Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Teves 5761 - January 24, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment

by Chaim Walder

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 get hurt."

"Thanks for telling me. I'll go to town right now and buy a curtain."

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 influence others.

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 your mind."

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.

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