Your child does know better. So why did she do that?
Reish Lakish amar: Ein adam oveir aveirah ella im kein nichnas bo ruach shtus.
Reish Lakish said: A man commits a sin only if a spirit of folly enters him. (Sotah 3a)
Our sages tell us that a person does not sin unless he has temporarily taken leave of his senses. They quote Bamidar 12:11 in support of this. Aharon says to Moshe, asher no'alnu v'asher chatanu, because of our foolishness we have sinned.
We must ask that if sin is the result of a functional disability of the mind, how can a person be held responsible for such sin? (Akeidat Yitzchak 73:1)
This can be said about all transgressions, that when a person commits a sin he is not in full possession of his faculties; for no one man commits a sin unless a spirit of folly enters him.
This is why teshuva is a negative or reductive process. We are not looking for new paths. We seek to return to the straight path that represents our true selves. We try to return to who we had been, what we knew to be right before our hearts misled us. Teshuva requires bitul halev, allowing us to regain full control over ourselves.
This is what the prophet Hoshea meant when he said, Yisrael, return to Hashem, because, kashalta, you have stumbled, in your auvon, your sin.
Chazal pointed out a discrepancy. The term kashalta implies a sin committed b’shogaig, unwittingly, because you stumbled. The term auvon denotes a deliberate sin. This is answered by Hoshea. Your apparently deliberate sin was actually caused by the michsol you stumbled over, the michsol placed there by your heart overriding your mind, the ruach shtus we call emotions overtaking our cognitions every day. (based on Hegyonos El Ami, Rav Moshe Avigdor Amiel, Volume I, Shabbat Shuvah 30:23)
When a person commits an aveirah he is not judged solely for the act of the offense because he is considered an onus in the commission, he was forced to do it by the ruach shtus that had taken control of his desires. We see from the gemara in Sotah 3a that a person does not commit an aveirah unless he has been overtaken by a ruach shtus. Once this spirit of folly has entered him, he is considered an onus, not acting with full cognitive control. Therefore, he is mainly judged for having any desire at all to sin prior to the ruach shtus entering him. (Nisivos Shalom cited in Margoliyos HaShas, Sotah, page 232, paragraph 441)
The author of the sefer Yismach Moshe explained the expression unless a spirit of folly enters him as an answer to the ancient question of how anyone can ever commit an aveirah , a question that no master craftsman nor son of a master craftsman can solve (Avodah Zarah 50b): How can someone who believes that Hashem sees everything that we do be so brazen as to commit an aveirah in front of Hashem? And if one, chalila [G-d forbid], thinks that Hashem does not see him, this is a far greater aveirah of denial, an aveirah of kefira many have sacrificed their lives to avoid. When, [after 120 years], a person stands before Hashem and is asked this very question, what can he say? He can only say this teaching of Chazal: a person only commits an aveirah when a ruach shtus enters him, and there is no questioning [of the behavior] of someone who is a shoteh, not in possession of his faculties. (Likutei Basar Likutei cited in Margoliyos HaShas, Sotah, page 231, paragraph 437)
Where does this ruach shtus come from? How do we lose control of our knowledge and act out on our emotions? Why do we say and do things that we realize afterwards we knew better?
It comes from the heart. Ruach shtus is raw emotion, raw in that it has not been evaluated by the mind to determine the most helpful response to whatever triggered that emotion. Emotions are not wrong or bad. They are raw, in need of evaluation, modulation, and consideration before we act upon them. At its most extreme, when the heart overcomes the mind and raw emotion drives behavior the result is a crime of passion and the consequences are tragic. At lower levels of intensity, raw emotional reactions are sometimes harmful, often unhelpful.
You and your child do know better. But actions are too often determined by the heart, not the mind. And the heart cannot be trusted.
Aukov ha’lev mi’kol v'anash hu. (Yirmiyahu 17:9)
Aukov halev: Full of subterfuge and evil deceits. V'anash:an expression of sickness. (Rashi, ibid)
Aukov: Bent and twisted more than any other part of the body (Metzudas David, ibid)
The heart envisions the worst possible threats and outcomes, vacillating between extremes all of the time. (Malbim, ibid)
Your child, no matter what he said or did, does know better. So do you every time you later regret what you said or did.
Have you ever asked your child: So if you know better, why did you say that? Why did you do that if you know better?
Now you know why.
In whatever way you help yourself to do better at overcoming ruach shtus, help your child the same way.
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.