Who is Wrong? The Rebbe or the Student? Sotah 4 Psychology of the Daf Yomi
People from my parents’ generation used to draw a comparison to the old style of chinuch versus the new post Dr. Spock generation. In the old days, if a child came home from school and was crying that the teacher hit him, the parent would hit him again and say, I“If your teacher hit you, it must be for a good reason!“ While in our times, if a child came home, complaining that the teacher hit him, the parents would rush to the school and demand that the teacher be fired. However, even in the times of the Gemara, it was not as clear-cut and consistent as you might think, which we shall soon shall see:
Our Gemara on Amud Beis warns us about the importance of following the ritual of washing hands, before eating bread:
אָמַר רַבִּי זְרִיקָא אָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר כל הַמְּזַלְזֵל בִּנְטִילַת יָדַיִם נֶעֱקָר מִן הָעוֹלָם
Rabbi Zerika says that Rabbi Elazar says: Anyone who treats the ritual of washing hands with contempt is uprooted from the world.
There is a fascinating interlude about the Amora Shmuel as a young boy. Apparently, his cheder rebbe was also zealously concerned about this particular mitzvah. Here’s how the story went (Chulin 107b)
דאבוה דשמואל אשכחיה לשמואל דקא בכי אמר ליה אמאי קא בכית דמחיין רבאי אמאי דאמר לי קא ספית לבראי ולא משית ידיה ואמאי לא משית א”ל הוא אכיל ואנא משינא
Shmuel’s father found the young Shmuel crying, and said to him: Why are you crying? Shmuel replied: Because my teacher struck me. His father asked: Why did he strike you? Shmuel responded: My teacher said to me: You are feeding my son, but you did not wash your hands. His father asked: And why did you not wash your hands? Shmuel said to him: Only he, the teacher’s son, is eating, and I must wash my hands?
א”ל לא מיסתייה דלא גמיר מימחא נמי מחי והלכתא אוכל מחמת מאכיל צריך נטילת ידים מאכיל אינו צריך נטילת ידים:
Shmuel’s father said to him: Is it not enough that your teacher did not learn the halakha properly, that he even strikes you on account of his error? One who feeds another need not wash his hands if he himself is not eating. The Gemara concludes: And the halakha is that one who eats by means of another feeding him needs to wash his hands, even though he does not touch the food. But one who feeds another does not need to wash his hands.
This story speaks for itself. Even though of course it is important for a young student to understand that he must show proper deference for his rebbe, and even though it also is important that parents do not undermine and badmouth the rebbe, we see that in an extreme situation of injustice the child is defended over the rebbe. In this case, Shmuel’s father is outraged at the misappropriate and ignorant piety that led the rebbe to hit his son. He clearly and firmly comes to his son’s defense.
This reminds me of a story said over by Dr. Abraham Twerski ZT”L in regard to his father’s method of discipline. When he was a young boy, he played chess with a guest on Shabbos. In his family, the standards for sanctity of Shabbos was so high, that even young children were not expected to waste their time playing games. When his father found out that he was playing chess on Shabbos, at first, he gave him a strong rebuke. However, afterward, he said to him conspiratorially, “OK, Nu, but who won in the end?” (Rabbi Twerski says he did.) Rabbi Twerski’s point was that his father was not so caught up in the rigidity of discipline to not allow for a certain amount of pride, and enjoy his son’s cleverness and competitiveness.