In recent years, the issue of corporal punishment has been
raised quite often. Debate on the subject has created a
social trend that has resulted in a significant lessening of
the use of corporal punishment as well as lowering the
severity of any such punishment that is meted out.
We have already written that guilt feelings lately instilled
into parents have caused many to shirk their duty of
limiting their children's behavior. But that's not the only
problem. It seems to me that the current focus on the issue
of corporal punishment is missing the point, and that is the
real crime in this trend.
Like the lady in the following scenario:
Man looking in from the sidewalk: "Hey lady, I can see that
your kids are jumping off the top of the closet. They might
"Thanks for telling me. I'll go to town right now and buy a
A child suffers blows many times throughout
life, sometimes from a fall, sometimes in a brawl with
friends and sometimes just by bumping into something. These
blows might hurt him physically, but they don't cause
emotional harm. In other words, it's not the blow that
leaves an emotional scar, but rather something deeper.
Leaving an emotional scar is not the blow, but the
intentions and feelings of the one who has inflicted it.
That's what counts!
A child can come home black and blue from a fall in the
park, but won't be emotionally hurt because he knows that
the pebbles on which he fell didn't intend to harm him. When
a child is hit, the place the one who beat him occupies in
his heart as well as the intention of the one who hit him
are what really count.
If we pursue this train of thought, we will realize that the
mental damage parents or teachers cause their children
generally stems from unjustified mental thrashing, and that
it this the emotional aspect of the physical blow that
causes the harm.
Herein lies the key to many of children's emotional and
mental problems, as well as the reason there are so many
yeshiva dropouts today.
We are speaking about covert ammunition, hidden from both
the user and the target -- ammunition which the law doesn't
prevent one from holding, and which no one can really prove
was used. I am referring to cynicism: the enemy of man and,
in this century, one of the main causes of emotional and
mental problems such as the loss of self-confidence, low
self-image, emotional outbursts and mental stress.
Why davka in our current century? Because in the
past, people were simpler -- less erudite and less
sophisticated. The media wasn't that accessible and only the
truly educated knew how to use their tongues in order to
Everyone was uncomplicated then. A child got a potch
from Tatty, a hug from Mommy, and then brushed his trousers
and went outside to play until the next potch.
Today, there is an alternative to beatings. There is a mouth
and a tongue. Words constitute an alternative and a
tremendous threat to the hand.
And when the words are spiked, piercing and biting they
operate like a pointed dagger stabbing the body.
The force with which words are flung is also important here.
The impact with which words are hurled at the soul
determines the intensity of the wound and its damage.
However, the frequency and the amount of daggers shot at the
soul are also decisive.
Only criminals and murderers dare to stab people . . . but
to stab a person's soul?
This point highlights not only the strength of the human
soul, but also how vulnerable it is to injury. While one
stab of a knife can kill a person, the soul can endure
stabbing for many years -- but not forever! At a certain
point it, too, crumbles into tiny bits, is rent asunder --
and then go find the psychologist or psychiatrist who can
glue the parts together and heal the soul.
How sad it is that there are parents who really want to help
their children but, because the ammunition with which their
children was hurt is covert, they have no idea that as they
proceed from "treatment" to "treatment," they are merely
inflicting more deadly wounds in their children's souls.
Until today, I still hear the cry of my mentor, HaRav Chaim
Shenker against someone who with a flippant gesture or a
cynical remark made light of a meal his spouse spent a whole
day preparing: "Murderer!"
For years, we have been missing the point. The greatest
enemy of the human soul is cynicism. Cynicism is the sharp
dagger that pierces the soul and destroys it, demolishing
self-image and divesting one of the urge to try to succeed.
Cynicism is what creates torn and confused souls. Cynicism
it what causes youngsters -- and even adults -- to
momentarily go out of their minds and to react with an
outburst of uncontrolled, perhaps violent, emotion. On a
long-term basis, it causes youngsters to develop emotional
illnesses that can even lead to insanity.
Just one remark, one poisonous undertone, and even one
skeptical roll of the eyes.
I know of a youngster who had become emotionally ill and had
to be hospitalized because his classmates used to burst out
laughing every time he entered the room or opened his mouth
to speak. They didn't do a thing to him. They didn't harm
him or hit him, or even badmouth him. They just laughed, and
not at him, but because of him.
Words and insinuations kill far more than physical blows.
We wrote this after we heard about a bochur who
underwent a difficult crises. His father is bright, talented
and quick-witted. He hardly ever hits his kids. But the
following descriptions of a family friend who sent the boy
for treatment explains it all: "The father is a very cynical
person. He plucks one's nerves with a tweezers. He knows how
to cut you to the core, to the point of driving you out of
Sometimes, we envy the children of simple parents -- warm
naive, parents, who aren't unduly smart, but aren't dull-
witted either. These children can at least develop
undisturbed. No one aims the most dreadful weapon of all at
them -- cynicism. It is precisely the erudite people, those
with astute minds, who make constant use of cynicism. While
at times, this use has positive aspects, cynicism should be
left on the doorstep of one's home.
It is time to spread the message to parents, teachers, and
actually to every one of us: Hear ye! Hear ye! Cynicism is a
non-conventional weapon, a weapon that destroys both
spiritually and emotionally. It is forbidden to walk around
with such ammunition in the presence of those we wish to
benefit. Its only job is to destroy, and it can never effect
a change for the good.