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Respectful Dialogue

Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )

by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski

"God spoke to Moses and Aaron and commanded them the Children of Israel and regarding Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt" (Exodus, 6:13).

This verse appears redundant. Just two verses earlier, the Torah says, “God spoke to Moses, saying, `Come speak to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, that he send the Children of Israel from his land' ” (Exodus 6:10-11). Rashi explains that the second verse means that God told them to speak respectfully to the king of Egypt.

Is this not a bit strange? Moses was going to warn Pharaoh about the ten plagues that he would suffer. In the presence of all the ministers in the palace, Moses was going to speak harshly to Pharaoh. How can this be respectful?

Rabbi Yehudah Leib Chasman says that there was no way out of delivering the warnings to Pharaoh. However, although what had to be said had to be said, it could still be said respectfully rather than with indignation. Indeed, we see that when Moses told Pharaoh about the plague of the firstborn, at which time Moses was angry, he nevertheless said, “Then all these servants of yours will come down to me and bow to me, saying, `Leave – you and the entire people that follows you' ” (Exodus 11:8). Rashi says that Moses really meant that Pharaoh himself will come and bow to him and plead for him to take the Israelites out of Egypt, but out of respect for the king he said “all these servants of yours will come down to me and bow to me” (Ohr Yahel, 2).

The Torah is teaching us that even when we must reprimand or punish someone, we should make every effort to avoid insulting him. This is so important in disciplining children. Obviously, children must be reprimanded when they do wrong, and sometimes it is necessary to punish them. However, we should be most cautious to do so in a manner that does not humiliate the child or crush him.

Children who were insulted when they were disciplined are likely to develop feelings of shame and worthlessness which may accompany them throughout their lives. If parents would realize how destructive low self-esteem is to their children, they would be much more careful in how they discipline them. Emotional abuse of a child is as serious an offense as physical abuse. Yet, parents who would never think of breaking a child's arm or leg may not give much thought to the words they use in a reprimand.

Children must be taught right from wrong, but they should be helped to retain their dignity.

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