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Shabbat Parashat Vayeitzei 5774

Ask the Rabbi: Encouraging a Child to Criticize His Parent (Part I)

Rav Daniel Mann

Question (edited): Psychologists sometimes believe that a patient’s symptoms – depression, anger, poor functioning etc. – are a result of his parent’s destructive behavior toward him. Can we encourage a patient to express his resentment to the offending parent in a controlled, appropriate manner? The goals of these interventions are to help the patient reduce his symptoms and the suppressed hatred toward the parent. This can help improve the relationship, even though, on an immediate basis, the negative feelings are legitimized and brought to the fore.


Answer: We cannot relate to every pertinent factor or give full guidelines but will use halachic sources and logic to make certain recommendations. A psychologist must be careful (as always) and should consult a well-versed rabbi in some cases. We relate to cases of normal parents with shortcomings, not criminals or sadists.

In addition to doing positive things for a parent (kavod), one is to revere him (or her) by avoiding even things that would be appropriate toward others (mora). The gemara (Kiddushin 32a) says that a son should not disgrace his father even when the latter throws much money into the sea. The gemara seems to assume that according to the opinion that honoring parents is to be done with the parent’s money (as we pasken), silence is required only when the father throws his own money. Yet, the Rambam (Mamrim 6:7), extends it to a case in which the father discarded the son’s money. The Beit Yosef (Yoreh Deah 240) explains that while a son does not have to spend to honor his parent, he must give up all his money before disgracing him. The Ri (cited by the Tur, CM 240) says that a son does not have to let his father cause him financial damage. The Ramah (ibid.) says he can stop him before damage is done, even if the father is embarrassed; after the damage is done; he cannot scold the father –  but he can sue. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 240:8) accepts the Rambam’s application of mora to the son’s significant loss. The Rama rules like the opinions that a son can protect his rights. It is not clear how far one is expected to go to avoid the theoretical possibility of suing a parent and whether the Rambam could agree to such a possibility (see Birkei Yosef ad loc. and K’tav Sofer, YD 108). The machloket between the Shulchan Aruch and Rama seems to impact on our case – a child standing up for his psychological rights (which can be no less important than monetary rights), at the expense of upsetting a parent.

Another pertinent discussion is tochacha (rebuke)of a parent for his actions? The gemara (Kiddushin 32a) says that a son who sees his father violating the Torah should only hint to him that it is wrong. Yet, certain laws of tochacha are learned from Yonatan’s rebuke of Shaul (see Arachin 16b). Apparently, while being as soft as possible, a child does rebuke a parent under certain circumstances. Does tochacha extend to the parent’s sins against his child? The p’shat of the pasuk of tochacha (Vayikra 19:17- see Sefer Hachinuch 439) is that if one wrongs you, you should air your grievance rather than harbor hatred, and the Rambam (De’ot 6:6) paskens this application. However, the extent to which one can upset such an offender is limited (ibid. 8) and it is laudable to let the matter go if the victim can remove the enmity by himself (ibid. 9). It makes sense that when the offender is a parent, if the victim/child is permitted to say anything, it should be under great need and then with “kid gloves.” On the other hand, while disgracing parents is particularly severe (Devarim 27:16; Shulchan Aruch, YD 241:6), harboring hate them for them is also severe (Aruch Hashulchan, YD 240:8; see Chashukei Chemed, Sanhedrin 84b). Thus, if needed to fix a greatly strained relationship, it would seem that one can raise certain criticisms carefully.

To summarize, a psychologist can contemplate encouraging a patient (at the least, for Ashkenazim) to appropriately air grievances to his parent. Next time, we will continue with certain guidelines.

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