Punishment with Purpose
“It's a sight I’ll never forget! A tremendous earthquake exploded
in front of our eyes. Wild fire, thick, black smoke and flying boulders replaced
the blue skies and soft breezes this tropical island is renowned for,” remarked
the tour guide, as he recalled for us the eventful day of exactly one year ago.
“The news reported that thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands were
injured, as the volcano was surrounded by tens of villages, whose inhabitants took
advantage of the area's fertile soil, without ever imagining that the volcano would
suddenly revive itself and turn from a source of plenty into a deadly, merciless
“No one within a 1000 meter radius of the volcano came out alive.
All suffered the same fate: burned and buried alive under an avalanche of a million
tons,” summarized the tour guide.
Is it true that everyone suffered the exact same fate? Did Hashem
mete out indiscriminate punishment? Any eyewitness who had seen the volcano explode,
but did not see how the people died, would certainly think – yes! However, a closer
look revealed some clear differences. It was discovered that some people died from
tumbling rocks (סקילה), some were burned alive (שריפה), some were killed by sharp
flying objects (הרג), while others choked to death from the burgeoning smoke and
ashes (חנק). In addition, some people died in seconds, while other's agony and suffering
was prolonged for hours before they finally passed away.
The terrible effects of the volcano's eruption were certainly
punishments meted out because of the people's transgressions, as we find in Sodom
and Amorah. However, was there a reason why each person died in a different
The answer to our question can be found in our Parsha, Beshalach,
in the song Bnei Yisroel sung after seeing the Egyptians drown in the Red Sea.
We find three pesukim (verses) dealing with the punishments meted
out to the Egyptians at sea, mentioning different ways in which they died.
One posuk (Shemos 15:5) reads, "תהומות יכסיומו ירדו במצולות
כמו אבן" – "The depths will cover them, they sunk down to the deep waters as
A second posuk (ibid. 15:7) says, "וברב גאונך תהרוס קמיך תשלח
חרונך יאכלמו כקש" – "And in Your Greatness You will destroy those that rise up
against You, You sent forth Your anger, which consumed them as straw".
Still a third posuk reads (ibid. 15:10), "נשפת ברוחך כסמו ים
צללו כעופרת במים אדירים" – "You blew with Your Wind the sea covered them [the
Egyptians]; they sank as lead in mighty waters".
Why the differing comparisons for apparently the same punishment?
Rashi explains that each verse is referring to a different group of Egyptians. The
"straw" refers to the extremely wicked Egyptians who were punished "as straw": as
they were thrown violently back and forth in the water as weightless straw; the
common wicked Egyptians fell to their death, slowly but surely, as "rocks fall to
the bottom of the sea". The third group, the least wicked of the Egyptians, sank
immediately to the bottom, as "(weighty) lead", suffering the least pain before
The Egyptians differing levels of wickedness are alluded to in
the wording of each posuk. The first posuk above, describes the punishment of the
average wicked Egyptian as follows:
תהומות יכסיומו—Just as they covered their eyes from their
deep mistreatment of the Jews, so too, they were covered and drowned by deep waters.
ירדו במצולות—Just as they fell to the depths of human behavior,
ירדו במצולות—the word במצולות stems from הצלה —help. Just
ירדו—Just as they רדו – persecuted the Jews, they ירדו
כמו אבן—They enslaved the Jews to build their monuments
כמו אבן—Their punishment was כמו – like – that of the
so too, they were punished by falling to the water's depths.
as they didn't help the Jews escape terrible slave labor, so too, they were thrown
to a place where they couldn't be helped.
– were persecuted and attacked by the waters (see Rashi on Shemos 15:8.)
and they were killed with stones.
Jews, but not the same. While the Jews built upward, they Egyptians drowned.
The next posuk "וברב גאונך" referring to the most wicked of the
Egyptians, alludes to their wickedness and their coinciding punishment.
תהרוס קמיך – It should say תהרס הקמים – destroy them who rose
up against Bnei Yisroel. קמיך means they rose up against Hashem. This alludes
to the totally rebellious behavior of this group.
תשלח חרונך – This was in response to their abominable act of
throwing Jewish babies into the Nile, as the posuk (ibid. 1:22) says, "…כל הבן
הילוד היאורה תשליכוהו…" – "…every
born son you shall throw into the Nile river…"
תשלח חרונך – Pharaoh got upset (ibid. 5:2) when Moshe and Aharon
asked him to "…שלח את עמי…" (ibid. 5:1) and was punished with "תשלח חרונך"
– Hashem sent His fury against Pharaoh.
יאכלמו כקש – Onkelos explains that they were burned as straw
– in a flash. Their punishment showed that they were completely void of any good
and had no hope of doing teshuvah. This alludes to their total rebellion
יאכלמו כקש – This is punishment for their demand for Bnei Yisroel
to build without קש – straw. This wicked decree let to Moshe's classic statement
in defense of the Jewish people, "למה הרעותה לעם הזה…?" – "Why have You [Hashem]
brought worsening conditions on this [the Jewish] people…?" This reveals the
degree of this group's wickedness.
