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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Shemos

How to Punish Children

And Moshe responded and said, But they will not believe me, nor will they hearken unto my voice; for they will say, The L-rd did not appear to you.
(SHEMOS 4:1)

When the Menashvikim (Whites) ruled Russia after the First World War, it was the first time after a long period of oppression that the Jews enjoyed freedom. It was an especially successful period for those Jews who were in the diamond and jewelry businesses, and they became very rich.

Every morning Moshe Friedman would be in his office at the diamond exchange at eight o'clock, and he would be busy dealing the whole day. One particular morning, Moshe intended to arrive at his office early. He carried his valise, which was full of diamonds and jewelry, as usual.

On his way to the office he heard shouting. He turned and saw someone standing in the doorway of a small synagogue, seeking a tenth man for a minyan. Moshe realized that he had some spare time, and so he entered the synagogue to complete the minyan. When he entered he found that there were only three people besides himself and the one outside searching for more people to make up the minyan.

"What's going on?" Moshe Friedman asked. "I am not the tenth, I am the fifth. It will take all morning to find ten people!"

"Don't worry," he replied. "Many Jews pass by this street every morning." Moshe reciting Tehillim. During the next ten minutes, they found one more person. Moshe got up to leave.

The man begged, "Listen, today is the yahrzeit of my father and I have to say Kaddish. Please stay. I am doing the best I can to organize the minyan quickly." "I cannot stay any longer," Moshe replied. "I must be in my office at eight o'clock, and it is already eight o'clock."

The man replied sternly, "Listen, I am not letting you out. I have a yahrzeit and I must say Kaddish. The moment we have ten, we shall pray and then you can go."

Moshe did not want to anger him any more, and reluctantly returned to saying Tehillim. Another ten minutes went by and the organizer succeeded in getting another two people.

Once again Moshe started to leave. This time the man pointed at Moshe and said, "Listen now! If you would have a yahrzeit for your father, you would want me to remain, right? And I would have remained. Now I am only asking you to do the same for me."

Upon hearing that Moshe agreed, and he resigned himself to the fact that part of the morning would be wasted. At about eight-thirty the tenth man arrived and they began to pray. Moshe thought that the man would learn a mishnah and say Kaddish. But instead, he started praying from the very beginning of the prayers. Moshe looked at his watch and realized that at this rate, he would arrive at his office very late indeed.

Several times Moshe looked around him to see if perhaps someone else had arrived to pray so that he could leave and there would still be a minyan without him, but no one arrived. When the prayers were finally over, the man thanked everyone profusely, and served cake and drinks before he let them leave.

Moshe started on his way, carrying his valise which was full of jewelry. When he was just two buildings away from his office, a man he knew ran towards him waving his hands frantically. "Quick, get out of here!" he screamed at Moshe wildly.

"The Bolsheviks (communists) have taken over the government. Several came and murdered Jews in the diamond exchange, and now they are gathering the spoils there. Run and escape!" he concluded.

Moshe immediately ran away, hiding for several days until he found a way to escape from Russia. Many times during those first days he considered what would have happened to him had he left the minyan early.

Moshe Friedman thought while he was at the minyan that he was wasting his time, but in the end he found out that it was really the best place he could have been. We must learn to punish our children effectively while transmitting the message that the punishment is for their own good.

"And they will not believe me."(1) Resh Lakish said, "Someone who is suspicious of others will be punished in his body. From where do we learn this? From Moshe, as it is written, 'And they will not believe me.' Contrary to what Moshe had said, G-d knew that they were believers. Therefore G-d said to Moshe, 'They are believers and the sons of believers. But you are the one who in the end will not believe.'"

Where do we find that the Jewish people are called believers? It is written, "And the nation believed."(2) Where do we find that they are the sons of believers? It is written, "And he [Avraham] believed in G-d."(3)

"But you are the one who in the end will not believe, as it is written, "Because you have not believed in me."(4)

From where do we know that Moshe was punished in his body? As it is written, "Please put your hand into your bosom [and his hand became leprous]."(5)

Rava said, "A measure of good is quicker to arrive from G-d than a measure of punishment. Regarding a measure of punishment, it is written, 'And he took it out and behold his hand was leprous.'(6) But regarding a measure of good it is written, 'And he took it out of his bosom and behold it had returned to normal flesh.' The moment he took his hand out it had returned to normal." [When Moshe became leprous the words "of his bosom" are not mentioned. This implies that the leprosy did not occur immediately, but rather through a gradual process. But when the verse speaks of the healing of Moshe's hand, the words "of his bosom" are mentioned, which signifies that his hand was immediately and miraculously healed the moment it left his bosom.]

