Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski
Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski

"Do Not Sin Against The Child": Divorce Involving Children

On Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur we read about the execution of the ten greatest Talmudic sages by the Romans. This was to atone for the sin of the tribes who sold Joseph into slavery. The Talmud says that the heavenly angels protested the injustice of this, but G-d said, "Keep silent! This is My decree!"

The outstanding condemnation of this heinous sin was by Reuven, who said, "Did I not say to you, ‘Do not sin against the boy?'"(Genesis 42:22). These words of Torah continue to reverberate: "Do not sin against the child."

Children did not ask to be brought into this stressful world, one in which they must endure many hardships. Indeed, the Talmud says that it would have been better had man not been created (Eruvin 13b). The distresses that most people experience in their lives far exceeds their pleasures.

But for whatever reasons, we do bring children into this world, and we must be aware of the awesome responsibility this entails. Every bit of our conscience dictates that once we bring a child into the world, we have an obligation to provide the child with the means to achieve happiness. We cannot give our children happiness. All we can do is to give them an environment which will be conducive to their attaining happiness.

The greatest need children have is security, and this is provided when the home is truly peaceful and harmonious, and the children feel that the parents' care and love for them is primary in their lives, not second to anything, not even to their own wants. As I have said elsewhere, once you bring a child into the world, you have forfeited the right to insist on your own wants. Consideration of what is best for the child comes first. Bickering among the parents undermines the child's security and is a sin against the child. "Do not sin against the child."

Unfortunately, some marriages do not work out. If a couple separates, foremost in their thoughts must be, "What can we do to minimize the impact on the child of the dissolution of the marriage?" All other considerations, such as financial arrangements and custody must be set aside, and everything must be tailored to lessen the trauma on the child. Selfish demands that fail to take into consideration the effect on the child are a sin of the greatest magnitude.

It is unthinkable, yet it does happen, that in the bitterness of a divorce, the parents may use the children as weapons. Using children as human shields in war is a violation of international law, and using children as weapons in a divorce battle is a heinous crime. We react with horror when we hear that some animals kill and eat their young. Using a child as a weapon to further one's interests is no less an abomination! This puts a person into a status even lower than that of animals, who operate by instinct and do not have a conscience.

Yonah's and Esti's marriage got off to a rough start. From the very beginning, Yonah was a "control freak." He objected to Esti's desire to visit her mother, and was even critical of her phone conversations. Under the guise of financial responsibility, Yonah had total control of the family finances. Esti could not sign checks and did not have a credit card. She worked as a teacher, and surrendered her check to him. He made insulting comments about her family. When Esti complained about him to her parents, they told her to try and "be nicer" to him, but Esti's efforts made no change in Yonah, whose control escalated.

They had a boy, and Yonah built a strong relationship with the child. The child began going to yeshiva at age six. When the child was eight, Yonah began to be lax in his Yiddishkeit. One time the child told Esti that his father had taken him to a restaurant of "all goyim." Esti was horrified, and told Yonah she wanted a divorce. In the negotiations, Yonah wanted the child every other weekend. Esti was reluctant, because Yonah no longer observed Shabbos, but Yonah said he had as much right to raise the child as she did. He said that unless she agreed to his having the child on alternate weekends, he would not give her a gett. In order to get the gett, Esti agreed to the weekends.

The child was going to yeshiva, where he learned that violation of Shabbos was wrong. The child would tell Esti about what he and his father did on Shabbos, and Esti would tell him that "we don't think that is right." The child reported that his father said that "mother's ways are old-fashioned and these laws are no longer necessary."

This is a fresh case. The child is not doing well in yeshiva and is chutzpadig to Esti, There is no prediction how this child is going to turn out, but being confused at age eight about what is right and wrong and being torn between two parents does not augur well for the child's future. Esti got her gett, but to do so she effectively sacrificed her son's spiritual future.

Children can suffer an entire lifetime because parents put their own needs before those of their children. Can there be a sin greater than ruining a child's future?

If a marriage terminates, mediation is far more desirable than litigation. In an adverse confrontation, neither lawyer gives due consideration to the children. A mediator can suggest ways to protect the children's interests and can help the parents focus on the children's welfare. Hopefully, both parents can be helped to maintain a positive relationship with the children in spite of their separation.

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