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The Essential Component of Jewish Continuity

Child Abuse

By TorahLab

Abuse refers to the wrong use of an object. If I use my car properly, than I’ll drive according to the design of the vehicle; if I throw it into reverse while driving forward, I have not only misused but abused the car. It would follow that when it comes to children there are three levels – I use them, misuse them, or abuse them. I am not using the child for what he or she was intended.
Of course, the above discussion creates a strange impression. Is the highest level of behavior to “use” the child? The word “use” in this context doesn’t fit in with our concept of child-rearing. We love our children, we educate them, we discipline them, and we help them, and at times ask them for help. But certainly we never “use” a child. How do the terms “use” and “abuse” refer to children?
The term “use” indicates a basic historical fact. From the beginning of time, a child was considered a blessing for one major reason: economic survival. If a man had a farm that was the entire source of his sustenance chances are when he gets old he will become destitute. If he is wise enough and lucky enough to have a son who works for him, supports him and takes over his responsibilities, then he may survive to an old age. A son was a form of superannuation, a daughter less so, and therefore she would never generate the type of happiness that a son did.
In ancient times, even supposed men of God used their children, if not as hands on the farm, then as sacrifices to kill evil spirits, etc. Our father Abraham was tested to see whether he, like the pagans who surrounded him, was willing to give up a son for God. In fact, no Jew has ever been asked to do this.
I suggest that the reason for this initiative comes from a very basic principle. One feels an ownership of a child. He or she is mine – as is my automobile, my stereo, or whatever else I have acquired during my lifetime. What is mine is mine to use, misuse or abuse.
But – is my child mine, or is he or she only entrusted to me for a relatively short period of time? Do I have rights to my child, or obligations? To this the Torah presents a very clear answer – your child is not your child per se except in a limited biological sense. Your child belongs to himself or herself, and it’s my charge to give him, or her, a good start in life, physically, culturally and spiritually.
Reciprocally, the child has obligations to the parents – to give them honor and respect. Hence, in the parent-child relationship there are no rights, only obligations, and no one is entitled to anything.
There are in fact disciplinary measures that a parent must take at times to fulfill his or her obligation. They of course must be entirely child-centered and not parent centered; otherwise, their actions might be considered totally inappropriate.
Imagine that you are walking on the street with your child, and your child does the unthinkable, he runs in front of an automobile. You decide that the only appropriate disciplinary measure would be to slap your child on the hand. You proceed to do so. What if a passerby observes the event? This passerby was taught to help another human being. He comes over and begins to beat your child. He lends a helping hand.
How would we react to this act of kindness? As a parent, I can tell you that even the intervention of a grandparent is usually highly distressful; and indeed it should be. But why? Not because someone else is infringing upon my property, as if someone would use my toothbrush, but because I and only I know and love my child enough to discipline him. My objection must be child-centered, as must be my disciplinary measures. I have no right to discipline a child for personal reasons. Hence, if the person involved is a dedicated teacher who knows and loves my child as I do (a rare commodity) and who has the same obligation as I do to bring out all of my child’s potential, he too is entitled and in fact obligated halachically to discipline the child.
When a child is born, we don not congratulate the parents on acquiring an heir to the family business or for producing a kadishel. Instead we tell a parent their obligations: “Just as you have brought him to the bris, so too should bring him to the chupa and become an overall productive member of society.”
The Torah and the Jewish people have taught the world that we do not own our children. We are entrusted with them as a diamond polisher is entrusted with a diamond. We must bring out their brilliance. If the diamond had feelings, I presume it would be in pain at times; I mustn’t cause even the smallest scratch if not solely intended for the sake of the diamond – or, in our case our children. If our actions. Whatever they are, are self centered, then it is child abuse of the highest standard.
I have met many people who have some very strange ideas of parenting and education. It seems many of the terrible things people do to their children would cease if the focus was always the child and not the parent.
Let’s take an example from day to day life.
It is extremely important in all relationships that one relates as is appropriate to that relationship. If one seeks a mother in his wife, a friend in his boss, a father figure in his rabbi, etc., chaos sets in. there are enormous ramifications. One of the worst situations is when a child is not treated as a child. Because of loneliness or psychological need, people often use their children to satisfy their own psychological needs. My child becomes my friend, or even worse my child becomes my parent. I look to my child to give me therapy, make major decisions for me, and fight my battles. The child takes the place of a spouse or a parent. Amazingly, the child not only senses this obligation, but actually fills the rold as a spouse or parent. A complete role reversal could take place. When this happens, one is taking away the child’s parents.
This is not classical torture, it’s not beating; it’s changing the focus from child-oriented to self-oriented. This is an abuse of the relationship.
A more subtle example; we watch our children act and interact. Every once in a while they misbehave. For certain acts of misbehavior, although we know we should correct them, we seem to have endless patience. But there are certain acts of misdeed that touch a nerve – we go nuts. We scream, rant, rave, and worse – far beyond what is proper under the circumstances.
My theory is that a parent can accept almost anything except when the child starts acting like the parent. When the child picks up our inadequacies, we lose control. Perhaps the confirmation of our own inadequacies makes us lash out at our child, in a counterproductive fashion. Often, the child has no idea what is happening; in fact we are introducing our child to new weaknesses and worsening the situation.
This is another example of self-centered behavior. We are using our children as a mirror, and our anger is, of course, misplace. It is extreme abuse.
To return to my original point, if our purpose in having children is self-perpetuation and sustenance, we are living against the Torah.
In the Temple of Jerusalem, each artifact symbolized a different aspect of life. The Menorah was the symbol of education. The Menorah was lit by Aaron and his sons. The High Priest would hold the fire to the wick and light the Menorah. The Talmud says the light should not be held at the wick for too long or too short a time – just long enough to get the flame going on its own. This might seem obvious with kindling of a fire; it is less obvious in parenting and educating. Our task is to teach our children to keep his or her fire lit. I must maintain ignition only until the flames of my child can rise by themselves. At that moment I must leg go and let the child’s fire shine on its own. The igniter exists only for the sake of the flame and can demand nothing in return.

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