Jerusalem – Rav Aaron Leib Steinman has written a letter for teachers and parents, warning them about improper treatment of students and children. He says that the letter was prompted by the many tragedies and illnesses which have hit the frum community. Many Torah scholars suddenly require yeshuos of one kind or another — children who can’t make a shidduch or aren’t blessed with children, or became seriously ill, etc. They inevitably turn to Rav Steinman and other gedolim for advice and blessings.
“I wondered much,” said Rav Steinman, “What is going on? I tell people who need a yeshua to try and remember if they hurt the people closest to them — I’m referring to melamdim, parents and friends. A father sometimes thinks that he can slap his son, or he can insult his wife. He thinks it’s permitted because after all, they’re his… teachers also think that they have the child’s benefit in mind when they criticize him and tell him off and even humiliate him. Everything is done in the name of well-meaning mussar and rebuke which he is responsible to do. But that’s not the case.”
The text of the letter was shown to the public although it was privately addressed it to the head of a school. The following are sections of the letter, which carry an important message for all educators:
“It’s known in our holy Torah that there are laws bein adom lamokom as well as bein adom lachaveiro. The Ten Commandments also have laws between a person and his Creator, and laws that will prevent him from doing evil to his fellow man.”
Rav Steinman then mentions the prohibition of ona’as devorim, saying it is more serious than harming another financially. “It applies equally between a man and his wife and a woman and her husband. Ona’as devorim is even worse when said to a woman, because she is easily hurt and cries. This includes all kinds of hurtful words, especially hurting a widow and an orphan.”
“The opposite of this is chesed. The merit one can gains from it is immeasurable. The Rosh at the beginning of Peah explains that Hakodesh Baruch Hu especially desires mitzvos that bring good will among mankind more than mitzvos bein adom lakono.
During the conversation which preceded the letter, Rav Steinman explained the difference between earlier and later generations:
“In the past, teachers would teach the student how to learn Torah. They would educate him properly and correct him if they saw he wasn’t behaving as he should. Today, every teacher has to control classes of 40 children, and when they make noise or disturb, he strictly tells him off even to the point of humiliating him. He doesn’t do it to educate the child but to keep order in the class, and to vent his ire on the troublesome student.
“Until today, we thought that the kapeidas against us came from the elderly clerk in the grocery store. The problem is that we’re hurting our children and our students, the people who are the closest to us, even if we do it in all innocence.”
“People are moreh heter to themselves, such as when a teacher or rav say they have to humiliate someone to ensure discipline. But it’s not that way. We can only do whatever is necessary to prove his point, but not to humiliate another! It’s even more serious when the humiliation is done in public.
“A rav or teacher must get his point across, but in a way that doesn’t embarrass the student. Generally, the one who feels he is being humiliated, will pay him back double. What the teacher said is certainly in the category of ona’as devorim. One must be very careful with this. Parents also shouldn’t embarrass their children.”
Rav Steinman then addresses the reason for the overflowing number of tragedies that have hit the community, leaving almost no one untouched….. “When one causes suffering to others, he is punished in Olam Hazeh too. Every person must pay attention to what he does and what he says so as not to hurt his fellow man. The truth is that the punishment is much worse in Olam Habo, but most people are not aroused by what they can’t see directly, so I am speaking about something that everyone understands well.”
Finally, he mentions the words of the Chinuch on the mitzva “no man should afflict his fellow man”: Even though one doesn’t get lashes from a whip made of cow’s hide for a mitzva that doesn’t involve action, a person will get ‘lashes’ from the One who commanded this.”
He signs off his letter, “One who is careful not to hurt other people, all the blessings mentioned in the Torah will befall him and he will enjoy a pleasurable life in This World and the Next.”