In raising and guiding our children, we are occasionally prone to misjudging the severity or even relevance of their actions and behavior. We may focus on one particular misdeed and fail to see the overall picture that should receive far more attention than one isolated action. We can learn a lesson in how to avoid such a misguided perspective, from analyzing Moshe Rabbeinu’s behavior at the incident of the Eigel HaZahav, the Golden Calf.
Why did Moshe Rabbeinu only break the Luchos, the tablets, once he came down from the mountain…?Numerous Meforshim, commentators, raise the following question: Why did Moshe Rabbeinu only break the Luchos, the tablets, once he came down from the mountain and actually saw with his own eyes, the Jewish People dancing around the Eigel? Hashem had already told Moshe that the Bnei Yisrael had made the Eigel while he was still up on the mountain. What further proof could Moshe have required more than Hashem himself, the Ultimate in truth, having told Moshe what was transpiring? Did Moshe, Chas V’Sholom, need to be an eyewitness to prove what he heard from Hashem?
HaRav Zalman Sorotzkin, zt’l in Sefer Oznaim LaTorah on Shemos (22:19) answers as follows: When Hashem told Moshe that the people had deviated from the ways of Hashem and had made an eigel, Moshe thought that the act of building and serving the eigel in and of itself was not the absolute worst aveira. He would go to the people, show them the Luchos he had just received and they would be inspired to stop serving the eigel and return to Moshe. However, what he actually witnessed was the people dancing and celebrating the avoda zara that they had made. Once Moshe saw that it was not merely their action, but it was their attitude that was misguided, he realized Klal Yisrael needed `shock therapy’ to change their behavior. He therefore took the shocking step of smashing the Luchos in their presence to bring them back to their senses.
…he realized Klal Yisrael needed `shock therapy’ to change their behavior.Moshe Rabbeinu understood that the real issue was not the Jewish People’s behavior, it was their attitude. Anyone can make a mistake, anyone can be seized by foolishness and act willfully in a way they know is wrong. Anyone can commit an aveira. Hashem has given us the blessing of Teshuva for such situations. What Teshuva cannot help atone for is an aveira that one commits due to an inappropriate and still unchanged attitude.
This dichotomy applies as well to children. We need to distinguish between childish misbehavior perhaps due to selfishness, impulsiveness, mood or immaturity and between a real attitude that permeates the child’s way of thinking. We often react emotionally to a child’s misdeed and immediately punish for a particular action or lack of action. We see the broken toy, the crying sibling, we hear the cruel or inappropriate word and take the child to task for it. We may be missing the point entirely.
We see the broken toy, the crying sibling, we hear the cruel or inappropriate word and take the child to task for it.When considering how to react to misbehavior (and yes, we should always `consider’ before enacting consequences) we must look beyond the present incident and analyze if perhaps this is part of a pattern. Maybe the child expressed something a week ago. Could this incident be reflective of those thoughts and ideas? Are there other aspects to the child’s behavior that can shed light on what is transpiring right now? What’s the story and the mindset behind the story?
We need to understand our children and why they are behaving in the ways they are. Are our reactions and consequences hitting the mark, or might we be guilty of the proverbial “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” – an exercise in futility in light of the bigger picture? In fact, we might be doing more than just being ineffective – we may actually be making things worse.
As our children grow older, there are more and more identifiable reasons as to why they do what they do. By moving beyond the specific `misdemeanor’ and trying to see a fuller picture, we can get to the root of what is making our child tick and truly fulfill our parental role of guiding, inspiring and educating our children to follow and live B’Derech Hashem.
Best wishes for a `big picture’ Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann