When Harav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, Rav of Brisk, still resided in Europe, a young shochet would frequent his house.
One day, when the shochet was visiting Rav Yehoshua Leib, the mail arrived. As Rav Yehoshua Leib read one of the letters, he informed the shochet that it was from a community in America that was bemoaning the fact that it had no shochet; this was causing great harm to their spiritual well-being.
Rav Yehoshua Leib exclaimed, “What should I answer them? Where should I get a shochet for them?”
The young shochet understood that the Rav was suggesting that he fill this void across the ocean. And so, he did not even return home, but set off at once for the United States. When Rav Yehoshua Leib learned of the young shochet’s mysterious disappearance, he exclaimed, “Oy vey — I fear that he went to America!”
Rav Yehoshua Leib took the matter very much to heart, feeling that his carelessness in thinking out loud had caused this young shochet to go to a land that would put his Torah observance at risk. From that day on, Rav Yehoshua Leib would daven each day that this shochet should remain true to the Torah — even in America.
After a year went by, the shochet sent ship tickets to his wife and children, insisting that they join him in America.
The wife consulted Rav Yehoshua Leib, who ruled that based on the circumstances she had no choice but to travel with her children to America. From that day on, Rav Yehoshua Leib davened every day for the wife and children as well.
Many years passed, and the shochet decided to move with his entire family — all of whom had stayed fully observant — to Eretz Yisrael. When they arrived, the shochet heard that Rav Yehoshua Leib, too, had moved to Eretz Yisrael, and had settled in the Batei Machse neighborhood of Yerushalayim. He made his way to the simple one-room apartment where the elderly Rav sat and studied Torah all day behind a partition. When he arrived at the door, the Rebbetzin recognized him at once. She quickly made her way to the partition and knocked on it, exclaiming, “You are now patur (absolved) from your responsibility, Yehoshua Leib — they have arrived in Yerushalayim.”
After suffering seven devastating plagues and being warned that another was imminent, the servants of Pharaoh pleaded with the cruel king to let the Bnei Yisrael go.
Feeling the pressure, Pharaoh agreed to let the adult men go — but the children, he insisted, must stay behind.
“With our youth and with our elders we will go, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our cattle we will go,” Moshe Rabbeinu responded.
The Belzer Rebbe, Harav Yisscher Dov, zy”a, explained that Pharaoh was cognizant of the pivotal role of the children in Am Yisrael – and knew how crucial it is for youngsters to be under the constant and careful leadership of the adults. The vicious Egyptian king wanted to separate the children from their adult mentors, depriving them of the chinuch and spiritual guidance they needed to help form them into Ovdei Hashem.
The son of the Belzer Rebbe, Harav Aharon, zy”a, taught that Pharaoh was aware that the “primary holiness” of Am Yisrael is the children, and therefore was determined that they not join their parents as they go to serve Hashem in the wilderness.
Chazal (Yoma 71a) tell of the time that a Kohen Gadol left the Bais Hamikdash on Motzoei Yom Kippur, escorted by the masses who had gathered there. When the multitudes encountered Shemaya and Avtalion, the two leading Torah sages of the generation, they left the Kohen Gadol alone and followed the Torah leaders.
Offended, the Kohen Gadol addressed Shemaya and Avtalion — who descended from geirim — saying, “May the descendants of the heathen come in peace.”
“May the descendants of the heathen, who do the work of Aharon, arrive in peace, but the descendant of Aharon, who does not do the work of Aharon, he shall not come in peace!” replied Shemaya and Avtalion.
Rashi explains that the work of Aharon refers to the pursuit of peace, something his descendants did not abide by.
The Avodas Yisrael gives an alternate explanation. He states that his Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezeritch, explained that when Rabi Yishmael ben Elisha merited that Hashem spoke to him when he brought Ketores in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur (Brachos 7a), it was in the merit of the Tanna Hakoneh, who lived at that time.
On the same note, the Avodas Yisrael says that this was the intention of Shemaya and Avtalion — that in reality they did the work of the Kohen Gadol, for it was in their merit they he was was able to perform the avodah.
On a similar note, the Belzer Rav explains that when the korbanos were brought in the Bais Hamikdash and the Leviim sang, they asked Hashem, “Do for the sake of the Tinokos Shel Bais Raban.”
For it was the holiness of the children that actually aided and made possible the avodah of the adults.
The chinuch of our youth is an enormous responsibility and a lifelong job for all of us. In addition to ensuring every child has a Torah-true education and that we are appropriate role models, as the story of Rav Yehoshua Leib reminds us, a key part of our responsibility is to daven and implore Hashem on a daily basis on their behalf.