At every opportunity, Mr. Cohen points out one of his sons and
informs the listener, "This is the sort of boy everybody
prays for. He is exactly as we want him." Sometimes he brings
home some little gift for this boy and as he hands it over in
front of the other children, he says "This is for my little
talmid chochom. See," he says, turning to the watching
children, "anybody who learns diligently, like Yitzchok does,
might also get a present."
He fails to see the tinge of envy in one child's face, and
none of the others show even a spark of enthusiasm at his
promise of a reward at some later date. He meant well, but
will never achieve his aim by singling out one particular
Dovid had always been a difficult baby. Now at six, he is an
aggressive child, who uses his hands (and feet) constantly.
His siblings, both older and younger, get a taste of his
temper almost daily. One afternoon, when his little sister
was crying uncontrollably because Dovid had hit her brutally,
his mother decided to give him a taste of his own medicine;
she gave him the spanking of his life, ending with, "Now you
know what it feels like when someone hits you really
She was sure that now the little boy would be more careful
before attacking other children. Unfortunately, that very
day, Dovid gouged two deep scratches down his little sister's
face, without any provocation on her part, to show his
resentment at the spanking he had received. Mother meant
well, but smacking is entirely the wrong way to cure an
She had reached the ripe old age of 21 and had still not
found her basherte. Her parents were not unduly
worried about their gifted daughter, who was still very happy
working in full-time employment. Unfortunately, her married
classmates were filled with good intentions. As each one in
turn got married, and Dina went to wish them Mazel Tov with
all her heart, her friends gave her sound advice. "You know,
a really good boy nowadays demands a fortune; your parents
will never manage that," or "You should not be so choosy;
there is no such thing as a perfect boy. Besides which, who
says you are so perfect?" Inevitably, Dina began to
feel guilty and unhappy. Are these really friends, and not
just interfering busybodies? They mean well!
Anyone who needed a favor in the community approached
Shoshanna. She seemed to be superhuman; where there was
chessed to be done, Shoshana was there. In fact, the
local women (and their husbands) quipped that the two words
fitted together like 'knife and fork' or 'bread and butter;'
Shoshana and chessed. Whether it was to help when a
mother was sick, or had had a new baby, or any other lame
duck, Shoshana was always there, fresh and full of energy.
She was convinced that this personal example of giving up her
privacy, spare time and the running of her home, would
communicate itself to her own children and that they would
certainly follow in her footsteps. But on the contrary, they
each felt that 'charity begins at home,' and that they would
have preferred well-cooked meals and a clean house, which is
what they planned to do in their own homes.
A mother of seven children, the oldest of whom is ten, can be
forgiven for being tired and exhausted. However, she should
not use her fatigue to gain sympathy from the children; nor
should she tell them that they just have to help her else she
will be ill. A girl of six announced at home that when she
grew up, she did not want any children. The mother was
shocked into saying , "G-d forbid! How can you talk like
that? What makes you say such a thing?" The child answered
innocently, "Because it is too hard to be a Mommy."
The mother was taken aback by the child's reaction. She had
thought that if the children saw how difficult it was for her
and how she was up half the night with the baby, and yet was
still functioning, they would appreciate her more.
When Yaakov Ovinu gave Yosef his special shirt, he hoped it
would arouse the brothers to special efforts in learning, and
he also wanted to reward Yosef for his excellence. As we see,
the gift had disastrous effects.
When adults chat, they are often not aware that the children
are listening. And even when they listen, children do not
always understand what they themselves are staying. For
example, a neighbor might comment on a woman's charming
little two-year-old. The mother might reply, "He is so
naughty; I can't cope with him any more."
The neighbor comments on her new three-piece suite, and this
lady will say she wishes she had the old one back, as it was
much sturdier. Someone compliments her on a new housecoat and
she declares that it was a cast-off from her sister-in- law.
Perhaps she does not want her neighbor to envy her, or maybe
she is afraid of an ayin hora, and therefore belittles
all her pieces of good fortune. Whatever the reason, children
take things at face value and learn that it is de rigueur to
Sometimes a parent will use ill health as a veiled threat, in
order to make the child work harder. For example, "You had
better not show this report card to your grandfather; he has
a weak heart, and who knows what might happen?" Or "You are
making me ill with your behavior." Remarks like this can have
truly disastrous results.
There is a saying, "The way to Gehinnom is paved with good
intentions." Small children, and even older ones, mean well
and are frequently disappointed when things go wrong. They
have not enough experience to know where their good
intentions will lead them, like the three-year-old who gagged
his baby brother with a nappy, to stop him crying, because
his mother seemed slow in coming. Fortunately, the baby
We as adults do have enough experience, and although the
above examples are extreme, they happen. Therefore we have to
be doubly careful, even if we mean very well indeed.