17 Nissan 5779 / Monday, April 22, 2019 | Torah Reading: Acharei Mot
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The Fortress    

The Fortress

With the illumination of Chanuka lights, parental presence, the joy of dreidel games and the aroma of fried potato pancakes or donuts, a child feels secure...


Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody

Chanuka is a special time to be together with our children and to strengthen our rapport with them. Since Halacha requires us all to light candles and then to spend time in front of the candles, there are no excuses to run away from one's children. With the illumination of Chanuka lights, parental presence, the joy of dreidel games and the aroma of fresh potato pancakes, a child feels secure, that his home is a fortress of love and safety, both spiritual and emotional.
Parents must constantly give their child a feeling of security, not only on Chanuka, but all year round. That's so that the child will tell them everything. Maybe it’s some bully bothering him, or a peer group enticing them to do something wrong. A child should feel comfortable in telling parents, “Mom, Dad, this boy wants me to do such and such," or, "this older child is threatening me.” Then parents can shield their children and help them, so they won’t fall prey to such dangers. But if a child comes and spills his heart out to his parents, but rather than being reassured and comforted, he's subjected to judgmental attitudes or scolding from his parents, then he’ll be afraid of how they’ll judge him or punish him, and  the next time, he'll revert to his shell. He'll never again say anything in the future. Then he’ll be in real danger; what's worse, he'll be all alone.
Every parent must understand that the home is a fortress for a child. When parents give children the space to develop naturally in their own way, with a lot of love and warmth, then even if they grow up in the worst neighborhood, they will not be corrupted by their surroundings. On the other hand, children can grow up in the best neighborhood in the world, but if their home is not their fortress, then the children will be at great risk. When challenged, they can easily fall prey to terrible influences, for they have no fortress to protect them.
So if a parent doesn’t learn to give unconditional love to a child, no rules of parenting will help. A parent must develop the character traits of love and giving, and in general, be a person who strives to perfect his own character.
The Alter of Slabodka once saw that one of the exceptional students of his Yeshiva begin to falter in his studies. The Alter came to the student and asked if he wanted to talk privately. He told him he could come to the Alter’s office at such and such a time.
The student was very excited by the offer to speak privately with the Rosh Yeshiva, and had a hard time sleeping that night. The next morning he knocked on the door, and entered humbly, yet excitedly. He saw the table set with all sorts of fruit and treats, and the Alter sitting waiting expectantly for him. As soon as he saw the student enter, he got up to greet him warmly, brought him to the table and began talking to him. The Rosh Yeshiva described what he saw as the young student’s strengths, and how he thought he could utilize them more to his own benefit and satisfaction. He encouraged the boy throughout the duration of the meeting. It had a profound effect on the student; the lad decided to increase his efforts in learning.
After the meeting, the Alter asked the student to make a blessing and eat something. The boy was embarrassed, and said he couldn’t eat anything without the Rosh Yeshiva eating as well. The Alter said he couldn’t eat.
“Why?” asked the student.
The Alter answered, “I am fasting.”
“Why are you fasting?” wondered the student.
“I knew that today we were going to speak, and it would be a very important discussion for your success in Torah learning. I wanted my words to have effect, so I took upon myself to fast and pray and fast for success.”
When the student heard this, he became more and more emotional, as he saw the love and care of the Alter. He realized how important he was to the Alter, and that his success in learning was so important that the Alter would fast in order to make sure his words would make an impression on the student. Obviously, the student made more and more of a commitment to be diligent in his Torah learning and religious observance.
If a parent or teacher truly thought about the good of the child, then he would think in depth about how to approach the child in a way that his words would really make a difference, as the Alter of Slabodka did. He prepared extensively so that his words would make a lasting impression on the heart of his student.
Think carefully about where the child is. A clear mind is required to understand clearly where a child is, and what will help him to succeed. And prior to everything, there must be belief in the child, that the child is good, and that he too wants to succeed. The child is not doing anything intentional to make people angry, but rather the parents or educators are being lax in doing their job and in searching for ways to help the child. The best help is prayer, and to make your home into a fortress of security for your children. Happy Chanuka!

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