Our Gemara tells us the tragic story about Nehunya who was the official well digger for the Temple. He had a special intuition to know where to dig for water and what rocks contain access underground aquifers. Yet, in a bizarre twist of fate, his own son died of thirst.

The Gemara says this shows us that G-d can be exacting upon those who are most pious. That is, G-d may be patient and wait for others to repent because he knows they need time, but those that are most pious are given less leeway, perhaps also the immediate benefit of having a chance to recognize their sin, through the suffering they incur.

This is Talmudic equivalent of the aphorism, “The cobbler's children go without shoes”. I thought this might be an appropriate place to reflect on how often those who are involved in trying to help people become more whole spiritually, emotionally or religiously don’t always see success with their own children. While this can occur for a variety of reasons that probably no one can fully understand, this idea that G-d is exacting upon those whom He holds more responsible is compelling.

It is especially meaningful if one does not think of G-d as being mean and intolerant, but rather looking at it that G-d puts difficult situations in the hands of people whom he knows have the capacity to manage them. Naturally, since humans fail at times, we will see manifestations of failing to live up to those difficult situations within their own family But as a whole, it is possible that precisely the challenging children and life circumstances are sent to those that have the capacity to manage better than others might.

Another meaningful way of looking at this is that those who are of a higher spiritual, emotional or religious capacity also must learn more from their mistakes, and therefore suffer more extreme and immediate retribution. If one is in the position of helping people, he or she needs to know certain things, and quickly. If this means suffering from mistakes more rapidly, and that might even be in not doing so well with one’s own loved ones, so be it. This is the burden of public service.

Of course, all this might be wishful rationalizations of nobility instead of facing the truth of having been a poor role model or unavailable parent, which is definitely a challenge when one is involved in various forms of intensive public service. Ultimately, when one suffers these kinds of disappointing setbacks with their own family members, despite having helped others, it’s bewildering and painful and there are no simple answers other than trying to make the next day better than the one before.

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Translations Courtesy of Sefaria