Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC


It was very nice of Malka to express to her 6 year old son that she regretted having spoken to him harshly.  So I was a little bit puzzled when she asked me what I thought about that.

I think it was very nice of you to tell Laibel that you felt bad about how you had spoken to him.  What is it that you’re concerned about, Malka?

I’m just not sure how he took what I said to him because he had kind of a funny look on his face.

Malka, what exactly did you say to him?

I said, “Laibel, I’m sorry I yelled at you when you spilled your juice.  Yelling is not a good thing to do, and I’m sorry I yelled at you.  Are you mochel me?”

And then what happened, Malka?

Laibel said, “yes, mommy.”  But he had this look on his face… I don’t know if he was confused or unhappy or… I can’t really put my finger on it but somehow he didn’t look like everything was okay.  What was I supposed to do then?

What did you do then, Malka?

I didn’t do anything then, I just said, “okay.”  That was the end of it.

It sounds like that was the end of it but it isn’t over because you’re still not comfortable with the whole situation as it turned out.  First let me tell you that I admire your humility to apologize to your child when you’ve done something inappropriate.  I think that’s a beautiful modeling of a wonderful midda.  Secondly, you have a sensitivity toward your child which is truly a gift.  That’s how you arrived at the point where we are now, the point at which you have expressed your regret and you’re concerned about your child’s reaction.  The next step for us is to think about what your son might be reacting to.


What do you, dear reader, imagine that Laibel was reacting to?  Do you think he was caught off guard by his mother’s apology?  I would hope that no child ever be caught off guard by a parent expressing regret for having said something inappropriate.  It does not come as a surprise to children that their parents are fallible.  It should not come as a surprise to a child when a parent says, “I’m sorry.”  Knowing Malka’s relationship with her children as well as I do, I knew that Laibel’s reaction was not about being caught off guard by his mother’s apology.

Laibel was struggling with something else.  Here again, are his mother’s words:

“Laibel, I’m sorry I yelled at you when you spilled your juice.  Yelling is not a good thing to do, and I’m sorry I yelled at you.  Are you mochel me?”


Remember, Laibel is 6 years old.  What do you think might have been hard for him as you look again at the words he heard his mother say?


His mother’s statement of apology was not hard for him.  What was hard for him was the question she asked him at the end.  Here’s some information that you probably already know, and he probably does not.


You can forgive or you can pardon.  What’s the difference between them and when does each one apply?


In the Shemonah Esrai, we say “s’lach lanu, forgive us, our Father, m’chal lanu, pardon us, our King.”


A father will forgive a child because he knows and understands the child.  To forgive means to understand how the child made this mistake and feel compassion towards the child who didn’t do well.  The father does not resent the child or bear ill feelings towards him.  That’s what “forgive” means, in contrast to “pardon.”


A king may pardon, which means not punish, someone who did something wrong.  A king feels resentment, perhaps even anger, but sometimes doesn’t punish the offender. 


Where does all this leave six-year-old Laibel?  He remembers the time when his mother tripped and nearly fell over the toy she had asked him to put away half an hour earlier. When he said he was sorry, she kissed him and said “I know you didn’t mean for me to get hurt,” and she didn’t seem to feel bad about it anymore.  But now, his mother had asked him to be mochel and he said he was mochel but he still feels bad about how she had yelled at him, so maybe now he didn’t really tell the truth when he said he was mochel.


Yes, I can see how that might be why Laibel looked perturbed.  What do you think I should tell him now?


Nothing.  I’d rather you ask him what it means to be mochel someone.  What it means to him.  If he does not understand it the way you meant it, then you get to explain to him how you meant it and see what he thinks then.  I suspect that he’ll be a lot less perturbed when he finds out you didn’t expect him to forget that it ever happened.  That is not realistic to expect of a six-year-old who was frightened when you yelled at him.  What he can do is hear that you feel bad that you scared him, and you hope that he will better soon.


Thanks to your compassion, he probably will.


Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, relationships, and parenting.  He works with parents and educators, and conducts parenting groups for men and women.  He can be reached at 718-344-6575.