. . . With regard to all that I have written above with respect to the education and training of our son in the service of G‑d, I request and caution you to supervise him with a watchful eye, and to educate him in the goodly and proper path. This will be meritorious both for myself and for you. Much has been written by our Sages concerning the benefit accruing to parents when their offspring follow in the proper path of divine service. The Reishit Chochmah observes:1

The salvation that children bring to their parents surpasses that which parents bring to their children. For parents can save their children only from the tribulations of this world, and in their parents’ merit, they may be granted wealth and influence. But on the day of judgment, parents are powerless in rescuing their children from a punishment of Gehinnom [if they are so deserving]. Hence the verse states,2 “and neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand.” Avraham cannot save his son Yishmael, and so on. Children, in contrast, can save their parents from such punishment.

Likewise, our Sages explain3 that Amon was not enumerated4 among those denied a portion in the World to Come [though he was evidently wicked], because his son Yosheyahu was perfectly righteous. This illustrates that a son is a credit to his father, for in the merit of his son, a father can be saved [from retribution].5 By contrast, Menasheh, the son of Chizkeyahu, is enumerated among those denied a portion in the future World. For even though Chizkeyahu, his father, was perfectly righteous, it was of no avail to Menasheh.

A perceptive person will understand that the statement “a parent cannot save his child” refers only to those acts which a parent performs for himself (i.e., not on his child’s behalf). Indeed, such acts do not benefit a child. But how a child can rescue his parent is a different matter. For even a child’s actions on his own behalf6 are effective in saving his parents from a sentence of Gehinnom, and assist his parents’ entry into Gan Eden, as I will explain, G‑d willing.

Certainly, though, the deeds of a parent that are performed specifically for a child’s sake are of benefit to the child, and do indeed rescue him. Accordingly, Tosephot7 explains how King David was able to raise his son Avshalom from the seven chambers of Gehinnom and bring him into Gan Eden [though the Gemarah in Sanhedrin asserts that a father cannot save his son]. Tosephot explains:8

Were it not for King David’s prayer [on his son’s behalf], Avshalom his son would not have been excluded from enumeration among the wicked—even out of respect for his father David.9 But prayer is efficacious. David prayed on behalf of his son Avshalom and thus saved him, bringing him into Gan Eden.

In the Amidah prayer, we say, “...Who remembers the piety of the Patriarchs....” [This too would suggest that we can be saved in the merit of our forefathers.] The meaning [of this statement, however] is similar to that of the verse, “Then will I remember my covenant with Yaacov....”10 The Avudrahom indicates that He remembers, for our sake, the covenant that He made with the Patriarchs concerning us. Similarly, Moshe Rabbeinu said, “Remember Avraham, Yitzchak and Yisroel Your servants, to whom You did swear....”11

We find in many places that fathers must pray for their children to be righteous and that such prayers are answered. In light of this, we can better understand that which we quoted earlier [from the Reishit Chochmah]: “For fathers can only save their children from the tribulations of this world, and in their father’s merit, they may be granted wealth....” Fathers can bequeath their wealth, or other material belongings to their children—though acquired for themselves. But the good deeds that fathers perform on their own behalf cannot help their children, as noted earlier.

However, when parents guide their children to follow the straight and goodly path, which brings both spiritual and material benefits, then they rescue their children in This World and also in the World to Come. For their children will then be spared entirely from judgment [that leads to] Gehinnom.

In his introduction to Yesh Nochelin, the author explains at length how the material inheritance that fathers bequeath their sons is worthless and transitory. But when fathers bequeath them the fear of G‑d and His Torah,12 they leave an everlasting legacy that benefits their children in This World and in the World to Come. Accordingly, the Mishnah says:13

R. Nehorai asserted: Disregarding all worldly trades, I teach my son nothing but Torah. For a person enjoys its reward in This World, while the principal [reward] remains for the World to Come. This is unlike [the benefits of] any other occupation, for when a person grows old..., and is no longer able to engage in his craft, he may starve. With Torah, this is not so. It protects a person from all evil in his youth, and provides him with purpose and hope in his old age. Of youth, what is said? “But they that wait upon G‑d shall renew their strength....”14 Of old age, what is said? “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age....”15 Similarly, Scripture says of Avraham our patriarch, “And Avraham was old, advanced in age; and G‑d had blessed Avraham in all things.”16

On the foregoing Gemarah, Rashi comments:17

The income earned through a trade is not a source of long-term revenue, providing, as it does, only short-term remuneration. In contrast, the reward for Torah study [is generated continuously, and] comes of its own accord throughout a person’s lifetime. For even if someone is old and infirm, and is no longer able to study Torah, he continues to reap the dividends of his earlier investments. As it is written,18 “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age...” That is, their reward is [also] reserved for them, for their old age [so that in the future, as the verse continues] “...they are fat and flourishing.”

