Conflicting Principles

Conflicting Principles

The other day a parent dropped their child off for a session at the child center where I work. My job is to help children to feel calmer and better about themselves. But this parent was behind on their payments. The center has a strict policy: if a parent owes money, we aren’t allowed to accept the child. If we do, we won’t get paid for the session.

So I had a decision to make. Should I turn away a child who has arrived without a parent? Or should I accept the child and just forgo payment for the session?

I accepted the child. I didn’t want the child to feel rejected through no fault of their own. I’d rather forgo payment than create a bad situation for the child.

This was not an easy decision because I have my own principle of getting paid for my work and I don´t think it´s healthy to work for free (unless I’ve volunteered my services).

That´s when I realized that there are situations where our principles clash and we must decide which principle takes precedence.

When I think of the holiday of Shavuos, I think of this very conflict. On the one hand, there are our obligations to G-d, and on the other hand, our obligations to our fellow Jew. It happens more often than not that out of our zealousness to fulfill our obligation to G-d we forget about other people and in the process hurt them.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l was once walking on Shabbat and saw a father and son walking toward him with the father carrying a chair. Rav Auerbach was not pleased with this sight and stopped to ask why the son was letting his father carry the chair. The son answered that he is stringent not to rely on the eiruv and therefore doesn´t carry in this area. Rav Auerbach was visibly shaken and said, “You are stringent on a rabbinic level and transgress the commandment of kibud av on a Torah level!”

This is but one example how we sometimes don´t keep the big picture in mind. The same G-d that commanded us to fulfill the mitzvos between us and G-d, also commanded us at the same time not to neglect our fellow Jew.

What is mind boggling about this story is that neither the son nor the father realized that something was off or at least the father didn´t make a point to teach his son about respect. It took the awareness and sensitivity of an outside person to notice that was wrong.

I bet this happens to you as parents as well…

You want to educate your child and therefore create important family rules and principles such as speaking respectfully, listening to authority, having children clean up after themselves, etc. You want to raise a well-mannered child who will contribute to society (and yes, let´s face it: not shame your family name!).

Take a minute and ask yourself to what extent do you enforce those rules?

Do you sometimes criticize, yell or threaten your child in order to instill in him those virtues and in the process of teaching and educating him, forget to live up to those standards as well?

Let’s look at it from another point of view.

You surely have a principle or value to make your child feel respected, loved and safe.

However, I bet it happens sometimes that you transgress these values of respect and love in order to follow through on your other educational values of turning your child into a “healthy and functional member of society”.

I am certain that this situation has caused you some internal conflict as well.

As mentioned in the above story it sometimes takes an outsider to notice that something is not the way it is supposed to be.

I want this blog to be that place where you can become aware and get the help to change things for the better. In order for me to do that I need to get your feedback.

So, my question for you is: how do you deal with your blind spots and your “conflict of principles”?

Just jot down a few lines and reply by email. I want to know what each one of you is struggling with so that I can tailor my blog to your needs.

Best wishes,

Eli Weiss


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