A CHANCE TO MAKE AMENDS
When giving criticism to our children, it is important to offer them an opportunity to do teshuvah—a way to make amends, to right the wrong. It is important to tell our children what they did wrong, but it is equally important to tell them how they might make it right.
More than twenty years ago, at the age of twenty-two, I was a rookie rebbi, teaching a challenging class of eight-graders. With the help of Hashem, things worked out well, but it was, shall we say, an interesting year.
At Purim time when the students were a little bit restless and in a mischievous spirit, I got a complaint from the proprietor of a local fish store whose business was just around the corner from the yeshiva. It seemed that two of my students had rolled a smoke bomb into his store just as he was in the midst of preparing orders for Shabbos. It was a disaster. The store was filled with smoke, and all the customers came running out; his entire day was disrupted.
From his description, I figured out who the perpetrators were. I called the fellows out of class and spoke to them. I said, “Look gentlemen, it seems to me that you two guys were involved in last week’s activity at the fish store.”
To their credit, they didn’t deny it.
I said, “Look guys, you need to accept responsibility for what you’ve done. Here are your choices: you can get punished or you can try to make amends. If you choose punishment, you will probably get suspended or expelled from school.”
They pleaded and begged me for a way to make amends. I suggested that they “walk a mile” in the shoes of the store owner—that is, go into the fish store for an hour that Friday morning; put on a pair of gloves, and prepare orders for Shabbos.”
They looked at me stupefied. “Rebbe, come on!”
I said, “Look guys, I don’t think that you have any idea how hard this man works to provide for his family. I think that working there for an hour will give you perspective and allow you to make amends for what you have done. If you don’t want to do what I am suggesting, that’s fine. I’ll just play this one by the book.”
They talked it over and decided that my approach was far better than punishment. I explained to them once again that after they do the work for an hour, they will have a better understanding of the damage they had caused by disrupting the man’s hard day at work, and that would be a giant step on the path to their teshuvah.
After school was over that day, I took them to the store and introduced them to the owner. We made an appointment for Friday afternoon. As it turned out, but by the time Friday came, many of the kids in the school knew about our arrangement and began playfully ridiculing them. My talmidim begged me not to humiliate them, now that it became public knowledge (and they were getting orders from their classmates for fresh fish!).
So, I had rachmanus (mercy) on them. I told them that instead of working, they could buy the fish store owner a gift from their own money. I insisted that they devote some time over the next few weeks to earn some money and use it to pay for their gift to the man they had wronged. They bought him a $25 gold pen and pencil set, and inscribed a card to him. The fellow was satisfied and impressed with the sincerity of the children.
The point was, of course, that these boys had a significant consequence for what they had done, and I do think that this resolution offered them an opportunity to right the wrong that they had done.
And, while the vast majority of misdeeds do not require creative solutions, our emphasis as parents should be on constructive consequences – with an opportunity for sincere teshuvah.
© 2005 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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