Dampening potential

In this week’s Parsha, we learn that when Pharoah’s daughter was bathing on the banks of the Nile, she caught sight of baby Moshe in the ark his mother had prepared to save him from the decree her father had enacted. Moshe was crying and understandably hungry. Rashi quotes a Midrash (שמות רבה א, כה) where Chazal inform us that Moshe refused to breast feed from Egyptian mothers. Moshe’s spiritual sensitivity did not allow him to drink breast milk that was nutritionally influenced by a mother who had ingested non kosher food. The mouth that was to speak directly with God was not to be tainted by drinking milk that was derived from such a source.

Halachically, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with breast milk of any human variety. It makes no difference whether the mother had previously eaten a glatt kosher schnitzel or a ham sandwich with cheese. Breast milk is kosher and is unaffected by the source of nutrition. This Halacha is clear in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah. Yet, in a departure from unadulterated (sic) halacha, the Ramo (סימן פא ס”ז), clearly influenced by the Chazal  in that Midrash,  (see the Gro  (ביו”ד שם ס”ק לא) ) paskens that it is a מדת חסידות to avoid “spiritually tainted” food. Similarly, although one is permitted to take pills that include non Kosher ingredients, where it is possible to obtain a Kosher version (e.g. Vitamins and the like) R’ Moshe ז’ל paskens (without providing a source) that it’s better to do so. R’ Hershel Schachter is of the opinion that R’ Moshe’s source is probably this same Midrash and Ramo.

R’ Yaakov Kamintesky ז’ל asks a pertinent question. One can well understand that a holy mouth which was destined to speak directly with God would be sensitised and indeed expected to observe a מדת חסידות which would preclude even the smell of non kosher food (see פרק ב דחגיגה ירושלמי about Elisha Ben Abuya) or breast milk derived from non kosher food to be ingested. This is the level of Moshe Rabeinu, רבן של כל ישראל, but what about the rest of us? We have no expectation that our mouths will be used to speak פה אל פה with God. Why should we at all be concerned about such a consideration? R’ Yaakov answers that we have no right to deny potential from our children, irrespective of their ability. Every child has a growth potential that often exceeds the expectation of parents and educators. If we over focus on IQ or learning challenges then we effectively cheat the child because we deny them their opportunity to attain the seemingly unattainable.

Often, it is assumed that to become a high level Talmid Chacham (in today’s parlance a “Gadol HaDor”) one must have a very high level of intelligence. This is untrue. There were certainly many highly intelligent Rabbis over the generations, however, it is false to imagine that they were all that way. Many had average or above intelligence. It is known, for example, that the famed Chazon Ish, was not known for being particularly “sharp”. The Chazon Ish applied himself with a very high level of diligence and התמדה. If you revise a Mishna 100 times, you will achieve the level of truly understanding what it’s about.

The life lesson is to never minimise the potential of a child and to nurture and provide the environment which will help them meet their highest level. This can only occur if we don’t over categorise our children according to the abundant metrics and conditions that they are associated with. Even the so-called average child can be stymied by assuming that their level will not ever grow to one in tune with the aforementioned מדת חסידות described by the Ramo.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

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