Give Me a Break!

After years of wandering, labor and suffering, Jacob returned to his father’s home. All he desired was some peace and quiet to pursue his spiritual goals without distraction. But G‑d had a different plan. No sooner had Jacob caught his breath than tension began to brew between Joseph and his brothers. Thus, our sages taught, the righteous desire to sit in peace, but G‑d turns them down. Enough that they enjoy serenity in the hereafter, He says, they expect it in this life too?1

All he desired was some peace and quiet

Much has been made of this teaching. Some have suggested that the work of the truly pious is never complete. Others argued that it is improper for the righteous to focus on their own spiritual growth while ignoring the needs of others.2 Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the famed Halachic authority of the previous century, offered a novel interpretation. He saw it as a homily on education.3

Observing the decisive judgment his children displayed during his encounters with Laban, Esau and Shechem, Jacob figured they were spiritually mature and no longer required his focused attention. After years of devoting himself to raising them, he could finally tend to his own spiritual needs.

To his chagrin, Jacob discovered that trouble with his children was only beginning to brew. Now that the challenges from the outside had been met and overcome, the fissures within the family came to the fore. The jealousy between Joseph and his brothers simmered over, and it was too late to prevent the brothers from selling Joseph into slavery in Egypt.

Our Children

There is an important lesson here for parents. We are commanded not only to be good Jews, but to raise our children as such.4 It is our task to teach them responsibility and inculcate moral values. Our children depend on us to guide them on their journey to adulthood.

Raising ethical children requires thought and exertion. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn writes that just as it is a sacred obligation to donOur children depend on us to guide them on their journey to adulthood tefillin every day, so is it a sacred obligation to devote a portion of each day to thinking about our children’s education.5 What’s more, the responsibility never ends. We can never sit back and say, my children are out of the woods—I have given them all they need. It is precisely when we turn our attention elsewhere that we realize how vulnerable they are.

If this was true in Jacob’s day, it is certainly true today. The digital age has brought us incredible gifts, but it has also brought new dangers and temptations. For children and adolescents, the internet may be a powerful learning tool, or it may be a channel for immoral influences and destructive behaviors. The easier it becomes to use the internet, through smartphones, tablets and the like, the more vigilant we must be to ensure that we, and our children, use it properly.


As a slave in Egypt, Joseph found favor in the eyes of his master, who entrusted him with the keys to his home. Unfortunately he also found favor in the eyes of his mistress. Joseph refused her seductions, which only intensified her resolve.

One day when the house was empty, she grabbed him by the sleeve and made a particularly alluring proposition. Joseph turned and fled into the street. Rabbi Feinstein pointed out that Joseph would not have succumbed to his mistress even if he had remained in the house, but he fled into the street because it is unwise to test our virtue. There is no glory in flirting with danger. Joseph knew that the public nature of the street was his best defense against temptation.6

Joseph’s wisdom is applicable in many areas of life, including parenting. If we want our children to behave morally, we should not test their virtue. Giving them a free hand with computers and handheld devices is asking for trouble. Computers should be kept in communal areas, and up-to-date, secureThere is no glory in flirting with danger safeguards should be installed. No safeguard is impossible to circumvent, but the more laborious the process, the more time we have to reconsider our choices.

Most importantly, we must show our children the beauty of Torah and demonstrate by our own example how to live a meaningful and moral life. This is a lifelong endeavor for us and for our children. We are never out of the woods. Our task is never complete.