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To Strike With a Shoelace…

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on June 2, 2006


Yocheved shared an absolutely beautiful Story, that I thought would make a good Dvar Torah for this Shabbat – which is Shavuot, by the way!

“Thought I’d share this neat experience: When the girls were very young (they are 10 and 11 now) I read a midrash that said if you must strike a child, do so with a shoelace. I felt this was what G-d wanted for my children and that corporal discipline was an unneessary tool in their case. So I committed to this.One day, about a month ago, my little girl, Yemina was in a “funk”. She gets really moody sometimes and was really barking at her older sister, Zipporah, who is far more easy going. I had had about all I could take with her yelling at her sister and I went to my bedroom. A few minutes later, Z came in and was crying about something Yemina had said to her which was really ugly and demeaning and not worth reporting. I told her to send in her sister.

A few minutes went by and I knew my blood was boiling. I love a peaceful, quiet home, and Yemina was systematically dismanteling it. Then I prayed, and I decided not to do all the typical, “Straighten up or you will find yourself grounded, or eating by yourself, and so on. I abandoned all of that and asked G-d to give me wisdom. A minute later she appeared, sulking, arms crossed, her beautiful features twisted into a sour scowl. I didn’t say anything because wisdom hadn’t come yet. I didn’t know what to say without my arsenal of tricks. So it became quiet and frankly awkward and uncomfortable. Then, I said (very gently), “Yemina, I think you might be out of balance. Your yetzer ha-ra has been running unchecked lately.” I looked at her, she began to rock but clearly had nothing to say to me. Then I said, “you can feel it can’t you?” She bowed her head lower and started to sniffle. I went to her and held her with all the love in a mother’s heart.

I told her I loved her so much, and that it made me hurt when I saw her hurting and that we could pray together and start to feed the yetzer ha-tov in her by purposely doing good things so that it would grow stronger than her yetzer ha-ra, and that pretty soon, it would be so easy to control her bad impulses because they had been kept under check with discipline. She held me so tightly I thought she’d pinch me in two! And she wept a truly penetant and heartfelt cry for help. Ever since that day, things have never become so out of hand. I remind her of the inward check-up and she knows what is going on. I really think she didn’t know why she felt the way she did, and her anger and confusion was part of her lashing out.

I am really glad that MY Yetzer Ha Ra didn’t stay stirred up when dealing with her, because I would have missed a a real pinnacle turning point and a very tender moment. For what it’s worth– Shalom! Yocheved”

Yocheved is refering to Bava Batra 21 a in the Babylonian Talmud:

“Rav said to Rav Samuel bar Shilat: If you hit a child, strike him only with a shoestring.”

This story reminds me of what happened after the Revelation on Sinai – which Shavout is about – G-d says to Israel:

“But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 30:14)


I love this passage – because it shows G-d’s trust in us. He trusts that by simply giving us His Law, we will become better people, because we will carry His Guidence with us, ready to tap into at any moment we need it. And when we fail, His word will gently remind us of where to look, where to turn and how to stay on the side of our Yetzer Ha Tov.

This of course, just as Yocheved points out to Yemina in the Story, will happen only if we replace our errant behaviour with desired behaviour – and do it often. Practice makes Perfect, they say, but I would say “Practice makes Habit” – and the more we practice acting from our Yetzer Ha Tov, the more will it act on it’s own, and the same is of course true about Yetzer Ha Ra.

Let’s remember that Torah is a Shoestring that will give us the Guidance we need when we need it.

Shabbat Shalom!

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