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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Traditional Jewish discipline

Daf Yomi Gittin 58


The twenty-first century approach to disciplining children eschews not only any form of corporal punishment, but even any manner of criticism whatsoever!   In today’s day and age, we are so concerned of, G-d forbid, damaging our child’s fragile sense of self-esteem, ruining them for life!    

But the truth is, the method of discipline of avoiding negativity has actually always been the Jewish way.  Our approach, however, allows you to criticize your child while at the same time building up their self-esteem!  How do you do that?

Rav Yeudah said in the name of Rav: It is related that the son and the daughter of Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, the High Priest, were carried off and sold into slavery to two different masters. A while later, the two masters met.  
One said, ‘I have a servant, the most beautiful in the world!’
The other said, ‘I have a maidservant, the most beautiful in the world!’
They said, ‘Let us marry them to one another and share the offspring.’

They put them in the same room. The boy sat in one corner and the girl in another.
He said, ‘I am a priest descended from High Priests.  Shall I marry a bondwoman?’
She said, ‘I am a priestess descended from High Priests.  Shall I marry a slave?’
So they each passed the night crying. When the day dawned they recognised one another and fell into one another’s embrace.  They filled themselves with tears until their souls departed.  Concerning them Jeremiah utters the lamentation, ‘For these I am weeping, my eye, my eye sheds a tear.’

Imagine these two youths placed in a room with no holds barred!  Even if they weren’t slaves, who could avoid such temptation?  Let alone given the fact that they were slaves and beholden to the will of their masters!  And yet they withstood the temptation and passed the Heavenly test.

What was the secret to their unbelievable ability to withstand the test of sinning with one another?  They said to themselves, ‘How could I? I am greatness, the child of greatness!  My father was the Kohen Gadol (High Priest)!  I am so much greater than the temptation before my eyes!’

Where did they get such an attitude from?  No doubt, that was the message they heard constantly from their parents.   The first time they were caught smoking behind the Temple walls, Rabbi Yishmael called them over.  He didn’t slap them across the face and admonish them for their actions.  No, he said to them, ‘My beautiful child!  You are a High Priest!  You are an amazing neshomo (soul)!  Es passt nisht – it’s unbecoming – for a child of your stature to act like that!

And that’s the age-old method of Jewish discipline.  The Yiddish aphorism ‘Es passt nisht’ sums up how we have dealt with our children since time immemorial, always building their self-esteem and bringing out the best in them.  Negativity breeds negativity.  Positivity breeds positivity.  And when you tell them how special they are and what a special family they come from, you empower them to make the right choices for themselves – without ever having to chastise, criticise or exercise your parental power.

It’s not only about our children.  It’s about ourselves and the decisions we make in life.  If you would only realize how awesome you truly are, you would always make the right decisions in life!  You are a child of the Almighty!  He is your Father!  He is the King and you are the prince or princess! 

So next time you are faced with a challenge, a fork in the road, the choice of whether or not to follow your temptations, remember: Es passt nisht.  Is such behaviour becoming of a princess?  Would a prince act like that?  You are so much greater than the temptation before your eyes!  It would be silly to give in!


You may look like a regular human being.  But in reality, you are a child of the Almighty!  May you never give in to the temptation of behaviour that es passt nisht for a prince or princess!