Judaism: Discipline Your Child - With Love
Rabbi Lazer GurkowRabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow, currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs.
What’s In A Belt?
Every morning Jews thank G-d for “girding Israel with strength.” (1) According to the Talmud this blessing is offered when we strap on our belts. (2) The belt is associated with strength, For example, King David, the poet warrior, described G-d as “girded with strength.” (3) As a warrior he certainly thought of the girdle as a garment that stiffens the spine and carries the warrior’s weapon.
But Jewish tradition layers the belt with an additional, more spiritual, dimension. The belt is strapped to the body between the heart and the loins, symbolizing purity of the mind from inappropriate thoughts. (4) In fact, many Jews, particularly those of Chassidic tradition, wear a sash (colloquially known as a gartel) during prayer as a reminder to banish their inappropriate thoughts.
In this context the strength of a belt is not only physical it is also spiritual. We thank G-d for girding us with strength of character, thus empowering us to attach ourselves to all that is holy and G-dly.
Indeed, one of the earliest commentators on Jewish liturgy, the Abudraham, linked this blessing with the verse in Jeremiah, “As the girdle is attached to human loins so have I attached the entire house of Israel to me.” (5) The girdle was usually worn over loose fitting garments and was the only garment that cleaved tightly to the body. As we tie the sash to ourselves we pray that G-d bind us to Him. And as we do, we remind ourselves that this attachment demands both purity of spirit and strength of character.
Thus, when G-d told Job to “Gird like a warier your loins,” we understand it on two levels. The ordinary meaning is that G-d was telling Job, “prepare to arise from your afflictions,” but on a deeper level G-d also told Job to strengthen his faith in and relationship with G-d, thus addressing Job’s physical as well as moral strength. (6) Furthermore, as one commentary put it, for the Jew, spiritual strength translates into physical strength for G-d protects and provides for His children when they follow in His ways. (7)
This brings us to the belt worn by the priests in the Jewish Temple. This sash was worn below the heart prompting the Talmud to comment that the sash atoned for impure thoughts carried in the heart. (8) Here we have the perfect amalgam of the belt’s two dimensions. A sash that girds the priest with strength also purifies his heart, attaching it to higher, holy thoughts related to his worship of the Divine.
Tying The Priestly Sash
Let’s move away from the meaning of the sash and reflect for a moment on a fascinating Talmudic debate about the order in which the priestly sashes were affixed on the inaugural day of worship. (9)
The Torah presents the narrative about this day twice, once in the form of G-d’s instructions to Moses and then again in description of the actual day, but a discrepancy appears between the two. (10) In the book of Exodus we find that G-d first instructed Moses to dress Aaron, the High Priest, in his priestly vestments. Then instructed him to dress Aaron’s children in their vestments. And it is only at the very end that the instruction appears for Moses to tie the sashes around everyone’s waist.
In the book of Leviticus, where the inaugural ceremonies are described, we read that Moses dressed Aaron in his vestments and sash and then dressed Aaron’s children in their vestments and sashes.
The Talmud assumes that Moses didn’t deviate from his instructions. The question is merely why the Torah portrays G-d’s instructions differently from Moses’ execution.
As usual, the Talmud resolves the matter with a dispute. One opinion takes the position that Moses tied all the sashes at the same time and the reason the Torah implied that they were tied separately was to teach us that High Priest’s sash was woven from a unique set of fabrics and was not interchangeable with the sashes of ordinary priests. Though they were tied at the same time, they were separate sashes.
The second opinion holds that Moses tied the sashes separately and the reason the Torah implied they should be tied together is to teach us that the sashes were all woven from the same set of fabrics and were thus Interchangeable. (11)
A Parent’s Use of Discipline
When citing this argument the Talmudic sages wondered why it is important to know the order of events from thirty-three-hundred years ago. If we are curious to know, we can wait till Moses is resurrected in the Messianic era and ask him how it was done. The Talmud concludes that it is important because we want to understand the verses from the Torah properly. Still, since we always seek relevance in every word of the Torah allow me to suggest a lesson that emerges from these verses.
We demonstrated earlier that the belt represents both physical strength and purity of heart. When raising children we must sometimes make use of a stern demeanor and strict discipline. However, we must also retain our love and the purity of our hearts. We must remember that the purpose of our efforts is not to maintain control of our homes and certainly not to gain the upper hand over our children. It is to raise them as emotionally balanced and productive members of society.
Even as we mete out discipline we must concentrate on our goal and aim. I love my children and raise them to a rigorous set of expectations because I want to give them character and emotional strength. Aaron wore his sash, his symbol of strength, alongside his children because his strength inspired them to be strong. Girding his loins gave them the ability to gird theirs. Similarly, we discipline our children on occasion not to destroy them, but to empower their moral and spiritual strength. Remembering this ensures that our discipline is effective and laced with love.
Both opinions agree that the belt must combine strength and love. Their differences lie in whether we ought to reveal that love during discipline. The first opinion holds that there was a moment when Aaron stood before his children in free flowing vestments, representing free love without discipline and then he tied his sash in front of them. Thus even when his sash was tied they knew they were loved. This teaches us that parents must demonstrate their love for their children even during discipline.
The second opinion disagrees and feels that there is a time for everything; a time for love and a time for discipline. When love is called for it is disastrous to address the child with firm discipline. Conversely, when discipline is delivered with loving softness the message is diluted and the child is left confused.
Discipline should only be meted out with love. The love can be in the forefront according to the first opinion or the background according to the second opinion, but there must be love. Woe to parents who discipline out of anger and in their rage forget their love. A harsh word or angry action, once given, can never be taken back and, what’s worse, it can affect a child for life. (12)
1. The daily morning liturgy found in every Siddur, book of Jewish prayer.
Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 60b. Raavad (quoted by Beis Yosef Orach Chayim ch. 46) understood that this blessing is to be said as the pants are donned. However, Maimonides (Hilchos Tefilah 7:6) understood that it is recited when the sash is tied or the belt donned.
2. Psalms 65:7.
3. Beis Yosef quoting the RA’AH in Orach Chayim chapter 46: Vechi Assar. Also quoted by Taz 46:2.
4. Jeremiah 12:11.
5. Job 38:3. Rashi offered the ordinary interpretation “prepare to arise from your afflictions.” The additional layer added by our interpretation further enhances the link to the rest of the chapter in which G-d rebukes Job for his lack of faith.
6. Etz Yosef. This echoes Psalms 20:8, “These with riders, and those with chariots, but we invoke the name of G-d [in battle].”
7. Babylonian Talmud Erkin, 16a. In this section the Talmud posits that each of the Priestly Vestments atoned for a particular sin and proceeds to enumerate the specific sins for which each of the vestments atoned. Furthermore, Kli Yakar on Exodus 28:39 taught that the Priestly Sash was thirty-two cubits long. Thirty-two is the numeric value of the Hebrew word Lev, which means heart. Once again the implication is that the Priestly Sash girded the heart and guarded it against spiritual impurity.
8. Babylonian Talmud Yuma: 6a.
9. Exodus 29: 5-9 and Leviticus 8: 7-13
10. The fabrics of which the High Priest’s sash was woven are listed in Exodus 39:29. The question is whether the sash of ordinary priests was woven from the same set of fabrics. Considering that these fabrics included wool and linen, a mix ordinarily forbidden by the Torah, it is important for the Torah to state clearly whether the prohibition was only overridden for the High Priest or for all priests. According to the first opinion the Torah proscribed use of the High Priest’s garment by ordinary priests. According to the second opinion it was permitted.
11. We might suggest that since the idea of tying all the sashes at once appears in Moses’ instructions and the idea of tying the sashes separately appears only later in the description of Moses’ execution it might be correct to surmise that as a general rule parents must demonstrate love even during discipline. Even according to the opinion that discipline should not be diluted with a demonstration of love this is only true in the actual execution, under those narrow circumstances that call for a deviation from the norm. But normal protocol, which is addressed in the instructions to Moses, is to always to demonstrate love.