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Vayeira: The Boy Or The Bottle?

From Where I Stand

By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
And she cast off the boy beneath one of the bushes.
—Bereishis 21:15
How we spend our money is usually a pretty good barometer of where our priorities lie. And it applies equally whether it is plentiful or scarce.
After the birth of Isaac, his half-brother Ishmael behaves threateningly towards him and Sarah finds it necessary to ask Abraham to banish Ishmael from the family home. Together with his mother, Hagar, they wander the desert. Soon they run out of water.
“And the water in the leather flask was finished and she cast off the boy beneath one of the bushes.” So let me ask you what would be called a typical klotz kasha, or a seemingly obvious but nonetheless stupid question: If the flask is empty, why throw away the child? Throw away the empty flask!
It would appear, then, that when our food supply is depleted and finances are in short supply, the first ones to suffer may be our children. The bank balance is low? How can we even think of a Jewish day-school education? The tuition fees are so expensive. Instead of denying ourselves creature comforts we deem non-negotiable, we sacrifice our children’s Jewish upbringing in the name of economics.
It’s like the old story of the Jewish mother who came from Eastern Europe to join her son in America and was horrified to see he had shaved off his beard and cast off his yarmulke. “What happened to you, my Yankele?” she asked.
“Mama, America is not the shtetl.”
And when she saw him going to work on Shabbos, again he told her America was different. And when she opened the fridge and discovered all kinds of creepy things she never saw in a Jewish kitchen, again he explained that America was not the same as “back home.” Eventually, when it was all getting too much, she asked him, “Yankele, tell your old mother the truth. Are you still circumcised?”
It’s not only an old shtetl story. It’s happening right now. We know of too many who left the community they were raised in to make a better life for their children. But emigrating is expensive, and with limited resources one must make choices and prioritize. Many chose to do without Jewish schooling. The rest is history. Bad history. Without a Jewish education, young people wander about wondering why they should not be doing what their contemporaries are doing. And the money we saved in school fees is now going to doctors, psychologists, or, G‑d forbid, drug-rehab centers.
Even in Israel, we have to be discriminating when choosing a community. If the other kids on the block are riding their bikes on Yom Kippur, why shouldn’t your child? And if you insist and they feel denied, they may opt out altogether.
Kids need stability and an environment with a healthy values system. No matter how tempting or secure other seemingly greener pastures may be, before making a move we ought to consider the spiritual security system our children will need to survive and thrive—as Jews.
Just because the bottle may be empty, don’t throw away the child. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at

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Posted by on November 6, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.