Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman, Mashgiach in Yeshiva Ohr HaChaim in Queens, NY, and a personal rebbe, related that at a Torah Umesorah Convention he attended some years ago, he was privileged to hear a lecture from Rav Shimon Schwab, zt”l on the topic of educating children. Rav Schwab mentioned that he felt that a parent should give an occasional potch to their child when necessary, to demonstrate disapproval. He added that the point of the potch is not to hurt; in fact once it does so it may defeat the purpose. Rather it is for the child to see that his behavior needs to be corrected.
[It must be noted that Rav Schwab strongly opposed ever embarrassing a child. He insisted that the misbehaving child be (respectfully) separated from his peers before the “potch” is administered.]
Rabbi Finkelman then noted that shortly after hearing that lecture he was preparing a lecture of his own in his home office with limited time, when his young son decided to play “Ocean Parkway” with his little Matchbox cars on the floor of the office. Rabbi Finkelman gently explained to his son that the noise of his playing with all the little cars driving (and probably honking and double parking) was disturbing. His son ignored him and continued playing. Remembering Rav Schwab’s advice, Rabbi Finkelman walked over to his son and softly but firmly said “I told you that it was disturbing and you didn’t listen, so now I have to give you a potch,” whereupon he took his hand and gave him a soft potch.
The boy’s immediate response was almost to be expected: “Didn’t even hurt!” Rabbi Finkelman replied, “It wasn’t supposed to hurt. I just wanted you to know how bothered I am by your disrespectful behavior.” A minute later the young son picked up all of his cars and quietly moved Ocean Parkway into the other room.
The laws of the Three Weeks, particularly of the Nine Days, are somewhat austere and restricting. However, sometimes people will comment that “it’s not such a big deal.” They like milchigs better anyway, they don’t really like swimming, their clothes feel dirty five minutes after they put them on during the summer anyway, and they like a good cold shower.
The point of the laws, and all of halacha generally, is not to “hurt” or “punish”us. During this time period it behooves us to focus on the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, and all of our national losses, and halacha abets that process by helping us maintain that focus. (This surely does not mean that it is within our purview to decide whether those halachos are necessary. We are obliged to follow the laws whether we agree with them or not, but it is helpful to realize that there is an underlying goal and direction to it all.) Similarly, the laws of the Yomim Noraim and Yom Kippur help us maintain our focus on our primary avodah during those days—of teshuvah and cheshbon hanefesh.
There is no question that at times it can be arduous and cumbersome to keep some of these halachos. But halacha serves as a guide to help us achieve the underlying purpose of every time period, and of every day of our lives.
This year we have a Tisha B’av of the future—a Tisha B’av when we eat meat, drink wine and sing zemiros in a state of Shabbos joy. Here again halacha dictates our behavior. On the actual day of Tisha B’av the intense laws of mourning are deferred in honor of the holy Shabbos.
We wait and pray for the day when Tisha B’av will be a Yom Tov in its own right, and always have the spirit of Shabbos, even during the week. Perhaps we will merit it this coming Sunday.
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead. He is also fifth-grade Rebbe and Guidance Counselor in ASHAR in Monsey, Principal of Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, NY and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. Rabbi Staum offers parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love & Logic Program. He can be reached at [email protected] His website is www.stamtorah.info.
By Rabbi Dani Staum