousin, Rabbi Nachman Seltzer, tells the following story.1 The Tzcherbiner Rav loved to listen and converse with yeshiva students about any topic of Torah they were learning. Every Shabbos afternoon, anyone could visit the rav to speak with him on any topic they were studying. Rav Moshe Shternbuch (currently age 92) was a young man at that time and wished to speak with the rav. Rav Moshe spent weeks preparing the topic. When he felt ready to present his Torah topic, Rav Moshe walked over one Shabbos afternoon. The Tzcherbiner Rav listened very carefully to what Rav Moshe was saying. Rav Moshe presented his idea with compelling questions, proofs and refutations. It was a masterpiece, and he could tell by the look on the Tzcherbiner Rav’s face that he was clearly enjoying it.

When Rav Moshe finished, the rav said, “This is not your Torah!” Rav Moshe was taken aback, worried the Tzcherbiner Rav was accusing him of plagiarizing. “I prepared this with my chavrusa. He can testify that what I presented to you today was not taken from a different person,” said Rav Moshe humbly. “This is not yours,” repeated the rav.

The Tzcherbiner Rav explained what he meant. “I know you were orphaned at a young age from your father. Your mother raised you and your brothers with extreme dedication. Her dream was to raise you to be a talmid chacham. Life was difficult for her as a widow. Every year on your father’s yahrzeit she would take you and your brothers to your father’s kever. There, she would daven. “Hashem! The Gemara says there are three partners in the creation of each child: mother, father and Hashem. Hashem, you took away one of the partners. I ask you to please take upon Yourself two-thirds of the responsibility and help me raise my children to be talmidei chachamim.”

“Moshe, everything you said was brilliant and way beyond your years. It’s unusual for someone your age to have such sharpness. Clearly this is divine intervention. This is why I tell you “this is not your accomplishment” but rather, it is the accomplishment of your mother’s efforts, dedication and prayers.”

All of us owe our parents a debt of gratitude. They brought us into this world and gave us the ability to serve Hashem.

The Ramban notes that the first five commandments are between man and Hashem and the second five are between man and his fellow-man. Honoring one’s parents is the transition between the two. We must honor our parents as we honor Hashem. Our parents are partners with Hashem in our creation.

Parshas Yisro contains the ma’amad Har Sinai—the Aseres Hadibros—Ten Commandments. The fifth commandment is to honor your father and mother.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 56) tells us that a few days after the splitting of the sea, the Bnei Yisrael camped in Mara. There, Hashem told Moshe to tell the Bnei Yisrael a few of the mitzvos. One of those mitzvos was “honor your parents.” What was the imperative need to have this mitzvah transmitted before Har Sinai?

Rav Avrohom Schorr asked this same question at our yeshiva before Pesach. He answered that Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, the famed Kaminitzer rosh yeshiva, says that honoring parents is a hechsher mitzvah—a preparation for other mitzvos. But how can this be, when it’s an explicit command! An example of a preparatory mitzvah would be sharpening a milah (circumcision) knife or gathering s’chach for a sukkah.

Rav Baruch Ber explains that we observe the mitzvos because we trust our parents and rebbeim who have transmitted them to us from parent to child and rebbe to student (honoring a rebbe is actually included in the mitzvah of kibud av). This transmission chain is an essential preparation for us to have an interest in and actually perform the mitzvos. Our parents and rebbeim give us the foundation; they prepare us to be receptive.

This is a crucial message to understand before Pesach. Children and teenagers have many things to say at the Seder. But…the grandfather or Seder leader—they are the key. Respect what they have to say, even if you think you have something better, as the whole Torah is contingent on the transmission of parent to child.

Parshas Yisro is my bar mitzvah parsha. It reminds me of my parents and how they raised me. This week is also the yahrzeit of my maternal grandmother, Mrs. Toby Blechner, Toyba bas Binyamin Menachem. My parents and grandparents instilled in me a love for Hashem and His Torah. I daven that I may transmit this love to my children and grandchildren and future generations.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate Rosh Yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

1 Sefer Zera Shimshon 2

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