SEVEN RULES OF JEWISH PARENTING
Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l
The traditional Jewish child-rearing that I experienced when I was young, was based upon certain lessons which a child must learn, preferably before he or she is spoiled by association with other children. Unfortunately, these lessons are the exact opposite of those conveyed by many parents today. Our children are our most precious possessions, entrusted to us as a “pikadon” – a “trust,” to rear as servants of Hashem.
What is the role of parents according to Torah? In בראשית , Yosef says, “Hashem has made me a father of Pharaoh.”
Rashi explains the word “father” as confidant and protector. The basic need of a child is a sense of total security; to be held by his father’s hands or in his mother’s arms. A child has a desire to be loved, encouraged, and appreciated. In short, a parent must be the child’s closest and most intimate confidant and advocate.
Another word for parents in the Torah is אומן” ” and “אומנת ,” as in the פסוק , ” כאשר ישא האומן את היונק “. אומן is related to the word “expert” and the word “artisan.” A parent is supposed to be an expert, an artist who molds and finely crafts his child’s character.
The parents are the masters of the house.
Despite his preciousness to us, a child must have impressed upon him the feeling – this is lesson #1 – that the main persons of the house are the father and mother and not the child, that the parents are the ba’alei batim (masters of the house) to be honored and obeyed. Therefore, it is a mistake for parents to ask, for example, “What would you like to eat – chicken or fish?” Children must eat whatever their parents give them. They know best what is good for the child. A Jewish household is not a restaurant, neither is the mother a waitress nor the father a busboy. The same applies to bedtime. We are talking of reasonable parents who are not unnecessarily strict, but when time comes for the children to go to sleep, there must never be a discussion. Certainly, the process of going to sleep must be a pleasant experience, with a story and a song, “Shema” and a good night kiss. But our children must not enslave us by unjustified tears.
Before the child, parents must share the same opinion.
Any disagreements must be aired out quietly, behind closed doors where the children can’t hear. When parents disagree (and they don’t always have to agree) and certainly if they shout at each other in front of the children, that sense of security and trust which a child craves, flies out the window and is gone with the wind.
Children must be imbued with the importance of their ultimate task.
The most important lesson which children have to learn as they get older is alluded to in Bamidbar. The Torah tells us how the members of the tribe of Levi were counted: from the age of thirty days and up, they were already called “Guardians of the Holy Watch,” the tile of honor they would achieve as adults. The Levites knew the secret of successful chinuch (education): they imbued their children, from infancy on, with a sense of the importance of their ultimate task. The parents told their children, “I love you more than everybody in the world – except Hashem. Do not forget that I love Hashem more than I love you.” (Indeed, when Jewry faltered at the golden calf, the Levites were able to disdain.)
To illustrate this point, I recall an incident from my own childhood, which highlights the kind of chinuch I merited to receive from my holy parents. I must have been eight or nine years old, the oldest of five brothers. At the Seder table, our father zt’l asked each of us, “Which of the ארבע בנים (four sons) do you want to become?” Of course, we all answered “chacham” (the wise son), except one brother, who said he wanted to be a “tam” (the foolish son). Then my father became deadly serious and he called out in a very loud voice, “If one of my children, chas v’shalom, would ever become a rasha (the wicked son), even disregarding one mitzvah, I would tell him, ‘Leave our home. You have no place anymore at my Seder table, because I love ה’ יתברך more than I love you.'” Then he resumed the Seder in his normal, gentle manner. This left an indelible impression on all of us. Leave no doubt to your growing children that Hashem is your first priority.
Chinuch of children starts in the crib.
As soon as an infant is able to understand, parents should talk to him “b’lashon hakodesh – in the language of holiness”; namely, to tell the child there is a Creator who created us, watches over us, and gave us מצוות to keep. As soon as the child is able to talk, his parents have to teach him emunah in Torah (“תורה צוה לנו משה “) and emunah in Hashem (פסוק ראשון של קריאת שמע ). The first stories a child must hear are about our avos, yetzias Mitzrayim, matan Torah, and so forth.
