It was 11 o'clock at night. Mr. Wolf was walking slowly down
the steps of his apartment building after visiting his friend.
Suddenly, the door of an apartment was flung open and two
little children stood by the open door, crying
"What's the matter? Where are your Mommy and Daddy?" asked Mr.
The two children, a little girl about six years old and an
even smaller boy of about four, were sobbing too frantically
to answer, but it was clear that they were alone in the
"Wait a minute. I'll be right back!" Mr. Wolf raced upstairs
to his friend. One of his daughters came down to the
apartment, calmed down the children and took them back to her
The next day, Mr. Wolf's friend explained what had happened.
The children's parents had left a relative as a babysitter.
The children seemed to be sleeping and the relative thought he
would pop out to catch maariv. Eventually, he returned
at 12:30 but did not feel he had done anything wrong.
It was the eve of Yom Kippur. The Kehilla was waiting
for the Rov before commencing the Kol Nidrei service. Hours
passed. Still, he did not come. Eventually, the president of
the congregation decided that they could not wait any longer
and the chazzon started to chant the memorable
But where was the Rov?
R' Yisroel Salanter was babysitting! On the way to
shul, he heard a baby crying. He turned to investigate.
A mother had left her baby in the care of an older child so
that she could go to Kol Nidrei, but when the baby began to
cry, the older child had not known what to do. So R' Yisroel
Salanter decided that the chessed of caring for the
baby outweighed his obligation to attend the Yom Kippur
service. So he waited there, tending the children until their
The lesson taught by this famous story does not apply to the
incident described above because the children's lives were not
in danger and the issue before R' Yisroel Salanter was only
that of doing an act of kindness for the little children.
Leaving a young child alone in a house is a matter of risk of
life. There have been many incidents in which children have
died because of being left alone. Just the panic which a child
experiences when he realizes he is trapped alone in a room can
be life threatening. The Mishna Brura explains that it
is obligatory to smash down the door to a room in which a
child is locked on Shabbos because a trapped child can die
The relative made two serious mistakes:
Firstly, he assumed that because the children appeared to be
sleeping soundly, they would not wake up during the period he
intended to be away. But it is not possible to make such an
Secondly, he assumed that he had an obligation to go to a
minyon for maariv. However, he was engaged in
the mitzva of guarding two little children. For him to
`leave his post' was actually a sin!
Even electronic intercom babysitters are not foolproof.
Mrs. Jung's child was sleeping soundly. She left an electronic
intercom babysitter by a neighbor while she went out shopping.
The child woke up, climbed out of his crib and accidentally
knocked over the intercom, turning it off. The neighbor did
not think it unusual that the intercom was silent. When Mrs.
Jung returned home, she found her child crying
One way to monitor that an intercom is working is to place
a clock which has a loud tick near it.
A similar problem exists regarding sending children to
kindergarten/school in the mornings in the care of young
siblings or sending young children to bring even younger
siblings home in the afternoon.
One mother recalls how, when she took her child to gan,
she used to see little three- or four-year-olds wandering
along the sidewalk towards their gan with their lunch
bag around their neck, staring around, bumping into trees,
falling into holes.
Some parents feel compelled to leave their children in the
care of their oldest child, even though the child is only
seven or eight, because the mother comes home late from work
and the father is at kollel. Other parents confidently
leave their oldest as babysitter while they go to a
simcha until late at night.
"But she is very mature and capable!" the parents
explain -- but could the child cope with any of the
emergencies that do sometimes occur, G- d forbid? Or with
There are two aspects to this type of behavior. Firstly, there
is the obvious one of not fulfilling one's obligation to guard
the children who have been put into our care but, instead,
constantly relying on miracles.
However, there is a second, more subtle aspect. If we really
value something, we will guard it, even though there is little
risk of it being stolen. We worry even about that minimal
risk. And even if there is no risk, we will still guard it to
show that we value it and appreciate it. The Beis Hamikdosh
had kohanim guarding it even though there was no risk,
but as a sign of honor -- and if a guard fell asleep while on
duty, he was severely punished.
Mrs. Weiss used to leave her child alone in the car while she
took another of her children down to the gan.
One day, Mrs. Alter rebuked her. "Would you leave $10,000 on
the car seat like that?"
A parent's prime responsibility is to his children, and a
child feels it when he is being left irresponsibly and when
his parents really value him.