"And the staff of Aharon swallowed their staffs."(7) Rabbi Eliezer said, "It was a miracle within a miracle."

G-d said to Moshe, "Are you speaking lashon hara about my sons? Just as when the snake spoke lashon hara I punished him with leprosy, so you too will 'put your hand into your bosom.'"

"And if they will not believe the first sign, then you shall take from the water [of the Nile and turn it into blood]."(8) G-d hinted to Moshe that he would eventually sin through water, as it is written, "And from this stone."(9)[Moshe eventually sinned when he was told to speak to the stone to extract water from it, and instead he hit the stone and was punished by having to die in the desert. Moshe received a hint of this in the verse that talks of the plague of the Nile becoming blood. It is as if G-d is saying to Moshe, "If you will not listen to the first sign of obeying My command, which is to speak to the stone, then you will be punished through the water."]

"And he threw it downwards and it became a snake."10 G-d said to Moshe, "Just as the snake is crooked [for it curls up and is not straight], so will Pharaoh be crooked with you [promise to let you free and then break his promise]." That is what is meant by, "He tells from the beginning what shall be in the end."(11) [G-d knows the future and therefore He knew that Pharaoh would not listen to any of the signs and would not willingly free the Jewish people.]

G-d said to Moshe, "These two signs, the snake and the leprosy, one shall be for Me, and one shall be for you. 'And the nation spoke of G-d and Moshe. . . and G-d sent the snakes among the nation.'(12) And he who speaks about you will be smitten with leprosy. 'And behold Miriam was leprous as snow.'"(13)
(YALKUT 172, par. "Velokei")

Why is someone who is unjustly suspicious of others punished bodily? Why was Moshe punished with a lack of belief? How do we know that Moshe was punished in his body, when the leprous hand was to be used as a sign to show Pharaoh? Why is a measure of good quicker to arrive from G-d than a measure of punishment? What is meant by Aharon's staff swallowing the Egyptians' staffs being a miracle within a miracle? Why is leprosy the punishment for speaking lashon hara? Why was Moshe given a hint in the first plague that he would eventually be punished? What is the significance of the fact that Pharaoh would act crookedly? Why does G-d differentiate the signs of speaking lashon hara: one for speaking about G-d, and one for speaking about Moshe?

Punishment for Suspecting Others

Someone who is suspicious of others will be punished in his body.
G-d said to Moshe, "They are believers and the sons of believers. But you are the one who in the end will not believe."

The reason someone who is unjustly suspicious of others receives bodily punishment may be that the way a person judges others shows his own inner character. If a person is kind-hearted, generous and full of honesty and love, he will naturally think the same of others. He cannot imagine that people will be cruel and dishonest, since such characteristics are far from his own. On the other hand, our Sages say that he who finds a blemish in others will discover his own personal blemish.(14) Here again the reasoning is that since his personal blemish is always in his mind, he imagines that others have this blemish too.

If a person is unjustly suspicious of others, it is a clear sign that he himself has some evil within him, and thus he thinks that others are similar to him. To cure such evil within him harsh measures are necessary. Bodily punishment is a harsh punishment since it is truly painful. In educating children, physical punishment should be used only as a last resort.

Since Moshe had stumbled in suspecting the Jewish people of disbelief, his punishment was that he himself sinned and was found to be lacking in belief. Our Sages say, "Correct yourself first, and then correct others."(15) This means that a person should not give criticism in an area where he himself has a failing.

When a person sets an example of generosity, he is then in a position to preach to others to give donations. But if he himself is stingy, his sermons will have no validity, since he is not speaking from the heart. Here Moshe was being shown that he had no right to criticize the Jewish people when he himself needed strengthening in that very area.

If There Is Suffering There Is a Reason

Moshe was punished in his body, as it is written, "Please put your hand into your bosom [and his hand became leprous]."
A measure of good is quicker to arrive from G-d than a measure of punishment.
"And the staff of Aharon swallowed their staffs." Rabbi Eliezer said, "It was a miracle within a miracle."