The gematria (numerical value) of קש = 400, represents
an ultimate limit, alluding to this group's total wickedness.
The third posuk above reveals the punishment the least wicked
of the Egyptians received:
נשפת ברוחך – The רוח of Hashem is used in place of His wrath,
alluding to limited anger.
כסמו ים – unlike תהומות יכסיומו – here the singular and passive
tense is used alluding to limited punishment.
This is exactly what happened on the tropical island above. Contrary
to the report of the tour guide, we can deduce from the drowning of the Egyptians,
that each inhabitant died a slightly different death; each one suffered according
to the magnitude of his sins.
Just as Hashem, the Teacher of teachers, metes out punishment
measure for measure, as the Torah says (ibid. 18:10-11), "ברוך ה'…אשר הציל את
העם מתחת יד מצרים…כי בדבר אשר זדו עליהם." – "Blessed is Hashem…Who saved the
(Jewish) people from under the (ruling) hand of Egypt…for according to their (level
of wicked – Rashi) intent (and action the Egyptians had and displayed against the
Jewish people, Hashem punished) on them (the Egyptians)." (See Rashi), so should
we, as parents and teachers, mete out punishment in proper measure, for we are instructed
to follow in Hashem's Ways, as the posuk (Devorim 28:9) says, "והלכת בדרכיו"
– "And you shall walk in His ways."
Hashem, in His exacting and directed method of punishment, pays
the sinner back exactly according to the crime and its severity. At the Red Sea,
says the Yalkut Shimoni (Parshas Beshalach 246) Hashem drowned the
Egyptians because they had drowned Jewish babies; He turned the water into deep,
dangerous mud, just as they had embittered the Jews with the work of mud; they said
to the midwives, when you see a baby boy born on the birth bed (האבנים) – kill him,
and Hashem killed them as rocks (אבנים); because they hardened their hearts like
a stone, they were punished through stones. The Rabeinu Bechayei adds, Hashem brought
about their destruction "תהרוס קמיך" – because they forced the Jews to build
If so, in the context of education, because no two children are
alike, as each has his own unique personality, attitudes, upbringing and influences,
even if two children commit the same wrongdoing, each child should be given his
"own" punishment. However, whereas Hashem immediately sees the true level of each
sinner, a parent or teacher needs to take all the relevant factors into consideration
before he decides on the appropriate punishment.
Before meting out punishment, a parent or teacher should ask
himself the following questions:
- Am I sure about the child's wrongdoing?
- Am I correctly evaluating the severity of the child's actions?
- Does the punishment match the sin?
- Will it help the child improve his behavior, learning, etc.?
Punishment is, in itself, usually an aggressive action. Therefore,
we must exercise restraint before punishing. The truth is, that an educator should
have two equal objections in mind when deciding on a punishment: (1) To uproot the
negative action, and (2) To strengthen the child's good side. An approach which
ignores or de-emphasizes one of these two objectives will lack in its effectiveness.
This concept is summarized by Chazal as follows: "Let the left [hand] push off
[the bad] and the right [hand] draw near [show care and give support]" (Braiysah
in Gemorah Sota 47a, Sanhedrin 107b).
We see this approach alluded to twice in our Parsha in the song
of "Az Yashir". One of the praises Moshe and Bnei Yisroel sung to Hashem
is, "ה' איש מלחמה, ה' שמו" – "Hashem is a Man of war, Hashem is His Name"
Question: Why is it necessary to state, "Hashem is His Name",
for His Name is already mentioned in the first part of the posuk?
Answer: To teach us, answers Rashi, that even at the moment Hashem
is destroying His enemies, He retains His benevolence toward His creations, and
feeds them and cares for them.
A few pesukim later, this idea is repeated, as it says, "ימינך
ה' נאדרי בכח, ימינך ה' תרעץ אויב" – "Your right hand, Hashem, is crowned with
strength, Your right hand crushes the enemy" (ibid. 15:6). Rashi, in explaining
the apparent redundancy, says that the first ימינך refers to Hashem's saving of
the Bnei Yisroel, while the second ימינך refers to His destroying of Egypt.
In both the above examples, the fact that Hashem is carrying
out a punishment does not lessen His protective and supportative side. Rashi mentions
that in his opinion, the repetition of the "right hand" tells us that Hashem did
two opposite actions with one hand at the same time, something which is impossible
for earthly man to do. However, it still appears that we can learn from here how
to educate our students and children, for while Hashem had to deal with two opposite
elements in two different entities at one time, both those elements are found in
the one child.
Our lesson is, therefore, that whenever punishing a child, at
the same time one is trying to crush the negative influences affecting the child,
he should be cognizant of the second purpose of the punishment, which is to strengthen
the child's good side.
If a parent or teacher has this approach in mind when first contemplating
the punishment, it will save him from punishing out of anger, revenge, dissatisfaction,
a loss of hope, etc. This is punishment with purpose, where the interest to fortify
the child's strengths serves as the motivating force behind the punishment. In all
cases, the punishment should match the crime, taking the child's personal level
into account. In this way, the child will: (1) feel the punishment is fair, and
(2) feel the educator is looking out for his best interests. These two factors will
make the punishment an effective one.