There are times when a parent must reprimand or punish a child. Ideally, of course, the parent should pause before taking action and think things over. Is he (or she) acting out of love for the child or for some other reason? Unfortunately, some parents fool themselves or simply ignore this crucial question. The Ben Ish Chai helps us see that the Torah itself hints at the importance of making this reckoning before disciplining a child.
In this week’s parashah (Devarim 8:8), the Torah says: Know in your heart that Hashem, your G-d, punishes you like a man punishes his son (וידעת עם לבבך כי כאשר ייסר איש את בנו ה’ אלקיך מיסרך). The Ben Ish Chai asks: Would it not be more appropriate to speak of a father punishing his son rather than a man punishing his son?
He answers with this remarkable insight. Although a parent usually loves his child more than anyone else does, the parent does not, unfortunately, always have the good of the child in mind. A father, for example, may be motivated by embarrassment over having a child who did this or that inappropriate thing. In contrast, a child may be judged strictly out of love and the father does not take the misbehavior to heart.
And this is the way G-d rebukes and punishes us when we deserve it. He never punishes us out of “self-interest,” so to speak. He disciplines us in order to better us. This is what the Torah is communicating when it speaks of a man punishing his son rather than a father punishing his son.
Before a parent punishes his child, he must ask himself this question. “Am I bothered by the damage to my image or by the fact that my child may not grow up to be a good person if he gets used to acting this way?” If parents would always ask themselves this question before reacting to their child’s misbehavior, they would be better parents and would raise better children.