Today, it is widely accepted that it is preferable to stress the positive aspects
of a child's behavior and reduce the emphasis on their lackings. In fact, we find
this idea in Chazal who said, "four things need chizuk", two of them being
Torah and derech eretz, which covers most of a child's involvements.
However, we find an apparent contradiction to this approach in the posuk,
"סור מרע ועשה טוב" – "Leave your bad ways and
do good" (Tehillim 34:15). Here, the posuk apparently stresses the need
to eradicate the negative behavior before emphasizing positive behavior.
Maybe we can answer that although "סור מרע"
is mentioned first, it is only to clarify that without an effort to eradicate negative
behavior, a fortifying of the positive will not achieve its purpose. However, in
essence, the main efforts should be placed in the strengthening of a child's positive
traits and behavior as alluded to in "עשה טוב"
where the main עשיה is with positive actions.
However, as we mentioned above, a reinforcement of the positive must be proceeded
by an awareness of a child's lackings – "סור מרע":
Unfortunately, many parents either consciously or otherwise overlook those aspects
of a child's personality or his behavior which need correction.
Conscious denial results from one of the following reasons:
- Protection of the child's reputation.
- Avoiding his future denial of entry to the school, cheder, yeshiva of "their"
- Guarding the reputation of the child's siblings.
- An awareness that formally recognizing the problem will lead to a sometimes
unending responsibility and involvement.
Other reasons why parents avoid dealing with their child's misbehavior or lackings
- A busy work schedule.
- Other children to take care of.
- A tendency to place blame on the child's teachers, classmates or friends.
- The consideration that "no one is perfect."
- Insensitivity to the child's needs.
A caring parent, on the other hand, should:
- be sensitive to his child's condition and situation.
- be ready to admit a child's lackings.
- be willing to confront the child and explain to him that his behavior is
- be ready to call the child's teachers to discuss his behavior in class and
how to improve it.
- check the child's physical and mental health with qualified professionals,
- make sure the child gets proper nourishment; has regular eye, medical and
- check to see if they, as parents, are acting as good role models, i.e.,
relating to each other with mutual-respect, in peace, with predictable reactions
to children's behavior, in a consistent manner, etc.
A parent should not unnecessarily worry, however, if he sees his child struggling
or even misbehaving. Each new demand on the child, whether in academic study,
derech eretz or otherwise, automatically creates a resistance, whose purpose
is to prevent the child from growing. This is especially true in Torah learning
and yire shamayim. This is the work of the yetzer hora, who stands
in the way of all spiritual growth, as the posuk says by Kayin,
"…לפתח חטאת רובץ…" – "…Chatas (the satan
– the yetzer hora) waits at the opening…" (Bereishis 4:7) – at the entrance
of the hallway to a rise in Torah fulfillment.
We find this idea alluded to at Har Sinai, as Am Yisroel was about to receive
the Torah. The posuk announces, "ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר"
– "And Yisrael encamped there against the mountain" (Shemos 19:2).
Question: Why does the posuk use the word "נגד"
– against and not "לפני" – in front of, etc., for
"נגד" represents tension between Am Yisroel and
Hashem — and not the desire to come close to Hashem as was their true desire at
that point. Rashi explains the word "כנגד" in
"ואעשה לך עזר כנגדו" – "And I will make for
him (man) a helper against him" (Bereishis 2:18) as follows:
זכה – לעזר, לא זכה – כנגדו, להלחם. It appears that
here – "ויחן…נגד ההר" – the mountain was
interested in attacking Bnei Yisroel and in preventing their reception of the Torah.
Was this not the opposite purpose of Bnei Yisroel coming to Har Sinai?
Answer: It appears that here, also, as in Bereishis, there are two sides
to the coin. From the viewpoint of Bnei Yisroel, they were anxious to receive the
Torah – to receive "עזר" from above. However, the
satan had different plans and came "כנגד"
Bnei Yisroel, to push them away from Kabalas HaTorah.
This resistance of the yetzer hora is alluded to in the word
"ההר" from a number of different perspectives:
- "ההר" stems from the root of
הרהור – thought. The satan tried to
weaken Am Yisroel's belief in Torah by declaring that is was just a collection
of ideas and thoughts, void of relevance in this world.
- "הר" – mountain – suggests height, distance
and difficulty. The satan tried to tell us that the "hike" up to Har Sinai to
receive the Torah was too difficult and that the Torah itself was too difficult
to uphold. Apparently, the Satan put up a very strong challenge, for the Torah
itself in Devorim (30:12) gave a direct rebuttal to the satan in proclaiming,"לא
בשמים הוא לאמר מי יעלה לנו השמימה ויקחיה…” –"It (the Torah) is not in
the heavens saying who will go up to the heavens and get it…". Chazal point
out that the first letters of the four wordsמי
יעלה לנו השמימה spell
מילה, which represents a covenant of spirituality between Hashem and
the Jewish people, meaning that only through kedushas HaTorah – found on Har
Sinai – could the Jewish people fulfill their mission on earth.
- "ההר" stems from the root of
הריון– pregnancy. The satan tried to reduce
Bnei Yisroel’s desire for Torah by telling them that their receiving of the
Torah was only the very first stage in its fulfillment, and that it would be
a very long and difficult road, without guarantees, before they would be able
to reap the true benefits of Torah. Even if they would finally accept the Torah
(represented by –לידה ) it would only burden them
with a life-long obligation to engage in Torah learning and fulfillment, as
the posuk says, "אדם לעמל יולד" – “Man
is born to work hard” (Iyov 5:7).
- The mountain symbolizes physicality at its most base level. The satan is
telling Bnei Yisroel in his intentional deceitfulness, “Be truthful. Admit what
you see. You see a mountain. You see physicality. This is your world. Your own
eyes prove to you the centricity of physicality in a Jew’s life. Don’t avoid
or ignore it. Don’t try and look beyond to distant spiritual worlds, for even
if they were to exist, they would be insignificant in comparison to the true
physicality your eyes behold.” And, we find as well that the gematria
(ketana) of הרis 7, representing nature
In order for a parent to help his child ward off the claims of the yetzer,
he has to stress the very opposite, as follows (each number relates to its corresponding
- Stress the importance of preparing for and fulfilling mitzvos.
- Help the child overcome difficulties in Torah learning and fulfillment.
Expose him to the sweetness of Torah.
- Show him the great clarity and purity the Torah brings one who is faithfully
engaged in it.
- Diminish the importance of “this world” in the child’s eyes, including its
pleasures and its apparently nature-driven events.
From the posuk "ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר" we have
learned that when a Jew attempts to reach higher levels in Torah and yiras Shamayim,
he is inevitably faced with the hostile resistance of the yetzer hora.
Similarly, when we raise our expectations of our children and students, they
too are confronted with resistance, which has the power to cause them to falter.
However, after becoming aware of the different obstacles which stand in the way
of each child, the parent should try and help his child overcome the obstacles and
then give him the academic, emotional and psychological support he needs to help
propel him further.
In summary, only when one becomes aware of the challenges of the yetzer hora
and the lackings or difficulties his child is facing, can he help his child reject
them. At the same time he should accentuate the child’s positive traits and areas
of accomplishment to help him climb higher and higher in Torah and avodas Hashem.