It is well known that children and adults flourish best in a non-judgmental, accepting environment. Whether at home or in the classroom, if mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities rather than a basis for criticism and derision, a child can learn and develop in a healthy manner. We can gain an insight into why this is so, from a halacha taught in this week’s Parsha.
If the thief is discovered while tunneling in (BaMachteres), and he is struck and dies, there is no blood-guilt on his account. (Shemos 22:1) This means that if the home owner kills a perpetrator during a home invasion robbery, he, the home owner, is not guilty of murder. Rashi explains that since the burglar assumes the home owner will defend his possessions by force, the burglar, by invading the home anyway, shows he is willing to overpower and kill the home owner, if necessary, to get away with the loot. Therefore, the Torah invokes the principle that one is allowed to defend oneself and won’t be considered guilty of murder, for pre-empting and killing the one intent on killing him.
The Da’as Zekeinim M’Baalei Tosfos makes a novel deduction from this Pasuk. It is specifically when the burglar enters through the tunnel, that the defender is not guilty for killing him. However, if the burglar entered through a regular door, the home owner would be guilty of murder for killing him. Why? The Da’as Zekeinim explains – because in a case with a door, unlike the tunnel, the burglar will think to himself – if the homeowner gets up to defend his possessions, I’ll just run out the door.
What could be so different about entering through a tunnel opening or entering through a regular door, that the burglar will have such divergent reactions to being caught in the act? In one case he’ll commit murder to get his hands on the goods, and in the other he’ll run away and leave the loot behind? The one difference is the ease with which the burglar can extricate himself from the situation. The door is an easy escape, the tunnel apparently not so easy.
One need not go to such an extreme situation such as murder to see this idea at work. When a child does something wrong, and is harshly admonished, he has no easy escape and he will most likely escalate the situation. He’ll dig in his heels and probably lie about what happened and plot to do something worse. Case in point: An 8 year old boy has just teased his 5 year old sister and taken away her favorite doll. The parent has one of two ways to handle the situation. He can get very angry and threaten the boy – which will probably inflame the situation and cause the boy to want to do something even worse, or the parent can create an escape for the boy by focusing on calmly defusing the situation, which will more likely lead the boy to peacefully give up the doll and stop bothering his sister.
Why is this so? When a person commits a misdeed, his self-image is impacted. He may see that act as defining him as a bad person. When a parent reacts angrily and harshly, he reinforces that thought in the child’s mind – “I really am bad.”This leads to – “since I’m bad, let me do something REALLY bad”, because that is what bad people do. He’s stuck, just like the burglar who has only a tunnel to escape through. A child who is dealt with kindly and compassionately has an opening – “I’m really not so bad, so I’d better behave nicely, ” and he can escape the situation as the burglar can simply run out the door.
When we realize the power of this dynamic, which seems counterintuitive, we’ll realize we can correct children’s behavior by creating exits for them to retreat from the mess they created. When our compassionate and accepting attitude shows the child that although there will be consequences for their actions, they are still welcome and they are still accepted, they’ll be motivated to get out of the cycle of misbehavior. On the other hand, if the adult is harsh, unforgiving and critical, there is no exit created for the child. With no easy way out, they get stuck deeper and deeper in the quagmire they have created, and behave worse and worse, R’L.
Let’s remember to use this ‘exit strategy’ of making our children and students feel welcome and appreciated, and they will act in kind.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
Rabbi Kalman Baumann