Question & Answer With Rabbi Zvi Leshem - The Stumbling Block
A Simple Jew asks:
The Shulchan Aruch - Yoreh Deah 240:19 states:
"It is forbidden to weigh down one's children with a heavy burden by being overly exacting with them, since this may prove to be a stumbling block. Instead, one should forgive them and ignore their lapses, because a father has the option of waiving the respect due to him."
Do any sifrei Chassidus give further insight into why being exacting with one's children would prove to be a stumbling block or provide guidance on how to correctly implement this halacha?
Rabbi Zvi Leshem answers:
I believe we can glean some insights from the educational writings of two of the Chassidic giants of the twentieth century, The Piaseczner Rebbe (Chovat HaTalmidim) and the Slonimer Rebbe (Netivei Chinuch). The Piaseczner posits that in modern times children mature earlier, resulting in two main evils. The first is that any attempt on the part of the parent or teacher to enforce a code of behavior on the child is greeted as the violent decree of a cruel dictator, seeking to impose his values by force. The second is that the value system that the child is operating within is a product of an immature sense of judgment on her part. It is therefore crucial to understand what true chinuch, education, is, and what it is not. It is not, he states, success in getting children to follow our directives out of command or even habituation. To this we may add the words of the Slonimer that “discipline” is not to be confused with “education”. Sometimes a teacher may have no choice but to act as a “policeman”, but he needs to know that at the time, he is not engaging in education, and may actually be subverting it! Thus the Slonimer adds, when it is necessary to discipline a child, one must always be very careful not to do so out of anger, and must also do so in such a way that the child understands that the punishment is just, or else she will be aroused to angry resentment which will undermine the entire process.
Real “education” according to the Piaseczner is to empower the child to educate himself. When this is done, the child is less likely to resent the “authority figure” and will be more open to receive Torah from him or her. He adds that the teacher must always try to win over the student to his side, primarily by doing everything (even when he needs to be strict) with joy. When the classroom (or home) atmosphere is one of joy, the child will also be happy, feel love towards his parents and teachers, and will want to be a partner in his own education.
What emerges from the above, is that as parents we walk a delicate tightrope. While looking the other way as our children (G-d forbid) go astray is very risky and is a shirking of our parental responsibilities, being over-exacting, especially in regards to our own honor, may lead to a backlash that causes even more damage. Perhaps here as well, the key is simcha. I need to get my kids “on my side” by showing unconditional love and raising them in a happy atmosphere. Then, with HaShem’s help (the ultimate key to successful parenting) they will want to honor me. When that is the case I can look the way on occasional minor lapses without fear of a “slippery slope”.
May HaShem bless and guide us in our holy work as parents and teachers. Shabbat Shalom.