April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

It was just another day in the beginning of the year for the fifth grade class, just another day for everyone except Avi. Avi still remembers that day 30 years later. The rebbi brought the class to the school library to show them various sefarim, including a Shas. As the rebbi was reading off the names of the Masechtot, a few of Avi’s classmates began to giggle when hearing the names “Bava Kama, Bava Metzia, Bava Batra.” During recess, one of the boys walked over to Avi with two other boys and told him that they were now going to call him “Bubba.” Avi was tormented by that name for the next four months of school. To this day, Avi questions the leadership present in his school at the time. His parents were told that Avi needed to “toughen up” and not be so sensitive. In comparison, the educators of our generation deserve a lot of credit. Granted, the term may be misused in some cases, but “bullying” is a real issue that many of our schools have been dealing with in a very serious fashion.

Most of us were told by our parents when we were teased as children in school that “sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never harm me.” Our parents meant well. They were trying to protect us from children’s harmful words and preserve our own self-esteem. Most therapists today would suggest that a parent is better off helping the child by connecting to him emotionally, rather than trying to solve the child’s problem and assuage his feelings. The more a child is able to experience his feelings of hurt and have a parent or adult validate those feelings, the more likely the child will leave the experience less scarred and with a stronger sense of self. We are taught in Parshat Behar that the “sticks and stones” slogan may be counter to the Torah approach, which is that “words can harm me, and you as well!”

We are commanded to steer clear of “ona’at mamon,” and “ona’at devarim,” paining someone through money, and causing pain through words. The Gemara in Masechet Bava Metzia teaches that the negative impact of words can be more painful than that of money. When it comes to money, one can repay that which he may have cheated, but the hurt that words cause cannot be repaid. Rav Eliezer Mimitz zt”l, in his “Sefer Yireyim,” takes the concept of ona’at devarim one step further. He explains that one can violate the prohibition by making a disapproving face or eye gesture at another person. Rav Eliezer continues to explain that when an item is broken, it generally can be fixed or replaced, yet when a heart is broken, there is no remedy.

The appearance of this negative commandment serves as a reminder to us of the need to focus on modeling for the next generation the importance of sensitivity to the feelings of others. Too often we excuse teasing by children as behavior that is “normal.” “Normal” is a relative term. Inevitably we have to ask ourselves where children learn inappropriate behavior. If we teach sensitivity in our homes, our children will understand its value. If as adults we are more careful about how we handle our speech and our sensitivity to others, in the board room or around the Shabbat table, our children will hopefully internalize this valuable Torah lesson and law. Let us hope that Avi’s story remains a story of the past.

By Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler

Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler is rabbi of Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, NJ, and is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. Rabbi Zwickler can be reached at [email protected].

 

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