A Tried-and-True Solution for Getting Kids to Listen

Although a healthy dose of vitamin N (No) is good, these restrictions must not be sternly enforced but rather delivered with love and gentleness. Warming them works far better than warning them.

By Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier

It can be really frustrating when our children don’t listen the first time. This is an old story with an old tried-and-true solution.

“Hashem said to Moshe: Say to the kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and you shall say to them: Let none [of you] defile himself for a dead person among his people.”

Rashi explains that the Torah uses the redundant wording of “say,” followed by “and you shall say,” in order to enjoin the adult kohanim with regard to the minors, להזהיר גדולים על הקטנים. The first “say” is Moshe’s words to the kohanim, and “you shall say” is what the kohanim should say to their youngsters.

Last week’s sedrah also began with a redundancy: “Speak to the entire assembly of B’nei Yisroel and say to them: You shall be holy.” Why is Rashi bothered here but not there?

Usually (and as was the case in last week’s sedrah), the Torah uses two different expressions, דבר אל בני בני ישראל ואמרת להם. The word daber denotes stern words and the word amar connotes gentle words. These two words describe two elements in Moshe’s speech and are thus not redundant. Our passuk, however, repeats the same expression, אמר אל הכהנים בני אהרן ואמרת אליהם. This prompts Rashi to conclude that the meaning here is unique, describing two separate speakers: one amirah for the kohanim and the other for the kohanim to say to their children.

But couldn’t the Torah have doubled the more usual expression of דבר instead of the less common אמר? After all, isn’t cautioning youngsters done with stern words?

No. With regard to guiding youngsters—young in age or in stage—we must speak softly and gently, אמר, not דבר.

We must also be prepared to repeat our words. And to do it gently, even the second time, אמר ואמרת. 

A two-year-old has to be told countless times not to play with muktzah on Shabbos. But even as we repeat ourselves, we don’t yell at them. We’re insistent and consistent, but gentle.

Kids naturally resist being told what to do. If we’re able to meet their resistance with gentle persistence, and not get emotionally heated, we can be much more effective.

To be sure, the life of a young kohen was not easy. There were a lot of rules. The Gemara relates what one kohen reminisced:

“I remember when I was a child, still riding on my father’s shoulders, and they took me out of school, removed my tunic, and immersed me in a mikveh so that I would be able to eat terumah at night.”Rashi explains that it is generally assumed that young boys play in the garbage, where sheratzim are found. The man continued, “My friends would stay away from me—because they were not allowed to eat my food— and called me, ‘Yochanan the challah…eater.’”[1]

As Yiddishe parents there are a lot of restrictions we have to implement as we raise Hashem’s precious “kohanim.” Oftentimes these restrictions cause our children to feel different. This is ok because to be Hashem’s kohen demands a higher standard. Although a healthy dose of vitamin N (No) is good, these restrictions must not be sternly enforced but rather delivered with love and gentleness.

Rashi uses the term להזהיר, to warn, caution or enjoin. This word can also mean to shine. The best way to guide a child, even when restricting them, is by shining light and positivity. And perhaps most effective of all, by being a shining example.

Warming them works far better than warning them.

We are all Hashem’s children, and compared to previous generations we can be called His young children. It’s only right that just as we treat our young children with love and gentleness, He, too, should treat His children with only love and gentleness.[2]

[1] Kesubos 26a

[2] Divery Yisroel (Modzitz). Oznayim La’Torah. Likutei sichos vol 27. Sefer HaSichos 5750.

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