Among the impressive array of information, knowledge and understanding about Torah and Mitzvos that children from our families and Yeshivas have absorbed at a relatively young age, there is one glaring weak spot. Contained in this week’s Parsha is the relatively obscure negative commandment of Lo Sonu (Vayikra 25:17), which Rashi tells us is referring to Onoas Devarim, hurting someone with words.
This prohibition includes insulting someone, calling someone by a less than flattering nickname, deliberately giving bad advice, speak disparagingly of his past or his ancestors, in short – any words or gestures that will make the other person feel bad. It’s a bit hard to understand why Onoas Devarim is not as much a part of our children’s (and our) lexicon as Loshon Hara, Tznius or Shmiras Shabbos but that is currently the case, at least until we do something about it!
Onoas Devarim is a critically important term, because it identifies the essence of what is so emotionally harmful about the type of peer aggression known as `relational aggression’. The old adage of “sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me” is absolutely false. The image of a bully as a menacing, hulking juvenile delinquent out to beat up a skinny, wimpy kid does not help us realize the many forms bullying can take. Amongst our children, bullying more often takes on more subtle forms, especially through words and gestures that can be devastating to a child.
The Pasuk of Lo Sonu includes an interesting `addendum’. The Pasuk says V’Lo Sonu Ish es Amiso, V’Yoraisa MaiElokecha, Ki Ani Hashem Elokeichem. Rashi explains that when it comes to anything about which a person can hide his true intentions from others, the Torah makes sure to tell us that you need to realize you can’t conceal anything from Hashem. He is well aware of what is really in your heart. Hashem is giving a stern admonition – don’t try to cover up your hurtful intentions and make believe you meant well, or were `just joking’ or didn’t know the other person would take offense from your comments.
Perhaps in addition to the negative connotation that you’d better not do it because Hashem will punish you, the Torah is appealing to the nobility within us. Our awareness that Hashem knows our every thought and intention should imbue us with a great feeling of self-worth. My words and even my thoughts are so important that Hashem Himself is aware of them and cares about them. As we mentioned several weeks back – the most effective block to poor behavior is an elevated feeling of self-worth. If I’m such an important being, how can I stoop so low as to bring pain to another of Hashem’s creations?
Our children need to imbibe this lesson! Most (but by no means all) children who lash out at others are feeling low about themselves and need consciously or subconsciously, to raise him or herself up by knocking down the other. By helping our children realize how truly exalted they are, whose thoughts are of concern to Hashem Himself, we’ll help them fulfill the Mitzvah of refraining from Onoas Devarim and set them upon the path to a happy and more satisfying life.
Best wishes for an upbeat, positively enjoyable Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann