Monday, March 16, 2015

Child Discipline

Disciplining children is very uncommon among hasidei Breslov, and in fact, it is uncommon across most of Israeli society. The reason for the problem in the Breslov world is because of a story of an incident where Rebbe Natan struck his son after his son could not tolerate an extremely gross Shabbat guest. It is important to note that Rebbe Natan himself never wrote about this story, nor did he claim Rebbe Nahman told him never to discipline children. Before I get to that story, first let me preface everything with our foundation, Tanakh, specifically the wisdom of Shlomo HaMelekh in Mishlei.

Mishlei 13:24

חוֹשֵֹךְ שִׁבְטוֹ שׂוֹנֵא בְנוֹ וְאֹהֲבוֹ שִׁחֲרוֹ מוּסָר:
One who holds back his rod hates his son, and one who loves him disciplines him early.

Mishlei 23:13-14

אַל תִּמְנַע מִנַּעַר מוּסָר כִּי תַכֶּנּוּ בַשֵּׁבֶט לֹא יָמוּת: אַתָּה בַּשֵּׁבֶט תַּכֶּנּוּ וְנַפְשׁוֹ מִשְּׁאוֹל תַּצִּיל:
Don't withhold discipline from a youth, for if you strike him with a rod he will not die. You strike him with a rod and you save his soul from the grave.

Mishlei 29:15, 17

שֵׁבֶט וְתוֹכַחַת יִתֵּן חָכְמָה וְנַעַר מְשֻׁלָּח מֵבִישׁ אִמּוֹ: יַסֵּר בִּנְךָ וִינִיחֶךָ וְיִתֵּן מַעֲדַנִּים לְנַפְשֶׁךָ:
A rod and reproof give wisdom, but a youth let free shames his mother. Chastise your son and he will give you rest, and he will give pleasures to your soul.

Do you think Rebbe Nahman contradicted the plain and emphatic wisdom of Shlomo HaMelekh? I don't think so. I am all for following the Sadiq blindly, because I believe in his greatness which is beyond what he revealed. However, this is not a case of having to choose between what Tanakh says and what the Sadiq says, because I do not believe they contradict. I do not believe Rebbe Nahman's words about the issue meant that one should never discipline his children.

Take a quick listen to what the great American Breslov Rabbi, Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld ob"m had to say about the issue, also touching on these verses in Mishlei, and hear his explanation about what Rebbe Nahman meant by his words to Reb Natan:

I think this is an extremely fundamental and important point. In fact, I think it has a lot to do with bringing Mashiah, since by disciplining children and causing them to grow up into people who have a bit of yir'at kavod, you are fixing their souls. If you let them do what they please without strict discipline shaping their character, they will grow up into irresponsible, immature, spiritually inadequate adults.


  1. There is also the element of trying to reach goal though collectivness rather then through anger, hitting and aggression.

    1. Absolutely! Discipline can be given without anger. It is not so difficult. The act of physical discipline is love for one's child, not supposed to be out of anger or hatred to the child, perhaps only anger towards bad behavior which is loving the child and completely to his benefit. Hating one's children is letting them get away with acting however they want and never leaving them with any punishment to fear.

      It is much like the idea of humility. True humility is realizing one's true level, not saying you are worthless, lowly, etc, which is false humility. How could Moshe say he was the most humble person and still be humble? Because he was and he knew that and didn't attribute it to his own might and strength, rather it was through his efforts in shutafut with HaShem, i.e. annulling himself to HaShem and allowing HaShem to do through him what he will.

      There is a false humility and a real one, there is a good 'anger' and a bad. See what the Rambam states about good 'anger'.

  2. For those of us who cannot listen to your link - what did Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld z"l say?

    All the best,

    1. I paraphrase much of what he said about it: that what Mishlei states is apparent, that R Natan never mentions the story (it is relayed through ktav haverim), that it doesn't seem to him that Rabenu meant anything contrary to what Mishlei states, that he is humble and careful about considering perhaps some of the community has been mistaken about this while noting the obvious need for discipline.