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
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
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
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
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 —
orders are upright, making the heart glad" (Tehillim
19:9) — and the whole house shines and blossoms as
result of this joy.
Give to the Wise Man and He Will Increase his
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"`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
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."