Causing a Relative to Suffer

Q: I enjoy Hamodia immensely, including your column. However, today’s (October 22, ’12) question and your answer really disturbed me. The mother wrote that the father “kept repeating” how thirsty he was until the daughter “had rachmanus” and finally brought him a drink. Where is the chinuch in this house? Where is the kibbud av? Did the daughter have to wait until the father repeatedly said he was thirsty? Why didn’t she run and get him a drink immediately, or even before he asked? If the daughter didn’t understand this on her own, why didn’t the mother tell the daughter to get him a drink right away or even get him a drink herself?

I am not condoning the father’s outburst; optimally no one should get angry or yell. But maybe the father was reacting to the fact that he had to wait so long and then have it spill on him. I think that before you assume that the father is an abusive person, you should take the entire scenario into account and answer accordingly.

A: I wholeheartedly agree that the entire scenario should be taken into account. So let us revisit the original letter. The mother wrote that her family “came home after having been out for a couple of hours.” Then her “husband slumped down in a recliner, sighing, ‘Oy, I’m dying of thirst!’”

There was no indication here that this was a Hatzolahcall. Presumably, therefore, all family members had equal access to the seltzer. Or, to put it more bluntly, according to the Shulchan Aruch, a man may pour himself a drink if he is thirsty.

Surely nothing is more gratifying to a human being than to have one’s needs met without even having to express them. This level of indulgence is something which we may receive from our parents when we are infants. We may also receive it from Hakadosh Baruch Hu if we are worthy. As it is written, “[Even] before they call [to Me in tefillah] I will answer [them]” (Yeshayahu 65:24). We cannot, however, expect our spouses or our children to “understand on their own” when we are thirsty.

If you define kibbud av as requiring children to anticipate all their parents’ needs, then you are equating children with personal servants. If so, then unfortunately, you are not alone. And that misconception of the mitzvah has led to much unnecessary strife and heartache, which has alienated many parents from their children.

According to the Shulchan Aruch, however, “It is forbidden for a man to burden his children and to be exacting with them regarding his honor, so that he not cause them to falter” (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:19).

Furthermore, it is written in Sefer Habris (Vol. II, Section 13, Chap. 16), “There are people who… cause their children to suffer. And they say there is nothing wrong with this because my children belong to me… and they are bound by the Torah to be subjugated to me. And anything I want I have Heavenly permission to do to them, as it says, ‘Honor your father and mother…’

“Actually, such statements are irrational and not substantiated by the Torah. For example, why should children not be included in the requirement of ‘Do not hate your fellow Jew’? (Vayikra 19:17). And why should they not be included in ‘You shall love your fellow Jew as yourself’? (Vayikra 19:18). However, just like regarding [the mitzvah of] tzedakah, whoever is a closer relative should be given preference, similarly regarding [the mitzvos pertaining to] hatred and love, there is a greater punishment for one who causes a relative to suffer than for one who causes an unrelated person to suffer. And one who needlessly hurts his children will pay dearly [for this transgression] in the future.”

Returning to the original letter, the mother wrote that her daughter “went to the kitchen and poured him a glass of cold seltzer. She hurried back to the living room with his drink, held it out to him — and accidentally spilled some of it on his pants. At that point, my husband blew up.”

As the father was so ungrateful and so completely overreacted to his daughter’s accident by berating her in front of other family members, therefore, his actions could only be categorized as emotionally abusive.

Finally, you might be interested to read the following letter which I received from another reader:

Thank you for your wonderful column of which I am an avid reader. I usually find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with your responses. Your reply to the incident in which a father verbally abused his daughter and the mother excused her husband’s behavior was, in my opinion, really on target. However, I feel there is one crucial factor that you omitted. It seems quite probable that this mother is also a victim of her husband’s abusive behavior which she isn’t aware of or acknowledging or dealing with. And THAT is the crux of this issue.


 

The opinions expressed in this article reflect the view of the author. In all matters of halachah and hashkafah, readers should consult their Rav.


 

Hamodia invites readers who are confronted with parenting dilemmas to seek advice from the noted psychotherapist, family counselor, and author Dr. Meir Wikler. To assure anonymity, there is no need to sign your letter, although doing so will enable us to communicate with you privately if necessary. Do your best to present the situation honestly, including all relevant details such as the age of the child(ren).
Fax your question to 718-853-9103; send it to partnersinparenting@hamodia.com; or mail it to Dr. Wikler c/o Hamodia, 207 Foster Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11230. We regret that, due to space constraints, we will not be able to print all letters.