Tuesday, August 28, 2007

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Giving Mussar - Hard or Not?

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

I went to the children's playground on Shabbat with my kids. This is a bit unusual for me, the playground on Shabbat afternoon is generally the haven the women and young children in our community, the men are either together for learning or enjoying a Shabbos rest. (For the women this is also a positive social time, my wife always comes home well informed of community events afterwards, as well as info about mitzvot of opportunities for helping our fellow.)

Now our local playground is in an interesting location. Behind it there's a pond. Since our community has a eruv (a semi-virtual Shabbos wall that turns the community in a private domain, permitting carrying), this is something of a problem. That's because you can't have a body of water in an eruv. The solution to this is rather interesting, you create another eruv inside your eruv, effectively walling off the item that can't be in your eruv. (A circle inside a circle, so to speak.) And that's exactly what's been done.

This would seem to be a bit of esoteric trivia. But, because of it's location behind the playground, and because it has a walking path right around it's border, it's rather important to know that the walking path and border of the pond is excluded from the eruv, and therefore carrying in that area on Shabbat is not permitted. And that's important because parents and children come to the playground with toys, bottles, pacifiers, and refreshments on Shabbat.

As I was sitting on a bench inside the fenced-in playground, I see 3 frum Jewish boys sitting by the edge of the pond, tossing rocks into the pond. I faced a bit of a dilemma. I see my brother violating the Torah, I have an obligation to say something. Yet, I have to find a way to say it that they will hear and accept. If this is an adult, I would have to be careful to say something like, "Hey, did you notice there's an eruv line right here. Wow, I just noticed that. I guess that means carrying on the pond-path is violating Shabbat. I guess we better be careful!" For children (these boys were around 8 years old), it's even trickier. How could I say it that they'd actually consider it, and not think they were just being yelled at by a bothersome adult (or worse, screamed at by a stranger)?

In other words, how do you get a reproof across with real love and concern? Because if you're not doing it that way, it's not going to be accepted. Rather, the ego will naturally arise to ones personal defense. And if it's not going to be accepted, the Shulchan Aruch itself says, you can't do it. This is a bit of a catch-22, you have an obligation to reprove, but you can't do it if you're not going to do it the right way. It's as much of an avera for you to just yell at someone (or even worse, be self righteous about something) as it is for that person to be doing whatever they're doing (how much more so if their action is unintentional, whereas your action to reprove is always intentional).

...I thought about it for a few minutes, considering whether to try or not. I really didn't want to, which convinced me that I should. (Figuring if I don't want to do a good thing, that's my inclination working against me.) I casually walked over to the path, came over by the boys, mentioned the pond looked very scummy, and asked the boys if they realized that line over there was the eruv, meaning they can't carry or throw stones on this side of it. They didn't answer me, and just kind of glared at me.

Oh well, I tried. Don't always get it right.

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