Dec 26, 2012

Say "May I" (part 2)

As a follow-up to the post here about children asking permission before taking food at home, here's a story:
R' Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk said that his stepmother saved him. When he was young and was orphaned of his mother, his father remarried a woman who had children. She was more concerned about her own children than about R' Menachem Mendel and she discriminated against him. At mealtime, she would give R' Mendel her children's leftovers. R' Mendel got used to this and accepted this resignedly.

One time, R' Mendel went home and was very hungry and he took food on his own. He made sure to take only those parts he would usually get, those items that would be left over in any case.

When his stepmother came home and saw that he had taken food without permission, she beat him. When he complained, saying but I took what I usually get, she said: Even if you'll get it anyway, you don't take it on your own.

This message got through to him. Years later, when he was sitting and learning in the beis medrash, a man appeared and suggested they learn together. Remembering the lesson he had learned about not taking on his own, he told the man he had to consult with his rav.

When he consulted with his rav (either the Baal Shem Tov or the Maggid), his rebbi told him: Don't
allow him near you because he is the sitra achra and he wants to ensnare you.

And thus, the lesson of - don't take on your own - paid off.


  1. In today's homes, there is often an abundance of food and most children are accustomed to helping themselves because they know that there is more than enough to go around. There is also possibly a fight when there is that last piece of cake or pizza and each child is trying to get it for him or herself. Many children today have no concept of what it was like to live during an era when hunger was rampant and a child who took food without asking was probably causing someone else in the family to starve. In fact, the biggest threat to children today is not the malnutrition of famine but the malnutrition of plenty. Can children today imagine a life without breakfast cereal in every conceivable flavor? Do they realize that some people spent their entire childhoods not having nosh? Do children today realize that their families throw away more food than their ancestors ate? Other than on fast days, which children under 12 or 13 don't observe, do children know what being hungry really feels like?
    I would say that if parents don't teach their children to ask before they take, they may be ill equipped to handle any situation where they have to go without something.

  2. R'Chaim Shaul Brook would tell the story. I don't know his source.