The Chiddushei Aggadot explains that Torah study stands a person in good stead throughout the three periods of life: childhood, adulthood and old age. It also offsets [any negative effects of] three factors [which would otherwise solely determine the measure of a person’s sustenance], viz., mazal, effort, and merit.19 In Kitzur Piskei HaRosh, the author avers:

The preeminent profession that a man can teach his son is Torah. Therefore, taking no notice of other vocations, he should teach his son only Torah. For a person can rely on neither silver nor gold—only on Torah and good deeds, as it says,20 “Silver is mine, and gold is mine, says the L‑rd of Hosts.”

On the verse, “For by me your days shall be multiplied, and the years of your life shall be increased,”21 Rashi comments, “Years of life, livelihood and wealth.”22 Similarly, it is written, “Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand are riches and honor.”23 Without a doubt, then, a G‑d fearing person who possesses good deeds will neither be forsaken in This World nor in the World to Come.

Consequently, fathers who educate and train their children in G‑d’s path, bequeath them two worlds: This World and the World to Come. And great is the salvation that fathers effect for themselves through the above, for the good deeds of their sons deliver them from a sentence of Gehinnom, bringing them into Gan Eden.

In Reishit Chochmah, the author goes on to discuss the salvation of parents brought about through their children:24

Citing the verse,25 “If you chance upon a bird’s nest...,” R. Chaninah expounded: Whose mercies are greater, those of created beings or those of ‘He Who spoke, and created the world thereby’? [G‑d’s, of course. Consequently:] If man, whose compassion is modest, is enjoined [to show mercy, and] to send away and free a mother bird before taking her young, then certainly the Holy One, blessed be He, Whose compassion is abundant, will send away and free a father from a judgment of Gehinnom before taking his son [into Gan Eden].

On the verse,26 “Honor your father and mother,” R. Meir expounded: Where are the king’s commands more applicable, inside or outside of his palace? Inside of his palace, naturally. Now, if outside of His palace, the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded, “Honor your father and mother,” it follows, a fortiori, that within His palace the injunction surely applies.

So it would be incongruous with this mitzvah [of honoring one’s parents] were a son to be seated within the partition of the righteous, while his father was seated among the company of the wicked.

Thus the good deeds of the children deliver their parents and bring them into Gan Eden.

It is reasonable to infer from the foregoing that the primary salvation of parents occurs when the child scrupulously observes the commandment of honoring one’s parents. This explains why R. Meir chose to base his teaching of how sons can rescue their fathers, on a drashah concerning parental honor.

The explanation of R. Meir’s statement would thus seem to be as follows: Being sent to Gan Eden is the son’s reward for his good deeds. Yet if in the meantime his father were to be in Gehinnom, then his father’s shame would be made more acute. To have his father’s embarrassment intensified on the child’s account would be unfair to the son: All his life he was scrupulous in this [i.e., in respecting his parents], but now, in the palace of the King of kings, the Holy One blessed be He—in Gan Eden—he is a catalyst to his father’s heightened suffering! On account of this consideration, he rescues his father, and brings him into Gan Eden.

In the name of my saintly father,27 I heard that in Gan Eden, too, the “encompassing” light of the Ein Sof is irradiated for a consummate tzaddik. A proof to this assertion can be found in the Talmud.28 It relates how Shmuel visited a cemetery, to inquire of his deceased father concerning [the whereabouts of] money belonging to orphans. An assemblage of the cemetery’s deceased appeared there to Shmuel outside of their resting places.