A child has a desire to be loved, encouraged, and appreciated.
To Be a Parent בס”ד
Parents must be role-models.
The mitzvah to fear parents is preceded by the words, “You must be holy because I, Hashem, am holy.” If parents are living examples of this, they can expect their children to respect and obey them.
There are two kinds of chinuch: teaching by instruction (“והגדת לבנך – you shall teach your son”) and teaching by example (“למען ידעו דורותיכם – so that your generations should know”). When a child sees how his father is learning Torah, whether all the time or even only in the early morning or late at night, a child has a role model to follow. Mano’ach was unable to rear his son as a nazir unless he, too, abstained from wine. Similarly, when children hear parents say “please” or “thank you” or “excuse me” to each other, the child will pick up a habit of courtesy and gratitude – derech eretz – without any special effort on the parents’ part. He will also learn not to take favors for granted.
Rebuke and punishment are also aspects of love.
“כאשר יסור איש את בנו – As a father admonishes his son, so Hashem admonishes you.” Shlomo instructs: “Rebuke your child, and he will give you pleasure” and “Reprimand your child for then there is hope!” Dovid is criticized by the navi about his rebellious son Adoniyahu because he never gave him mussar.
There are two kinds of mussar: one is verbal, as it says, “שמע בני מוסר אביך – Listen to your father’s rebuke.” It starts when a child is very young, with telling him a firm “no” when necessary. When the child grows older, it might require some scolding to make him feel sorry that he made his parents angry and to make him anxious to regain their love.
“Mussar” also derives from the word “yesurim” (pains) and that means, in this case, corporal punishment. If parents hit in anger, however, they are teaching their child the ugly trait of anger and that the stronger can hit the weaker. So the first rule is never to hit a child when angry. The second rule is to introduce the punishment by saying, “I am very sad about what you did, and I am sorry to have to patch you on your hands in order to take away the sin that you did.” The purpose of hitting is not to hurt the child but to help him atone for his wrongdoing by causing him to feel ashamed. Thus, hitting should never be done in front of others, even siblings. Parents who preserve a child’s self-respect can hope to reap a rich harvest.
Parents have to grow together with their child.
During the child’s growing years, the bond between parent and child must become more intense; the older the children become, the more encouragement they need. Children thrive on recognition and praise. The words, “I am proud of you,” “I noticed you are improving,” “You have just done a great mitzvah” – all this is music in the ears of a child.
And let us not make a big ado over small issues. Parents have to learn not to see or to hear every little fault their children commit. Parents must never exert pressure like wardens in a prison, allowing their charges no freedom, stifling their initiatives and suppressing or ridiculing their youthful plans and aspirations.
Many of the points which we touched upon in connection with chinuch by parents also apply to teachers and rebbeim, only on a much broader scale. In פרקי אבות , we are told that a teacher is supposed to be called “ רבי, אלופי, מיודעי ” – “my teacher, my superior, my intimate.” One can derive this from the following: If Dovid Hamelech, who learned from Achitophel – a rasha – only two things, called him his teacher, his guide, his intimate, one who learns from another a single chapter, a single halacha, a single pasuk, kal v’chomer we treat him with honor.
The true rebbi creates for the child a firm basis of the יראה and אמונה that will accompany him all his life. I remember as a little child, an old rebbi taught us to read: “שמע ישראל “. He was a very old man with a loud voice. He began, “Now we’re learning the most important pasuk in the whole siddur: Shemaaaa Yisroel….” The shrek is still in my bones. He didn’t teach us just to say the words “Shema Yisroel.” He implanted the seed of emuna p’shuta in our young hearts forever.
Three times in our daily tefillah, we mention “ על פליטת
סופריהם ,” which means the teachers of children. These are “they who turn the many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” ( דניאל יב:ג ). They deserve our deepest gratitude, our most dedicated moral support, and our most tearful and fervent תפילות .
“Selected Speeches,” Rav S. Schwab, ch. 8, C.I.S. Publishing (“Traditional Chinuch in Modern Times”: May 17, 1990)
Rebuke and punishment are also aspects of love.
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