Boundaries and Borders

For over two months, the world has been restricted. Social distancing, masks, gloves and closures are the new normal. Stores, shuls and schools are out of bounds. With the supplemental constraints, parents’ responsibility is increased, as they must now care for their children while simultaneously educating and entertaining them during their indoor confinement.

Much has been said about the need for parents to create an atmosphere of tranquility, where the children can feel secure while we ride out this storm. While this is definitely the call of the hour, there is a need to approach this with a keen eye towards the future.

Harav Shalom Mordechai Schwadron, zt”l, the famed Maggid of Yerushalayim, once offered a fantastic insight into human nature which he derived from the narrative where Yosef Hatzaddik stood before Pharaoh. After interpreting Pharaoh’s dream to foretell seven years of plenty followed by seven years of hunger, Yosef offered advice to prepare for the years of hunger by warehousing the surplus food during the years of plenty. After hearing his counsel, Pharaoh declared, There is no one as understanding and wise as you!

Rav Shalom wondered, “What was so brilliant about this advice? Is it so difficult to figure out that if there is a time in the near future when food will be scarce, that one should plan ahead and put some of the surplus away for leaner times?”

The answer, explained Rav Shalom, can be found by observing how people plan for the rainy day which predictably comes every few years. Economies are usually cyclical, and one can reasonably assume that there will be an economic slowdown every decade or two. Yet how many people save up for the lean years that are bound to come? Most people live in the here and now, without an eye toward the future. Hearing the importance of not only looking ahead but actually planning for it indeed shows understanding and intelligence.

Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, once offered a beautiful thought to explain why mothers cover their eyes during the tefillos for their children while they kindle the neiros Shabbos. As her family sits around the home, this one davening, the other one singing, and another one playing, wouldn’t it be enjoyable to observe their activities as she prays for them?

Rabbi Sherer suggested that when a mother looks at her child, she only notices what the child is at the moment. By closing and covering her eyes, her imagination can project how they may appear in a decade or more, and she can direct her prayers not only to their present condition, but to their future and beyond.

The struggle with the present crisis requires parents to be understanding, intelligent and wise. Sure, balancing the family’s needs during their confinement and isolation demands judicious consideration: when to relax the rules and when not to. But if we follow the advice of Yosef, when we do close our eyes to overlook some of the actions which we would not normally allow, we must keep the vision of the future — when this crisis ends — in our purview. Our beloved children will have to revert to the way it was before COVID-19, and we don’t want them to be too far off course.

While you may shift the boundaries, make sure not to cross any borders. n