Our Children Are Our Guarantors
Our Sages say, “When the Holy One, blessed be He, wanted to give the Torah to the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai, He asked them to present Him with guarantors. They presented different guarantors, such as the Patriarchs, but the Holy One, blessed be He, refused until such time as the Children of Israel proposed their own children.” Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian asks the following question: Why did Hashem ask for guarantors? Had the Children of Israel not already proclaimed na’aseh ve’nishma (“we will do and we will hear”)?
Furthermore, Hashem – Who examines the depths of our being and the hearts of all – knew very well just how great the sincerity of the Children of Israel actually was, especially after what He had done for them at the crossing of the Red Sea and even more so during the war with Amalek. Why, therefore, did He agree to give the Torah only after having obtained the offspring of the Children of Israel in guarantee?
It seems to me, if I may humbly suggest, that this can be explained as follows: Unfortunately, we see that despite the guarantee given at Mount Sinai, it often happens that fathers, as well as children, fall prey to the sin of Bitul Torah (negligence of Torah study). How much more so would this have been true if children had not been given in guarantee! Hashem knew that the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) is very strong and would cause the Jews to stumble in the sin of Bitul Torah. In fact, it matters little to the Satan if we, the Children of Israel, perform numerous mitzvot. However if we devote ourselves to Torah study, this really upsets him. We know that the entire world exists only by the study of Torah, but the Satan, on the contrary, exists only by the abandonment of this study.
Hashem Himself said, “If they only abandoned Me, yet observed My Torah – for it is certain that the Torah will bring them back to Me!” This is why Hashem asked for guarantors; it was in order to give the Torah to the Children of Israel, since only the Torah is capable of defeating the Yetzer Hara. In Gemara Kiddushin, our Sages say: “Do you want to defeat him? Bring him to the Beit Hamidrash. If he is made of stone, he will shatter; if he is made of metal, he will melt.” Only Torah is the sword, the elixir of life that is capable of conquering the Yetzer Hara, that force which seeks to make us fall.
It is precisely this that our teachers tell us in Gemara Berachot: “A man who sees that troubles come upon him should examine his actions. If he examined his actions and has not found fault, he should attribute these troubles to negligence in Torah study.” Why? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, should have first punished that man’s sons, since they are the guarantors of the one who neglects Torah study. Hashem in His great goodness, however, warns that man by means of various troubles that come upon him, not upon his children. A man should therefore begin by examining his actions and asking: “Why have all these problems come upon me?”
Has he examined his actions and found nothing to feel guilty about? He should then attribute his problems to negligence in Torah study, for this sin is extremely grave and the punishment (G-d forbid) can strike one’s children if one continues to neglect limud (Torah learning). It is necessary, therefore, for a person to undertake a suitable introspective examination. How could a father not be seized with fright when recalling that his own children are guarantors? Is there a greater suffering than the anguish that one feels for one’s children?
Our Sages say that the sin of Bitul Torah is so grave that it puts our children’s lives at stake. We are seized with horror when thinking about the words of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai when he recalled that there is no greater sorrow than to see (G-d forbid) our children leaving the ways of Torah to turn towards a deceitful education and culture, for they are already considered as dead (G-d forbid). And all this because of the sin of the fathers, who have neglected Torah study.
According to this, we see that Hashem in fact believed the Children of Israel when whey stated na’aseh ve’nishma (“we will do and we will hear [the Torah]”), yet He also knew that the power of the Yetzer Hara would be so great that when it sees us studying Torah, it would try by all possible means to disrupt us in order to diminish our study. This is why G-d demanded a guarantee from us that could truly save us from Bitul Torah, a guarantee that would remind us that our entire being – our very soul – is entirely involved in this.
The Second Book of Kings recounts the story of King Zedekiah, whose sons were slaughtered before his very eyes. In Yalkut Shimoni, our Sages tell us that the Babylonians attempted to blind Zedekiah by piercing his eyes with hot pokers. Despite doing so, however, he still managed to see, yet when they slaughtered his sons in his very presence, his eyes were so drenched with tears that he lost his sight.
Each man is thus capable of withstanding the worst suffering imaginable, given that his children are not harmed. When Hashem strikes a man through his children, our Sages call this suffering Yissurim Shel Ahava (Afflictions of Love) and consider that G-d sends these as proof of His love.
If we could only realize what awaits our children when we stumble in our Torah study, we would tremble with fear, and no doubt this fear would help us to overcome the trials that the Yetzer Hara puts before us.
The fact that children can act as guarantors for their parents results in the parents being themselves guarantors for one another, which is the sense of the following phrase in Gemara Sanhedrin: Kol Israel arevim zeh lazeh (“All Israel are guarantors for one another”). If such solidarity among the Children of Israel had not existed, Hashem would not have accepted the children as guarantors for the fathers. In fact, this whole reciprocal guarantee was a preparation for the giving of the Torah. Love was needed in order for solidarity to exist between individuals, and if there had been no love between the fathers, how could there have been love between the fathers and the sons?
The Jew who remains single commits a sin that is even graver. Remaining without a wife, he cannot have children and has no guarantors for himself. He thereby rejects the condition imposed by Hashem for giving the Torah and takes upon himself a very grave responsibility.
In Gemara Pesachim, it is written that a man that has no wife is comparable to someone who was rejected by Heaven.
The story of Ben Azzai provides an instructive example. Ben Azzai was one of the four Sages that had managed to enter into Paradise, and yet he died when he entered. He was one of the giants of Torah, and as Midrash Bereshith Rabba says, “His soul yearned entirely for Torah.” It was also said that next to him, all the Sages of Israel were considered as the skin that covers a clove of garlic. Ben Azzai was so great that Rava said of him, “Here I am in the streets of Tiberius like Ben Azzai in the paths of Torah.” And yet Ben Azzai perished because he had no child as his guarantor!
In the same way, King Hezekiah risked his own life by refusing to take a wife (because he knew by Ruach Hakodesh that his sons would be wrongdoers). In not taking a wife, he desecrated the very first mitzvah, the mitzvah of multiplying. He eventually did take a wife and had a son, but our Sages have said, “If Hezekiah had not taken a wife, he would have been punished even in the next world.” In fact, the concept of children as guarantors applies just as much in the next world as in this one.
Our Sages say: Ben metzakei abba (“the son gives merit to the father”). Even if the father is a Tzaddik, the son nevertheless continues to spiritually uplift the father from one level to the next.
If we truly understood that our sons are our ultimate guarantors, we would have it at heart to properly educate them in the path of Torah and mitzvot. In this way the Torah would continue to exist, for ultimately that is the goal of this reciprocal guarantee. Thus we learn that thanks to the Torah – which is ahbut (unifying), and which units the fathers with the sons and together units them to their Father in Heaven – peace in the world will soon arrive and the long-awaited Geula will occur, for unity is the key to deliverance.