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Thursday, 27 November 2014

Tough loving your kids

Daf Yomi Yevamos 53

The Children of Israel were ready to enter the Promised Land.  They had requested free passage via Transjordan to enter Canaan, but instead, the inhabitants of those countries attacked them.  Victorious in the battle, the Israelites now had the additional dominion over the East Bank of the Jordan River.  

The tribes of Reuben and Gad approached Moses with a request: “The land that G-d smote before the assembly of Israel is a land for livestock and your servants have livestock.  If we should find favour in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants to possess.  Let us not pass over the Jordan.”

After discussing the matter with them and realizing that they were not seeking to avoid joining their brethren in the arduous task of conquering the land, Moses replied, “If you indeed arm yourselves before G-d for the battle and every armed man among you will cross the Jordan before G-d until He drives out His enemies before Him . . . this land shall be a heritage for you before G-d.  But if you do not do so, behold, you will have sinned to G-d; know that your sin will encounter you.”

The Beraisa states: If one performed chalitzah (annulment of the levirate marriage) with his brother’s widow and then went back and married her, Rebbe says that if he betrothed her for the sake of matrimony, they would need a gett to divorce, but if he intended to effect a levirate marriage (yibum), they would not need a gett.   But the Sages say, whether he betrothed her for the sake of matrimony or he betrothed her for the sake of yibum, she needs a gett from him.

Ravina teaches: This dispute is founded on the question of condition-making in chalitzah.  Everyone agrees that one may enact stipulations to condition the chalitzah.   For example, Rashi suggests, he annulled the levirate marriage on condition that she would give him two hundred zuz.  However, they are debating whether one needs a doubled condition.  One teacher, Rebbe, holds that we require a doubled condition, while the other teacher, the Sages, hold that we do not need a doubled condition.  

Rashi explains: The prototype of condition-making is found in the Torah in the story of the Gadites and Reubenites.  Moses said to them, “If you indeed arm yourselves . . . but if you do not . . .” which suggests that, in order to be effective, a stipulation must be made in the positive and reinforced in the negative.   In our case, according to Rebbe, the man must say, ‘If you give the money, the chalitzah shall take effect, but if you do not, it shall not.’
It’s not easy disciplining children in the twenty-first century.  As parents, we try all sorts of approaches to positive reinforcement.  But the Torah teaches that if you want the stipulation to be effective, sometimes you also need to balance it out with a potential ‘negative’ reinforcement.

Let’s say, for example, your child has lost focus with their schoolwork.  So you tell them, ‘If you do well this year in school, I will buy you an IPad.’  Great incentive, right?  It’s certainly helpful, but it’s not sufficient.   At the end of the day, as much as the kid wants the IPad, he hasn’t had it until now and so he could live without it. 

Let’s try the following: ‘If you do well this year in school, I will buy you an IPad.  But if you don’t do well, I will take the TV out of your room.’  Now, the child has both an incentive to do well and a disincentive to poor performance.  Instead of promising them something they don’t currently have that they could live without, you are threatening to remove a luxury from their life that they have become accustomed to.  You have both positive and negative stipulations and hence, reinforcement.

Let’s be clear: Good parenting doesn’t mean punishment for punishment’s sake.  The ‘punishment’ must fit the ‘crime.’  In this situation, you are not removing the TV in order to be a mean, strict parent.  Rather, you are suggesting that you might have to remove an impediment to their educational success.  Clearly, poor performance in school indicates the child is being distracted by other stimulants, such as the TV.

When it comes to marrying Jewish, we hope and pray that our children will make the right decisions based on the values with which we have brought them up.  But in today’s day and age, we can’t always count on that as a given.  I know people who have incentivized intra-marriage and dis-incentivized intermarriage for their children.  As they near marrying age, they are told, ‘If you marry Jewish, we will help you with a down-payment on a home.  But if you do not, you will be removed from the will.’ 

It sounds pretty harsh, right?  But again, if we think about what they’re saying, it makes sense.    They are not looking to punish their children inordinately.  The message they are trying to convey is this: If you marry Jewish, we want to become your partners in building a Jewish home.  Eventually, we want to bequeath money to help you provide your children and grandchildren with a good Jewish education and to bolster your Jewish lifestyle.  If you choose not to marry Jewish, we will still love you.  However, we are not interested in investing in that.  Even after our lifetime, we want our money to go to spiritual causes. 


It’s not easy to be a parent.  Sometimes it takes tough love.  It takes incentives and dis-incentives.  Figuring out the right conditions that correspond to the choices your child is making isn’t easy.  But when you do, you will find that they will begin to understand what is truly important and valuable to you in life!