-- Chapter from Timeless Parenting -- The Art of Reproof / Rabbi Hillel Belsky Chapter from Timeless Parenting -- The Art of Reproof / Rabbi Hillel Belsky
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  Chapter 17 from
Timeless Parenting
Raising children in troubled times - understanding, coping, succeeding

By Rabbi Nisson Wolpin 

Other Available Chapters
Introduction - The Family / Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner 

The Art of Reproof / Rabbi Hillel Belsky

Who Is Capable of Reproof?

As a longtime reader of The Jewish Observer, I have been treated to an ongoing series of articles that endeavor to define the weaknesses of the Orthodox community. Certainly, nothing described in these articles is inaccurate; yet I am invariably left with a profound sense of sadness after each attempt to again explore where precisely we are failing. And each time I feel the urge to defend.

Any attempt to communicate to the public where they have failed puts us into a relationship of tochachah (reproof) -- the writer as the mochiach (accuser) and the reader, hopefully, as a mekabel tochachah (recipient of corrective advice). Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner offered clarification of the Talmudic statement that in the time of Rabbi Tarfon the era of mochichim (those capable of reproof) had come to an end (Eruchin 16b). He explained that the mitzvah of tochachah requires that the mekabel not be left with a sense of hopelessness, yai’ush; rather, that he be able to accept the criticism and still preserve an optimism about his avodas Hashem.

I am reminded of a conversation that I had some years ago with a prominent member of the Eidah Hachareidis in Yerushalayim. “After the Six Day War there was a tremendous hisorerus leteshuvah (inspiration to return to Torah),” he remarked, “whereas after the Yom Kippur War, there was not. Do you know why?” he asked me. “It is because we won the Six Day War dramatically and the Yom Kippur War we did not. The problem is that we no longer understand a potch.”

At first I was taken aback by his remark, but then I realized that his comment merely illustrated what I believe Rabbi Hutner had meant, and what I am sure Rabbi Avraham Pam had intended to convey in an article published in The Jewish Observer some years ago (See “Between Parents and Sons”, p. 118).

Rabbi Pam told of a talmid who was doing poorly. His father had come to speak to the Rebbi and received the less-than-glorious report. The father asked to see his son, and told him that the Rebbi said he was doing very well, but that with a little more effort he could really excel. This child, reported Rabbi Pam, grew to be an outstanding talmid chacham. The reproof was cushioned in love and encouragement. The boy was not brow-beaten. He was lifted up and then challenged, and he responded.

So too did Klal Yisrael respond to the events of the Six Day War, but not to the Yom Kippur war.

In Pursuit of -- What? -- and Why?

We live in very difficult times. There is much emphasis on materialism and there is much emphasis on our emphasis on materialism. I am not sure that, as has been postulated many times, the alien culture is entirely to blame. I am not sure that redifas hamamon (as it is called in these pages) is because of the goyim. It seems as though one must be rodeif mamon to hold his head up in the frum community. Tuition, tzedakah for mosdos all over the world, support for children in Kollelim, kein yirbu (not to speak of “getting a good shidduch”), hiddur mitzvah, simchos (yes, even the minimum), housing in cities that are Torah centers -- these all make it impossible not to be overly conscious of money. This is only one of the challenges with which we struggle.

Every frum home today is, in some measure, wrestling with the impact of the feminist movement on the women of our community. (Rabbi Hutner wrote in his introduction to Sefer Mitzvas Habayis that any movement that envelops a generation will affect everyone, regardless of his or her efforts to resist it.) A secular, professional woman whom I know was invited to a simchah attended by over three hundred very frum women. She had not seen any frum women since dimly remembered memories of her aged grandmother’s era. She commented that these women were not “traditional women,” but rather women who on some level had struggled with integration into broader society. For instance, they were multitalented, represented myriad jobs and professions, were articulate, and current with contemporary styles, in addition to their expertise at homemaking and childrearing.

Yes, we are wrestling with the problems of the culture, but materialism is not the worst of them. We are facing an unprecedented divorce rate, with its breakdown of families. We live in a world that is not immune to abuse, alcoholism, drugs and other ripples from the host culture. And within all this, our men and women are attempting to create a Torah life, a Torah environment for the children. In spite of the pressures of the tirdos hazman u’mikreihem (the pressures and distractions of contemporary society) and the effects of the frequent economic necessity for two incomes (with the dual set of demands on the wife/mother, and the dual set of demands on the husband/father to earn and learn), they are striving to offer their children the best chinuch (education), the best sevivah (environment), and the best examples that they can make of themselves. All this is usually taking place without their having witnessed firsthand the implementation of the lifestyle they are seeking to create, for the parents of today’s bnei Torah were by and large baalei battim -- pillars of their communities, perhaps, but far more integrated than we are trying to be.

At some level we are all the child in Rabbi Pam’s story. When a child feels that he has failed, he continues to fail. Only the hope of success motivates and challenges a child to succeed. I feel that instead of focusing on where we are guilty, we need to provide chizuk for our beleaguered families. We must stop suggesting that our problems stem from the self-indulgent parents that we are. In answer to “Where are the parents?” I would say that, for the most part, the readership of The Jewish Observer is out there trying to survive and to meet economic commitments that have become the standardized membership dues in a contemporary frum society. And even if we have strayed, I believe we need to acknowledge the pressures on the young families. Perhaps by offering them chizuk, we will free them to recognize areas in which they can rise above their own limitations.

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