Parshas Mishpatim - Sticks and Stones

By BJLIFE/Rabbi Yisroel Gelber

Posted on 02/01/19

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
Dr. Shapsy Tajerstein, DPM - Podiatry Care.
(410) 788-6633

וּמַכֵּ֥ה אָבִ֛יו וְאִמּ֖וֹ מ֥וֹת יוּמָֽת
"And one who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death."   
:וּמְקַלֵּ֥ל אָבִ֛יו וְאִמּ֖וֹ מ֥וֹת יוּמָֽת
"And one who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death."
(Shmos 21:15,17)

The Torah prescribes the punishment of chenek for striking one's parent, and the much more severe punishment of skila for cursing one's parent. Why is cursing a parent treated more severely? Although both are reprehensible, we would think that physical assault towards a parent is worse than verbal aggression.

Perhaps, the Torah is teaching us that in fact, hurting someone with words, can actually cause them greater pain and trauma than physically hurting their body.  Today, most authorities strongly recommend against hitting children; even though this was an accepted tactic of chinuch in the past, it is no longer something we can do safely and effectively in our generation.  However, it behooves us to be extremely caution with our choice of words when interacting with our children, spouse, students and friends.  Poorly chosen words, can have devastating effects on the physical and emotional development on the receiver of those words. 

In a study of 5,616 kids who experience different types of abuse as kids, Dr. Joseph Spizazzola found that conditions such as depression, general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, attachment problems, and substance abuse occurred more often after psychological maltreatment, than physical abuse. 

Interestingly, verbal abuse doesn't always express itself through yelling and screaming.

Sometimes, a person may be trying to mend a relationship, but is not well trained in how to communicate their feelings or concerns.  And, while communication is crucial to the health of our relationships, it is critical that we know HOW to communicate in a healthy, appropriate way.  Venting our every thought and feeling in the WRONG way have the potential to cause even more hurt and divisiveness.  As we all know, once a word is spoken, there is no way to ever "unspeak" it.  It is forever etched into the mind and heart of the listener where it can lay and fester for years, even decades; even a lifetime.

We must be very careful of therapy trends that encourage us to "get it all out in the open".   Getting it all out without couching our words in sympathetic manner, might make the speaker feel good in the moment, but can have grave consequences for the listener.  We must always remember that the Torah's imperative not to cause pain with our words (ona'as devarim),apply EVEN WHEN we are angry, upset, or dissatisfied in a relationship.  

Shimmy, went to a lecture about marriage. He learned that in order to allay resentment and frustration so that it doesn't fester,one has to be open and tell their spouse what is bothering them.  Unfortunately, Shimmy, conveyed his frustration in an extremely insulting and demeaning way and Chani felt very hurt. She couldn't forget the mean statements being hurled at her.  The relationship deteriorated after this interaction.   

Let's learn from Shimmy's mistake and looks for tools to communicate in ways that don't cause harm. 

While kids may repeat  the old rhyme : "sticks and stones may break my bones, yet names will never hurt me", it is possible that the opposite may actually be true.