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20 Tammuz 5765 - July 27, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
A Happy Home, Past and Present

A Selection of Rulings, Comments and Pieces of Advice Heard From the Steipler, zt'l, on Raising and Educating Children

Rav Avrohom Yeshayohu Kanievsky, a grandson of the Steipler's, writes in his biographical work about his grandfather, "I asked our teacher for his opinion of all the modern gadgetry that is to be found today in every Jewish home, and about the current way of life where the wife earns a living while the husband is occupied in the tent of Torah. This is what he answered:

It was customary in Klal Yisroel for the wife to labor and toil with all her strength to run the household. She would wash clothes by hand, cook and bake on a coal fire, pluck and clean chickens and kasher them, knead dough by hand, sew her family's clothes, etc.

Everything involved a supreme effort and hard work. [It was a long process] until she had her chicken clean and kashered and ready for cooking. If there was a shailoh about the chicken's kashrus, she would go to the rov, who would enquire and examine and when he ruled that it was kosher, there was great rejoicing.

One day a week was the `wash day.' All the members of the family took part in the difficult operation: washing, scrubbing, soaking, starching, hanging and ironing. When everything was finished at the end of the day, there was happiness on her face and joy in her heart.

On erev Shabbos kodesh she would arise early and knead the dough, bake and cook, separate challoh with a brochoh as required by halochoh, all with a constant prayer on her lips that everything would turn out successfully and would be consumed in joy and in good health. She would scrub the house, make the beds and lay the table and when Shabbos kodesh arrived, the presence of the Shechinoh entered, in an atmosphere of joy and jubilation. An expression of tranquil happiness was on her face, which radiated light and holiness throughout her home.

Her husband, on the other hand, was on the road all week long, making the rounds of the villages and hamlets, the small towns and the larger ones, in order to bring home provisions. Earning a livelihood was extremely difficult. Setbacks, disgraces and distresses were his lot in his quest for a living. Erev Shabbos kodesh, when he would return to his home and family, rest from the exertions of travelling and see some of the blessed fruits of his toil, his sons and daughters, his wife and helpmate, all healthy and well and upright G-d-fearing Jews, his face would shine and his heart would swell with joy . . . "Who can find a woman of valor . . . her husband's heart trusts her . . . she supervises the ways of her home . . . her children arise and make her glad, her husband [arises and] praises her" . . . With [his offspring like] olive saplings are around his table, he is filled with joy and his bursts out with, "Therefore Hashem blessed the day of Shabbos and made it holy . . . " This joy accompanied them through all the vicissitudes of life and gave them the necessary strength and the hope to go on happily with their lives.

In our times, on the other hand, the home is bursting with machines and gadgets. Whatever they do not do themselves, is done by the household help. All a woman has to do is press buttons and operate machines. Cleaning the house and caring for the children are no tasks for her. She is too weak, both physically and spiritually, to bear such burdens. The washing gets done in an hour without any effort. Chickens are delivered to the house already kashered and cleaned and all that needs to be done is to put them into the pot. Beautiful, kosher, ready-made challos come from the bakery. For a few extra pennies, one can get others with an even better hechsher.

Her husband, for his part, earns his living without any physical effort and certainly without any emotional distress. Whatever they are short of is compensated for by a range of allowances and grants. The only thing one has to do is start the car and drive to work.

Where should the joy come from? On Shabbos they are bored, chained to the house by the shackles of halachic prohibitions, and they wait longingly for Shabbos to end, Rachmono litzlan, so that they will be free of the "burden" of the children, who are on their hands and who demand a lot of attention. Where there are no difficulties, where should joy come from?

The one and only thing that is still difficult in our day and age is: studying and toiling over our holy Torah and here, both husband and wife are partners. The husband toils in Torah, and the wife shoulders the yoke of earning a livelihood and of caring for the children. When the husband returns home from a day of toiling in Torah, he is full of joy and fulfillment, half of which is his and half his wife's. This is a simcha shel mitzvoh — "Hashem's orders are upright, making the heart glad" (Tehillim 19:9) — and the whole house shines and blossoms as a result of this joy.

Give to the Wise Man and He Will Increase his Wisdom

"There is a well-known rule: "Halochoh cannot be deduced from observation." Extra vigilance certainly needs to be exercised then, when it comes to drawing general principles regarding chinuch from those replies and pieces of advice that were given to individuals, at particular times and for particular sets of circumstances. The following anecdotes cannot serve as more than pointers, indicating those areas where special attention is required. Consultation with a talmid chochom is recommended in determining a practical course of action."