Although the leprous hand was used as a sign to show to Pharaoh, other signs could have been used just as well. This particular sign was a cause of pain and aggravation to Moshe. Although it lasted for only a very short time, it represented real suffering. G-d does not cause anyone pain unless the person deserves it. If Moshe experienced even the slightest suffering, it was a clear sign that he had done something wrong.

Our Sages say that a measure of good from G-d is five hundred times larger than a measure of bad.(16) This teaches us how great is G-d's desire to give us all the good possible in our lives and in the hereafter. He is the very Source of chesed and wishes to bestow that chesed upon us, but we must be worthy in order to receive it. When we are worthy, then G-d abundantly rewards us with good, since this is His real wish for us. That is what our Sages meant when they said that the measure of good is quicker to arrive.

Aharon's staff swallowing the staffs of the Egyptians was a miracle within a miracle. The Egyptians were also capable of turning snakes into staffs. But their snakes came only from the power of sorcery or ko'ach hatum'ah (the spirit of impurity). This is the power that G-d gives to the evil sources in the world so that people will have the freedom of choice whether to believe in G-d or in these powers. But these powers are limited, since they do not represent G-d's real will, and thus the snakes of the Egyptians did not have the power to be as aggressive as a real snake would be. But because Aharon's snake came from the word of G-d and His will, it had no limitations, and therefore his snake could easily swallow others, which was a miracle within a miracle.

Leprosy and Lashon Hara

"Just as when the snake spoke lashon hara I punished him with leprosy, so you too will 'put your hand into your bosom.'"
G-d hinted to Moshe that he would eventually sin through water...
"Just as the snake is crooked, so will Pharaoh be crooked with you..."
G-d said to Moshe, "These two signs, the snake and the leprosy, one shall be for Me, and one shall be for you."

Why is leprosy an appropriate punishment for speaking lashon hara? The plight of one who has leprosy is that he must dwell "alone . . . outside of the camp."(17) In addition, he must constantly proclaim his leprosy, as the verse says, "'Unclean, unclean' he shall proclaim."(18) This punishment appropriately represents the damage caused by speaking lashon hara. When someone speaks lashon hara he creates division and discord among friends, relatives and fellow workers. Leprosy is a fitting punishment for this, since through it he himself is divided and separated from others, preventing his vicious tongue from causing any further damage. His approach must be announced, so that people can take precautions to avoid him.

Moshe was greatly loved by G-d, as the verse says, "In all My house is he faithful."(19) Therefore G-d did not want Moshe to stumble and sin by hitting the stone instead of speaking to it. On the other hand, every human being is given free will to make his own choices. What G-d did was to warn Moshe at an early stage that he had this problem of potential lack of belief, and he should guard himself against it in order to avoid punishment.

The significance of Moshe being told that Pharaoh would become crooked was that G-d wanted to let Moshe know that his task of freeing the Jewish people would be a difficult one, since Pharaoh would consistently promise and then break his promises. This foreknowledge helped Moshe to have the patience he would need to deal with Pharaoh.

The significance of the two separate signs for speaking lashon hara against G-d and about Moshe is, as mentioned above in the midrash, that the snake represents crookedness. Someone who speaks against G-d is lacking in simple common sense and has a crooked understanding of what is going on in the world and Who is in charge. Such a person is punished by the snake, to show how crooked his thinking is. But someone who speaks against Moshe causes great social harm, since he is speaking about a fellow human being. For him the punishment must be leprosy, since it serves to separate the dangerous individual from the rest of society.

Should We Hit Our Children?

From this parasha we see that Moshe was punished physically for his being suspicious of the faith of the Jewish People. The question that parents often raise is whether or not they should hit a child, or whether such punishment should be left up to G-d.

A famous educator, Rabbi Meir Munk, writes in his book Sechar Vaonesh BeChinuch, that those who advocate physical punishment bring proof from the verse that says, "He who holds back his staff hates his son."(20) But he points out that the end of the same verse seems to say the opposite, as it is written, "And he who loves him, gives him preaching." The answer he gives is that the staff should be ready for use, but in reality, preaching should be used to educate the child. In other words, the child has to feel that his parents are willing to hit him if he crosses the border of acceptable behavior. He should never feel like a "sacred cow," assuming that his parents will never touch him. But on the other hand, constantly hitting our children shows very weak discipline. The threat should be enough, and the action should be something very rare indeed.

