Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Ellul 5761 - August 29, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
Leaving Children by Themselves

by R' Zvi Zobin

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 hysterically.

"What's the matter? Where are your Mommy and Daddy?" asked Mr. Wolf anxiously.

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 house.

"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 home.

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 words.

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 mother returned.


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 from panic.

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 assumption.

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 hysterically.

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 sudden fear?

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.


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