Sparing the Rod

When asked about hitting children the Steipler responded:

There are no fixed rules. It depends whether the child is easygoing or not. And even if corporal punishment is being administered, it should be minimal and should not be given in anger. The Vilna Gaon writes that there is an element of issur involved in hitting while one is angry and if one does so, one is training him to anger and nothing [positive] will come of it. The main thing is to learn yiras Shomayim [mussar] with him, even as early as six years old. Even if it looks like he doesn't understand, the fear of Heaven takes root in his heart.

When asked about what is written in the work Seder Hayom about not hitting children until they are five years old, the Steipler answered, "The custom is to hit — and there are two lapses which are certainly grounds for hitting: when a child refuses choliloh to make a brochoh, and when he hits another child with excessive cruelty."

Spoiling the Child

He warned firmly against giving in to all of a child's demands and satisfying all their desires. "All the `crises' [of adolescents] stem from the child having been given too much," the Steipler said. He added that people's way of life used to be much more straitened and a child would receive sweets just once a week, in honor of Shabbos, when he was tested by his father and knew what he had learned. There were almost no toys and children knew that everything came with difficulty. This gave them the emotional conditioning that enabled them later to weather crises.

"Today, a child knows that he will receive everything he asks for, immediately, and he also gets things that he doesn't ask for because his parents feel sorry for him, because the neighbors' children have them.

"While the child is growing up, he is told all the time that he's gifted, that he does well and that he's the best of all. Then he goes to yeshiva and sees that his friends understand better than he does, and that they write chiddushei Torah while he doesn't know what to write. He gets depressed because he isn't used to grappling with any problems in his life at all. When he's faced with his first challenge and he discovers that not everything in life goes the way one would like, and as easy as one would like, he enters a depression R'l, and who can tell what the end will be . . .? So, spoiling children is forbidden!

Stern Warning or Blind Eye?

The Steipler was asked about a five-and-a-half year old child who used to finish tefilloh and Bircas Hamozone too quickly, apparently because he was missing out whole sections. Should he be reprimanded?

He replied: "If he is told off, it will provoke resistance and he will feel that he's being pressured. This is neither desirable nor helpful, because he can continue to skip pieces when no one is looking. He should be spoken to in general terms about the importance of tefilloh. He should be told that when we daven we are speaking to Hakodosh Boruch Hu and that every word is important. For this reason, there is no point in forcing him to go back and daven (after he misses parts out). Since the father's whole obligation is one of education, he will fulfill it by having such a conversation with the child."

Heavy Hand or Gentle Touch?

It is said that the Chazon Ish zt'l, was asked whether to deal harshly or gently with a troublesome child who refuses to learn. He responded that a child needs someone who will draw him close. A child feels this and knows that this person is interested in his welfare. This person can influence the child with kindness. The questioner who received this reply also told us about his son, a `yeshiva student,' who had begun a significant spiritual deterioration. The father asked the Steipler how he should manage his son.

The Steipler replied: "The boy should be brought closer, not distanced and not treated harshly. This is what the Chazon Ish said our approach should be in this generation. If one behaves harshly, one can lose him altogether."

"Should I agree with the path he is taking?" asked the father.

The Steipler replied: "He should certainly be shown that the path he's taking is no good, but show him that you are not angry with him but with it. You love him, but his conduct is not good, nor is the company that brought him to that situation." (In that case, the boy's friends had influenced him.)

The Pilferer

Someone who was close to the Steipler recalled, "I went in to him to ask about a child who was not yet ten years old, who used to take things from other children in cheder and from his siblings at home, to the point where the siblings used to call him ganev. How should such a situation be managed?

"`It won't help to tell him that he mustn't take things,' said the Steipler, `What does he understand? What will help is to learn mussar with him. His mother should learn an easy work of mussar, such as Orchos Tzaddikim with him for ten minutes each day. Even if he doesn't seem to be paying all that much attention, it will still help! He'll ultimately listen and it will penetrate, not necessarily in one day, but he'll slowly get the message that there is a Ribono Shel Olom and that the world is not ownerless and he'll understand, himself, that it's forbidden.'

"The Steipler continued, `It used to be that the child's entire surroundings were suffused with yiras Shomayim. Everything around him helped him to acquire the fear of Heaven. Today, there is no such environment. There is hefkeirus everywhere and the only way to get anything is by learning from a sefer mussar. Without this, a person looks like an animal . . . '

"He added that it was also good to tell the child about people who took things from others and who, later on in life, lost their livelihoods and were unable to find a match — `Why? Because it was impossible to remain in their company.' This message also penetrates a child's mind and has a long term influence on him."

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