Rashi explains that they were seated in a circle. Now this is remarkable! How does Rashi know whether they sat in a circle or in some other formation? His intention, though, is as explained above.29 Based on this concept, we can explain, on a deeper level, that even in Gan Eden mitzvot are applicable in some form, similar and akin to the manner in which they will be observed in the World to Come.30 This is [the way that a son fulfills his responsibility to demonstrate] parental honor, viz., by bringing his father into Gan Eden.31

Be that as it may, parents can be saved by their children. We find many examples in the teachings of our Rabbis which illustrate how a son who performs good deeds in This World rescues his father from Gehinnom, and elevates him from level to level. For instance, the Reishit Chochmah,32 citing the Midrash Tanchumah, recounts how Rabbi Akiva witnessed the dire punishment of a deceased individual— Heaven protect us.

Rabbi Akiva asked the poor fellow whether there might be some remedy [for his torment]. The deceased replied that indeed there was. Those angels appointed over him had remarked that if he had a son who were to recite Barchu et HaShem Hamevorach in a quorum, then he, the father, would be released from further retribution. Now, prior to his death his wife had been pregnant. So R. Akiva asked him for his name and the name of his town, and then journeyed from township to township [until he came upon the man’s hometown].

After considerable investigation R. Akiva found the son, and taught him Torah until he was able to recite Barchu in a quorum. The deceased was then exempted from further punishment in Gehinnom.33

In the glosses to the introduction of Yesh Nochelin, a similar account from the Zohar Chadash is related. It concludes that the soul of the deceased appeared to the sage who had instructed his son, informing him what had transpired: At the moment his son had read the Haftorah, his suffering was mitigated. At the instant his son had stood to lead the prayers in a quorum and had recited Kaddish, the decree [sentencing the father to Gehinnom] was completely revoked. And when his son had become a scholar, and had merited to absorb considerable Torah knowledge, the father was granted a portion in Gan Eden and admitted among the righteous in their [heavenly] academy.

The Zohar on the book of Ruth records the following:

After the son had learnt a Biblical passage, his father’s sentence was lightened. When he began to recite Kriat Shemah [twice daily], twice daily his father’s punishment was [correspondingly] suspended: once for a period during the day, and once for a period during the night. Later, when the son had begun his formal education—studying and reading under the tutelage of a teacher—the sentence was withdrawn in entirety.

After the son had become a scholar and earned the title “Rabbi,” a chair of honor amongst the righteous was prepared for his father. On each and every day that the son would conceive a new Torah insight, his father was crowned with magnificent and splendid crowns reserved for tzaddikim.... Happy is the portion of the person who leaves a son in This World that engages in the study of Torah.

Similarly, we find in the Zohar an exposition on how the virtuous actions of sons in This World raise the fathers from one level to the next, in the World of Truth. As cited there34 from the Zohar:35

He began to expound and said: It is written,36 “A son honors his father,” in consonance with the passage,37 “Honor your father and mother.” This verse, we learn, establishes [the filial duty to see to the needs of one’s parents in terms of] food, drink and so on. Now a son is obligated in these matters during his parents’ lifetime. After their passing, however, one might think that he is relieved of his responsibility. This is not so.

For although his parents have died, he is all the more obligated to honor them, as it says, “Honor your father and mother.” For if a son follows a perverse path, he certainly disgraces his father and embarrasses him. But if he follows a straight path, and his deeds are upright, he assuredly honors his father in This World, in the eyes of mankind, and in the World to Come, in the eyes of the Holy One blessed be He. For G‑d has compassion on the father, granting him a seat of distinction. This is most definitely a tribute to the father.

Thus a person’s virtuous behavior catapults his father into Gan Eden; how much more so does it save him from a judgment of Gehinnom.

The foregoing clarifies why a son must be conscientious to lead the communal prayers (and not to simply discharge his obligation by reciting the Kaddish alone). Similarly, he must try to say Kaddish diligently, as frequently as possible. For through this, he delivers his father from a sentence of Gehinnom, and brings him into Gan Eden. In the same vein, regarding the recital of Kaddish, the Pri Etz Chaim states:38

The notion that Kaddish is intended only to save the deceased from a judgment of Gehinnom is a popular misconception. For there is another benefit, namely, to bring the deceased into Gan Eden, and to elevate him there from one level to the next.

From all the above we can see that the commendable actions of sons in This World, bring succor to their fathers in the World of Truth, delivering them from punishment in Gehinnom, and ushering them into Gan Eden.

