Tuesday, 6 May, 2014 - 4:14 am


Dear Friends,


In Basel there is a young mother, a very special and gentle person. Every time we meet, and she asks me something, or tells me something, I find myself thinking about what she said, and even discussing it at home.

This past Monday, she heard me saying “no” to my three-year-old Mendel, upon his request to do something. She commented: “I met a kindergarten teacher in Tel Aviv who told me, ‘Nowadays we don’t say “no” to a child, but, rather, “It will be better for you if you don’t” (or: “It’s not worthwhile for you”. In Hebrew: Lo Kedai Lecha).’” Instinctively, I answered: “You and I both grew up at a time when we were told “no”, and the result isn’t so bad, is it? So maybe, not everything that is said and done today is so brilliant and right.”

As usual, I found myself thinking over what she said, and deliberating. I am not a psychologist, not even a facilitator of a parenting class, and certainly not a super-nanny. But still, my common sense and the little experience I have strengthened my opinion that there’s some mistake here. The modern world is so quick and novel, different and special, that sometimes we forget to look back and see that there are truths that don’t change, and there are behaviors, and in this case, education methods, that are not replaced so fast, especially if they were rather successful in the past.

I imagined that kindergarten teacher seeing a child about to touch an open electrical outlet. Would she go over to  him calmly and say, “Sweetie, it will be better for you if you don’t, because there is an electrical current in this wire, and you might get electrocuted, that is, feel a strong shock in your body and get hurt. I really don’t recommend it”? Or would she scream and say “No!!” in a most definitive way? The answer is clear.

I thought that saying “It will be better for you if you don’t” is a mistake because:

a. In saying that, I am allowing him to make his own decision, when it is clear to me that it is not good for him, and since I am the responsible adult, the decision, like the responsibility, has to be mine.

b. In saying “It will be better for you if you don’t” I am educating him to think in terms of personal gain, when true education has to be based on giving and sacrificing, which include doing things even if they’re not so worthwhile for the child, and even if he won’t gain anything from it. I am also concerned that when that three-year-old will be ten years old, and we will ask him to clean up his room or go buy bread for breakfast, he will answer “I don’t want to,” because he will make the calculation that it’s not worthwhile for him and he won’t gain anything from it.

There is one more thing: I truly believe that a child has to do what his father or mother tell him to even if he does not understand right now why and what for. It should be enough that they told him to do so.

This discussion is suitable for this week’s Parasha – Parashat Emor, because this week we learn the instruction that we parents, and grownups in general, must take responsibility and make sure to educate our children to refrain from the bad and connect with the good. This is learned from the seeming repetition of the word for “saying” (Amirah) in the first verse in the Parasha: “Emor…Ve’amarta…” Chazal (our Sages) said in Tractate Yevamot that this comes to “warn the adults about the children”. The adult Cohanim must warn the young Cohanim not to become impure. Chazal extrapolated from that to the entire Torah, and, actually, to all of life: adults are obligated to warn children, fathers to warn sons, teachers to warn students. They must prevent them from transgressing, and they certainly shouldn’t cause them to transgress, even when they are underage and are not obligated to observe the Mitzvot.

In conclusion, here is a beautiful commentary that the Rebbe brought many times about this ruling: “Lehazhir” (to warn) is connected to the word “Zohar” – glow. The adults should Lehazhir – be glowing and light up their surroundings in their behavior, and thus will have the best influence on the young people, so that they too will glow and light up their lives.


Shabbat Shalom,

Zalmen Wishedski

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