By Rabbi Yissocher Frand on behalf of the Sefas Tamim Foundation
I would like to thank the Sefas Tamim Foundation for the opportunity to present, over the course of a series of articles, a speech I gave about how powerful truth is. I gave this speech over 20 years ago and it is just as relevant today as it was back then.* In this final article of the series, we will discuss the profound impact that honesty has on raising good children.
One thing most parents have in common is an obsession with bringing up good children. They read books, attend lectures, take courses—anything to be a better parent. There is no magic formula to raising good children, but if anything comes close, it is honesty. Children who perceive their parents as honest, straightforward, and sincere will be honest children, and honest children are good children. You cannot fool your children. If you are dishonest, they will know it and be dishonest themselves. But if you are honest, they, too, will be honest, and they will make you proud.
A man came to see a certain rosh yeshiva I know. “Let me ask you a question,” he said. “Maybe you can explain it to me. I come from an old and very prestigious family. I am a learned man. I keep glatt kosher and do everything right, l’mehadrin min ha’mehadrin. But I don’t have any nachas from my children. My neighbor, on the other hand, is a simple person from a simple family. He keeps what he knows, which is not very much. And yet, each of his children is a gem. You know my neighbor, and you know me. How do you explain it?”
“You, my friend,” said the Rosh Yeshiva, “are a refugee, a survivor. You came here with nothing, and scraped and scratched until you were successful. If you had to bend the rules in order to get ahead, that was what you did. You could say one thing but mean another. That’s what your children saw, that nothing really means anything. But your neighbor, that simple fellow, couldn’t tell a lie if he tried. That’s what his children saw. That’s why they are what they are.”
Rav Pam points out that being overly strict and overbearing with our children can cause them to lie. If they know they face terrible consequences if they are caught in a misdeed, they will be inclined to deny everything. And who could blame them? For example, if you place undue emphasis on grades, they will be inclined to cheat on their exams. But having an honest child is far more important than having a child with good grades.
Rav Pam learned about honesty from his mother, who lived into her nineties. All his life, he never heard his mother say the word “sheker,” falsehood. She considered it a vulgar word and would not allow it to cross her lips. Instead, she would say, “It is not the truth” or, “He must be mistaken,” but never, “It is a lie.” That word was anathema to her. That is how to make an impression on a child. That is how to raise children like Rav Pam.
One summer, my wife and I visited South Africa at the invitation of Ohr Somayach of South Africa. About halfway through my stay, a woman called to ask me for an interview for a thesis she was writing about the teshuvah movement of South Africa. During the interview she told me the following story.
“My father had very little knowledge about anything Jewish. He was completely non-observant. In fact, it fell to my mother to prepare my brothers for their bar mitzvahs.
“We lived in a small mining town, where my father had his store. He was an impeccably honest man. When the blacks, who were usually poor and illiterate, would come to sell their wares, my father always paid an honest price. His scales were scrupulously accurate. Other merchants in town would take advantage of the blacks by using inaccurate scales, but my father never cheated anyone.
“My father died many years ago and was buried in South Africa. My mother lived for 20 more years. She left instructions that when she died, she was to be buried in Eretz Yisrael and that my father’s body was also to be brought to Israel and buried next to her. She also asked that my son-in-law, who lives in Eretz Yisrael, should attend to the body. In accordance with her wishes, my father’s casket was to be exhumed and sent to Eretz Yisrael for reburial. With my son-in-law looking on, the chevra kadisha in Eretz Yisrael donned masks over their mouths and noses before they opened the casket. My father had been dead for many years, and the stench of death would probably be overpowering.
And then they opened the casket. ‘Shalem! Tzaddik!’ the man from the chevra kadisha shouted. Shalem. Intact. The body was perfectly intact. My son-in-law peeked into the casket himself and he confirms it. The body looked exactly like the picture of my father that sits on this mantelpiece.”
The woman paused for a moment to gather her thoughts. “Rabbi, believe me,” she said. “My father was no tzaddik. He was no righteous man. Believe me, I know. He was a good man, but not righteous. So what does this mean? How could his body still be intact after 20 years?”
I was as baffled as she was. How would I know the answer to such a question? All of a sudden, like a bolt of lightning, it hit me. “Believe it or not,” I said, “I think I may have an answer for you. There is a pasuk in the Torah (Devarim 25:15) that states, ‘Even shleimah v’tzedek yihyeh lach. You shall keep scales that are whole and righteous.’ What did you tell me about your father? That he was honest, that he kept honest weights? Well, that was your father’s reward. Since he kept scales that were shalem, he was shalem, intact. Since he kept scales that were tzedek, the chevra kadisha recognized him as a tzaddik. Hashem loves honest people.”
* This speech was also included in my book “Listen to Your Messages,” and has been reproduced from the book and used with the permission of the copyright holders Artscroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.
The Sefas Tamim Foundation’s mission is to underscore the centrality of truth, emes, in our daily affairs. For further information regarding the Sefas Tamim Foundation and its mission of emphasizing everyday emes, please contact Boruch Delman at 718-200-5462 or email@example.com.