A Strong Hand and a Loving Heart

Parents’ number one love is their
children. Their concern for them is so overwhelming that it overrides all other
interests or needs. At the slightest sign of intended harm, parents will do
everything to protect their children.

The Midrash Shemos Rabbah 1:1, as it introduces
parshas Shemos, brings the posuk, "חושך שבטו שונא בנו ואוהבו שחרו מוסר" –
"One who refrains from using his rod [hitting his son when necessary] hates his
son, and one who loves him gives him reproof in his early years."
It then
asks rhetorically, can it be true that a parent who does not hit his son will
come to hate him? Will not a parent give anything to protect his child from

Shlomo Hamelech is teaching us, continues the Midrash, that
if one does not punish his child when necessary, he will eventually see him go
"off the derech" and will come to despise him and hate him for it.

And so we find, adds the Midrash (ibid.), that the greatest
of our forefathers and tzaddikim failed to hit their sons when need be and came
to hate them because of their wicked behavior. Avraham Avinu did not castigate
Yishmael, and when Yishmael began to lead a life of wickedness, Avraham came to
hate him. Yitzchak Avinu, as well, did not hit Esav because of his overriding
love for him, and eventually Esav left the righteous path. The same is true with
Dovid Hamelech and his two sons Avshalom and Adoniyahu: both were spared the rod
of their father even though they sinned, and both eventually left the way of

Question: Why did the Midrash bring the posuk חושך שבטו… at
the start of sefer Shemos?

Answer: To understand the message behind the inclusion of the
words את יעקב… in the first posuk of our parsha. The posuk reads: "ואלה שמות
בני ישראל הבאים מצרימה את יעקב איש וביתו באו…" – "And these are the names
of the children of Yisrael who are coming to Egypt, Yaakov, each man came with
his household…"
. את יעקב seems redundant for the Torah already mentioned in
parshas Vayigash (Bereishis 46:8-28) that Yaakov and his family
came to Egypt. The Midrash explains that our posuk is pointing out that the
children of Yaakov were as righteous as he was, to teach us that Yaakov
admonished and punished his children when necessary out of his great love for
them – ואהבו שחרו מוסר – until they were equal to him in righteousness.

We learn from Yaakov that a child’s development should be as
important in a father eyes as his own. This is the love (“אהבו
שוחרו מוסר”) a father should show his child: a continual desire to steer him
from all harm, whether through verbal or physical admonishment and punishment.
This explains the love Yitzchok had for Esav: a love consisting of a deep-rooted
desire and feeling of responsibility to help Esav remove himself from all bad.

Now we can understand the hatred for a son mentioned in the
above posuk – חושך שבטו שונא בנו – for one who refrains from admonishing and
punishing his son shows that he is not concerned with his son’s spiritual
development and leaves him to do as he pleases, relying on the common man’s
wisdom of "all children behave like that", or "he’ll grow out of it". This is
the definition of hatred: total inconsideration for a child’s spiritual
development. The commentator on the Midrash, Nechmad Lemare, explains
that Avraham warned Yitzchok not to associate with Yishmael, and Yitzchok
admonished Yaakov when he saw him getting too close with Esav. Even Yaakov, who
had twelve excellent sons, and apparently had no need to rebuke them and punish
them, still did so, to protect them from doing even the slightest wrongdoings.

Apparently, there are two distinct ways in which a parent or
teacher can influence a child to listen to his instruction: either through
positive reinforcement; by giving him rewards, such as presents, or by reproving
him for wrongdoing. However, the Gemorah (Brachos 5a) says that a true
present is one that comes through יסורין (suffering). "Hashem gave three good
gifts – Torah, Eretz Yisroel and Olam Haba – to the Jewish people", says the
gemorah, "and they were all given with suffering."

Lesson: Something of value can only come through total
dedication and a willingness to endure pain and suffering, if necessary, in
order to achieve it.

The Midrash explains that this is true love, as expressed in
the words of the prophet Malachi (1:2), "אהבתי אתכם אמר ה’…" – "I
loved you, said Hashem"
. Hashem’s love for the Jewish people, continues the
Midrash, is seen in his bringing upon them abundant suffering. And this is the
meaning behind our posuk, "ואהבו שחרו מוסר". The Midrash Tanchuma at the
beginning of parshas Shemos vividly describes how Batshevah tied Shlomo
to a pole and hit him with a rod and warned him not to leave the ways of the
righteous. As she hit him she told him not to run after fame and kingship, but
to fill himself with chochmas Hatorah and to purify himself in
preparation of prophecy. Her affliction produced results, as the posuk (Malachim
I, 5:11) calls Shlomo, "ויחכם מכל האדם…" – "And he became wiser than all
. Through her actions, says the Tanchuma, Batshevah fulfilled
the posuk of "ואהבו שחרו מוסר".

A parent or teacher who truly loves his child or student will
not only not ignore the child’s wrongdoing but will admonish him and
demand improved behavior from him and punish him if necessary, even if the child
complains bitterly and criticizes the adult for making his life miserable.

The difficulties brought upon the child in order to convince
him to choose the right path is a true sign of love, for it helps him remove
himself from all wrongdoing and bad company and to improve his ways, leading him
down the path of righteousness and eternal reward. This is “ואהבו שחרו מוסר”.
One who truly loves his child will admonish him and punish him from the young
age (שחרו); when he first is able to distinguish between right and wrong.

Not only will the above approach lead the child down the
right path, but he will increase his love for the very parent or teacher who
reprimanded him. In support of this idea the Midrash quotes, "יסר בנך ויניחך…"
"Admonish your son and he will bring you a period of rest." He will
bring you delicacies for your soul, explains the Midrash Tanchuma.

The importance of reprimanding and punishing students is
highlighted by the gemorah in Shabbos (54b) which defines the parameters
of the mitzvah of תוכחה (reproof). The gemorah says, "One who will be
listened to if he gives reproof in his home and refrains from doing so is
responsible for the sins of those in his home. One whose voice is respected and
listened to citywide and does not give reproof will be held responsible for the
sins of the city. And one who has dominion over the whole world and refrains
from rebuking the wrongdoers, will be held responsible for all their sins."

Now, the above rule applies even to a group of adults and so
much more so when dealing with students and their teacher, who is entrusted to
educate and guide them to refrain from wrongdoing and to work to improve their
spiritual level.

Accordingly, points out Rav Aharon Kotler z"l (Mishnas
Book 1 pg. 249), the mitzvah of giving reproof is the most critical
of all positive commandments. Besides for the punishment one receives for not
fulfilling the mitzvah, he receives punishment as though he committed the sin

Why, in fact, is this law stricter than others? Rav Kotler
(ibid.) points out two reasons. One, for the Jewish people, even before they
first entered Eretz Yisrael, accepted upon themselves the obligation to be
responsible for each other’s spiritual behavior and development (see gemorah
37a). Thus, one Jew is directly responsible for another just as one
who signs on a friend’s loan is responsible to pay it back if his friend is

Secondly, R’ Chaim of Volozhin wrote (based on the
posuk "כי אמרתי עולם חסד יבנה…" – "For I [Hashem] said a world of
loving-kindness should be built…"
[Tehillim 89:3]), that just as
Hashem created the world in order to benefit others, so too He created man so
that man would benefit other men. The most valuable act of loving-kindness one
can do to another is to increase his connection to Torah and mitzvos and to help
him stay clear of the claws of the yetzer hora. One who ignores his
obligation of reproving another (who would accept his reproof) is held liable
for his sins for he is uprooting the fundamental purpose of creation.

To be continued.

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