Furthermore, when children walk along a straight path, their parents are remembered favorably. It is said [of such a child], “Happy is the one who bore him.” As the above-mentioned Zohar remarks,39 “He honors him in This World, in the eyes of mankind.” All the more is this true if before they die, fathers instruct their sons [to behave righteously] and then their sons act virtuously on the strength of these directives. This surely causes fathers to be remembered on account of their sons. Such merit stands fathers in good stead, both in This World and in the World to Come.

Moreover, when fathers exhort their sons to perform good deeds, and they obey, it is as if the fathers themselves performed those noble acts. As our Sages taught:40

Whoever induces his fellow to carry out a mitzvah is regarded by Scripture as if he himself performed it. Accordingly the verse says,41 “...and your rod with which you smote the river.” Was it then Moshe who smote [the river]? Surely Aharon was the one who smote it! [Hence] this [verse] implies that whoever induces his fellow to carry out a mitzvah is regarded by Scripture as if he himself performed it.

It seems to me that the same principle applies to education. When fathers educate and habituate their sons in the good and straight path, and on the strength of this education and training their sons behave properly when they grow older—doing so, moreover, with increased vigor—then certainly the fathers have a significant share in their sons’ deeds.

For the principal foundation of a person’s rectitude depends upon his education. On the verse,42 “A wise son hears his father’s instruction,” our Sages remarked,43 “If you see a wise person, you can be certain that his father rebuked him in his youth and trained him to take the goodly path.” Avraham, though, was unique in this, for he had received an education from no one. On the contrary, he was raised in the home of Terach [an idolater].

Yet Avraham came to recognize the Creator on his own, and afterwards walked in the ways of G‑d. He later educated and instructed his son Yitzchak in the same belief, as the verse indicates,44 “For I know him, that he will command his children . . . ; and they will keep the way of the L‑rd, to do justice and act righteously.” Likewise, Avraham trained him to follow in his ways, as it is written,45 “And these are the generations . . . , Avraham begot Yitzchak. . . .” Similarly, this holds true for any person when he educates and trains his son in the upright path. Then, even when he [the son] grows old, he will not depart from it. Moreover, he will do so with more vigor . . . , as explained above. In this manner, fathers bring merit both to their sons and to themselves.

In light of the above, we can understand how sons, through their good deeds, rescue their fathers, though the sons may perform these deeds on their own behalf. They deliver their fathers from a sentence of Gehinnom, bring them into Gan Eden, and elevate them there from one level to the next, inasmuch as their fathers were instrumental in bringing them to perform these virtuous deeds.

Similarly, it is written,46 “My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too shall rejoice.” The Metzudot Dovid comments,47 “Since through me you achieved your wisdom.” Therefore, the father will rejoice in This World and in the World to Come, as noted above.

But if children behave in the opposite manner, then the opposite consequence occurs. As it is written,48 “He that begets a fool does it to his sorrow: and the father of a churl has no joy.” A father who has a fool for a son who has learnt no Torah—Heaven protect us—will spend all his life grieving and worrying; such a father will experience no joy in This World.49

The Midrash explains:50

If (Heaven forfend!) the son does not walk on the goodly path, then he is handed over to five angels. . ., one who is appointed to. . . . The fifth angel beats his father and mother, asking them, “Why did you not raise your son to study Torah and to do good deeds? He would have performed mitzvot and acted virtuously! He would have distanced himself from wicked behavior!” If his parents had guided him, but he did not fulfill their teachings, then he is beaten in their presence.

In Yesh Nochelin, the author writes:

Note well the harsh punishment that befalls parents who fail to rebuke their children. In general, I tell you therefore,51 “Who is wise? He who sees that which will be born.” As soon as a child emerges from his mother’s womb, one ought to begin watching over him. That is to say, to pay close attention to all matters concerning him, and to guide him [to live a lifestyle which will bring him] to true life. Then it will be good for him.

Happy is he who brings merit to himself, to his sons, and to his household, by rebuking his children, training and reminding them to engage in the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot. Thus the principal reward is kept for him and for his offspring after him, until the end of all his succeeding generations. As it is written,52 “But those who rebuke the wicked shall have delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.”