Rabbi Munk goes on to say that the "staff" of punishment does not have to be a physical staff. It can be an expression on a parent's face. The parent can show in his expression great dissatisfaction over their child's actions. Their faces can show hurt and disappointment. This is similar to a staff, since it is performing the same function.

Encourage Good Behavior

You should also use facial expressions to praise your child. When he does something good, give him a big smile so that he will know how happy you are. This is important encouragement, since the child constantly looks at his parents to see their reactions, and when these reactions are positive, he is encouraged to repeat his good behavior.

If parents strike their children constantly, this method of punishment loses its effect. The child gets used to being treated this way and it means nothing to him. He knows that part of his daily regimen is getting a slap or two. That is not education at all.

We should always remember that punishment is not education, but rather a means to wake the child up, after which you must start educating. The child does not learn from his punishment what to do. He must be told and trained what to do. The punishment is like the alarm bell that tells the child that something is wrong. But after the alarm bell rings, it is necessary to work to correct the problem that first set off the bell.

Punishment Is Vital for Success

Rabbi Yechiel Yaakovson, a renowned educator, said that punishment gives the child self-confidence.(21) When the child is never punished he feels guilty inside. He knows that he does things that are wrong, and yet there is no reaction on the part of his parents. Once he is punished he feels that he is "clean" and now he can go on happily and live his life. Without the punishment he walks around feeling uncomfortable and is afraid to do anything, since he may add to his guilt.

Rabbi Yaakovson goes on to relate an interesting anecdote. When he was one of the directors of a boarding school for children with problems, he was confronted in the hall leading to the dining room by a husky boy. The boy was with two friends and they were blocking the path and daring Rabbi Yaakovson to pass by.

"How can I pass by if you are blocking the path? Do you expect me to go on a diet so quickly?" asked Rabbi Yaakovson.

The husky boy said, "I want to see who is stronger."

"Does that mean that you want a slap?" asked Rabbi Yaakovson.

The boy answered, "Yeh!"

At that moment Rabbi Yaakovson reached out and slapped the boy with such strength that he fell to the ground. From then on the boy became a fervent fan of his, and would do anything he asked. Rabbi Yaakovson later found out that the child had old parents who were unable to discipline him. The boy needed to feel that someone was willing to go all the way to educate him, and he had never had that experience. Once he received it from Rabbi Yaakovson, he became a different person.

This may be an extreme example, but it demonstrates our point. A child needs to feel that he is in powerfully strong hands. This gives him the self-confidence that he needs to succeed in life.

There Is No Love Without Guidance

Once Rabbi Yaakovson spoke to a boy who claimed that his parents did not love him. "How do you know this? Did they deprive you of anything?" asked Rabbi Yaakovson. "On the contrary," answered the boy. "There is not a thing that they would not buy me. My every wish is satisfied."

"So how can you possibly say that they do not love you?" the Rabbi asked. "They buy me everything I want so that I won't bother them and will keep quiet. But they never reprimand me!" replied the boy.

Here is a clear lesson of what love means to a child. It means that his parents are guiding him and telling him what to do and how to live. Loving a child does not mean giving him everything in the store. It means teaching him to love Torah and mitzvos. It means giving him the gifts of self- restraint, manners and respect for his elders. The child may not know how to say these things in words, but this need is definitely in his heart.

Strong parents who are willing to hit their children on those rare occasions when it is truly necessary, and who consistently show appreciation for good deeds and dissatisfaction at wrong actions, are giving their children the start they need to be successful in life.

1. Shemos 4:1
2. Ibid. 4:31
3. Bereshis 15:6
4. Bamidbar 20:12
5. Shemos 4:6
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid. 7:12
8. Ibid. 4:8
9. Bamidbar 20:8
10. Shemos 4:3
11. Yeshayahu 46:10
12. Bamidbar 21:5
13. Ibid. 12:10
14. Kiddushin 70a
15. Bava Metziya 107b
16. Rashi, Shemos 34:7
17. Bamidbar 14:46
18. Ibid. 14:45
19. Shemos 12:7
20. Mishlei 13:24
21. see Tape no. 8.

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