NOTE: For a PDF copy of this segment, please click here. This will enable you to print out the entire text of the article. [Rev 0]
Key Concepts of Mishlei 13-23 (Parental Love)
The duties that come with being a parent are awesome. To raise a child properly requires an outpouring of continuous love. One of the reasons this can be so difficult is that it calls for a measured application of discipline. A child will not grow up as a responsible Jew unless he learns self-control and humility. That can only happen in a framework of consistent love and discipline, especially in the early years.
To discipline a child means to improve his behavior by causing him discomfort. This need not necessarily be physical pain. Even minor emotional pain can teach the child that there are limits to acceptable behavior.
However, a loving parent will naturally find it difficult to be the cause of his child’s pain, especially when it induces resentment.
To emphasize the importance of meeting this challenge, Mishlei succinctly reminds the parent that imposing discipline in a sensitive and enlightened manner is an essential sign of true love. On the other hand, a failure to impose the necessary degree of discipline may result in the opposite. Tragically, the child may even come to hate the parent who has neglected his duty.
(כד) חוֹשֵׂךְ שִׁבְטוֹ שׂוֹנֵא בְנוֹ וְאֹהֲבוֹ שִׁחֲרוֹ מוּסָר:
[The father] who refrains from chastising his son [effectively] hates him, but he who loves him disciplines him early.
This proverb analyzes the motivation of the parent who cannot bring himself to punish his son. Whereas the parent fools himself into thinking he is acting out of love, the proverb is telling us that he is building a relationship of enmity and hatred. In contrast, it is the parent that applies disciplinary measures tempered with wisdom, who truly loves his child.
(כד) חוֹשֵׂךְ שִׁבְטוֹ שׂוֹנֵא בְנוֹ
וְאֹהֲבוֹ שִׁחֲרוֹ מוּסָר:
The parent who refrains from chastisement out of misplaced pity is acting as one who hates his son, because he denies the child the benefit of corrective discipline, but he who loves his son disciplines him early while the child is in his youth.
A series of insights illuminating this proverb are presented below. The numbers identifying the insights refer to the listing of sources at the end of the segment.
Wisdom in Words
(1) Mishlei refers to the act of chastisement as שִׁבְטוֹ (“his rod”). Thus, the parent who refrains from chastisement may be described as “sparing the rod.” However, שִׁבְטוֹ does not always have to refer to a physical rod. It may designate any influence which makes the child painfully aware of his misbehavior, such as the denial of a pleasure, the denial of a friendly look, or even a show of sorrow about the child’s naughtiness.
(2) The word חוֹשֵׂךְ refers to the omission of something which is required — in this context, the omission of a corrective influence where it is needed for the education of the child.
(3) The word שִׁחֲרוֹ relates to an act performed in the early morning. Thus, it suggests the importance of regular and consistent application of discipline. It also suggests the importance of discipline early in the life of the child, when he is responsive to character-building.
(4) The parent who cannot bear to discipline his son actually cares more for himself—his own tender feelings — than for his son’s ultimate good.
(5) When a parent fails to discipline his child, he is doing something that only an enemy would ever do, and if the son does turn out bad, the parent may indeed hate him as an enemy.
(6) A parent who loves his son will rebuke him from an early age. This will develop the son’s own conscience, so that the parent will never have to resort to physical chastisement.
(7) When a loving parent applies physical punishment, he does so with great restraint, so that the son realizes his parent is acting out of love and concern for his welfare.
(8) A classic example of hatred towards a parent is Avshalom who sought to kill his father David. The Midrash explains this behavior as being the result of a failure of the needed discipline in Avshalom’s youth.
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – רשר”ה
(2) – רשר”ה
(3) – המאירי, רשר”ה
(4) – מלבי”ם
(5) – רש”י, מצודות, דעת סופרים
(6) – מצודות, שבט מיהודה, דעת סופרים
(7) – דעת סופרים
(8) – דעת סופרים