Friday, February 01, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Zvi Leshem - The Stumbling Block

(Picture courtesy of

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.


At February 1, 2008 at 9:39:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said!

Unfortunately though, it seems, that this message is lost to many of our (chareidi) Yeshivos today, and the general attitude is that the more we raise the bar, the better. Yeshovos compete for "higher standards," for every menahel wants his to be the "best" or the "frummest" institution - resulting in alienating many of our students. Today, many yeshivos lengthen the day, shorten or eliminate vacations and time off, force children to spend more and more time in desks and not in the playground, and take a cold – no nonsense – approach to encountering the many peripheral interests that arise for our youth. Obviously, IMHO, the possible results are short-sighted scary.

For example: Reb Moshe Feinstein Z”L was once learning with his son (R’ Reuvein) when he was young and he noticed that his son was distracted by children nearby involved in some form of entertainment (I don’t remember what the specific entertainment was – but I can find out), so R’ Moshe told his son to join the other children and they’ll continue learning later, because it’s important that we pay attention to the needs of children and realize that sometimes “bitulo zeh kiyumo.”

At February 1, 2008 at 10:32:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great post. It sounds similar to what I've heard on Rabbi Lazer Brody's CDs on the Breslover approach to child education, including Education With a Smile and All in the Family, which emphasize the importance of a happy and loving atmosphere, being very careful to never yell at or hurt the feelings of children. He even says avoid criticizing children when at all possible -- instead emphasize the "good points."

At February 4, 2008 at 1:26:00 AM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Very informative. R Leshem's reference to Chovat HaTalmidim is very much appreciated. A reread of the Piaseczner's into to that sefer is strikingly descriptive to the same issues parents and those in chinuch have with kids today.

Simcha probably is the key, but I know that when I do have to “discipline” my own kids, they understand that it hurts me as much as it makes them sad.

CE: I also hear the same story about R Moshe (on a R Pesach Krohn tape) and I recall the situation being that he was learning w/ R’ Reuvein during the summer and the kids near them were going on a hey ride. R Revuein sighted this example to R Krohn as an example of his father understanding that kids need to be kids. Also said over on the tape was a story that no matter who the guests were for Shabbos, Reb Moshe always had his children sitting next to him, and never gave his kids' "seats at the Shabbos table" to anyone else.


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