Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi would recite these verses [Tehilim 90] until he fell asleep. How could he do that? Didn’t Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi [himself] say: One is forbidden to heal himself with words of Torah? Prevention from harm is different. (Shavuos 15b)
It is permitted to use words of Torah, including Tanach, to prevent harm even though it is not permitted for healing.
During a visit to Boston in 1733, Benjamin Franklin was impressed with the city’s fire prevention methods. He tried to bring some of these practices to the city of Philadelphia, where he lived. He sent an unsigned letter to his own newspaper. The letter began with the expression an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Then he wrote about how a city should prepare itself for a fire. (https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/an-ounce-of-prevention-is-worth-a-pound-of-cure-/5326585.html)
Ben Franklin knew what needed to be prevented: fires that had been happening in Philadelphia. He learned what had been done to prevent fires in Boston and encouraged Philadelphia’s leaders to enact similar measures. Perhaps he intuited our Gemara when he wrote an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Another Gemara teaches us that it is wise to anticipate outcomes in order to prevent misfortune.
Ai’zehu chacham? Ha’roeh es ha’nolad.
Who is wise? The one who sees the outcome. (Tamid 32a)
The Gemara cannot be instructing us to become prescient. We cannot know for sure what the outcome of any decision, behavior, or words will be. So how, then, can we see an outcome? How can we anticipate what the future will bring?
By learning from the past.
Our decisions, behaviors, and words may seem original and they may be spontaneous. Nonetheless, they have antecedents, they’ve been said and done before, as we are taught in Koheles (1:9), there is nothing new under the sun. Those antecedents had outcomes and in order to be wise we must learn from them.
Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. (Winston Churchill, 1948 speech to the House of Commons)
Yes, but not always. Prior performance never guarantees future results. History does not always repeat itself. So how concerned should we be about how things might turn out?
Apparently, we’re very concerned, at least when it comes to money.
In 2019, U.S. insurance industry net premiums totaled $1.32 trillion, with premiums recorded by property/casualty (P/C) insurers accounting for 48 percent, and premiums by life/annuity insurers accounting for 52 percent, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. (Insurance Information Institute, 2021)
There is another type of insurance, an insurance against intangible damage, damage that cannot be assuaged by money.
For parents, that damage is emotional, emotional damage to themselves and their children. The insurance against that is called prevention. You determine what damage to insure against by being ro-eh es ha’nolad based on the experiences of others and your own.
Prevention is the insurance, imperfect as it may be.
What is the damage a parent seeks to prevent? Here’s an example from a book entitled To Me, He Was Just Dad:
I would tentatively try to share my thoughts and childlike discoveries with my father, but he usually brushed me off.
By the time I was ten, I had become deeply, chronically insecure. My thoughts and feelings, which had once mattered, suddenly did not-at least to the one person I yearned for them to matter to. I began seeing myself as flawed and unwanted, the kind of gift you hope comes with a receipt. One day, I cut off my cloud of blond curls with a pair of craft scissors, trying to make myself look as ugly as I felt. Among my peers, I would adopt a similar interpersonal pattern as with my father, alternating between extreme vulnerability and an overaggressive demand to be noticed. My schoolmates smelled weakness, and I became a target for bullying, which only widened the fracture between the confident, assertive little girl I had been and the wounded preteen I was becoming.
That wound at my core would continue to fester for years, leading me into a spiral of pain and addiction that lasted well into adulthood. My father remained little more than an angry stranger for most of my life, and until recently, I would look in his eyes and see my deficiencies mirrored in his remoteness. (Artisan Publishing, New York, 2020, pp 108-109)
This story reminded me of the man who came in to meet with me, sat down, and said, I’m here because I want to learn how to connect with my children.
He was expressing hisorarus d’litatah, a desire not only to foresee but to influence an outcome for himself and his children.
Hisorarus d’litatah, literally “awakening on the lower level,” is a conscious desire on our part to see a particular outcome or achievement. This awakening on our part brings about hisorarus d’laila, kaviyachol, an “awakening on the upper level” that assists in bringing our desire to fruition. (Based on the Taz, Orach Chaim, 1:2)
How do parents prevent emotional harm to themselves and their children?
Be alert to the following four concerns and learn how to address them appropriately in yourself, your spouse, and your child: physical hunger, anger, loneliness, and fatigue.
Hunger can be debilitating both physically and emotionally. It doesn’t take a fast day in order for those effects to occur. Be alert to dehydration and hunger in yourself and others to prevent harm.
Anger is an internal signal that something is not the way you want it to be. It is not intrinsically good or bad. The expression of anger can be good and it can be bad, that is to say it can bring about a beneficial outcome or a harmful one. Learn and teach adaptive ways of expressing anger in order to prevent maladaptive, harmful behaviors. Remember that timing is critical when addressing any intense emotion in another person. Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said: Al tiratzeh es chavereicha b’shas ka’aso, do not attempt to soothe someone while they are angry. (Avos 4:18) The implication being that when they’ve calmed down, soothe them, and if their emotional expression had been harmful, help them to prevent a recurrence by learning an alternative way of expressing that emotion.
Children feel lonely when their thoughts and feelings have been dismissed. They won’t “open up” because when they have, their parents contradicted them, minimized, or tried to talk them out of their concerns. You can prevent your child from “shutting down” by learning how to provide effective support rather than trying to fix or solve things. Listen and accept your child’s perceptions of events, let them tell their story repeatedly if they so choose. Keep listening until they stop talking. Then, when and if they ask you for help, offer it. Until then, don’t.
Finally, be alert to fatigue. Parenting is always important, rarely urgent. When there is a behavior to be addressed and you or your child are tired or emotionally spent, don’t ignore it. Postpone it. Say, I don’t like what you just did. I’ll speak with you later. By saying that and speaking later when both of you are calmer, you will prevent making things worse.
B’ezras HaShem, when you prevent making things worse, you will also make things better. What things? Your success as a parent and your child’s growth in Torah and middos.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.
He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575.