Bullying and Name Calling

In his anger, Moses uses a destructive label for his people in public.

Commentary on Parashat Chukat, Numbers 19:1 - 22:1

Often children label entire groups as “weird” or “bad” or “uncool.” Sometimes they join cliques or engage in a kind of social warfare at school, with one group pitted against another. The worst example of social warfare becomes violent, such as bullying or joining gangs. Even if their children don’t engage in the worst examples of social warfare, many parents wish their children wouldn’t be so judgmental and would be more socially open to others.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, the Children of Israel are traveling through the desert when their beloved leader, Miriam, dies. Then there is no water for the community. They complain to Moses, saying “Why did you take us from Egypt in order to bring us to this evil place?” God tells Moses to speak to the rock to draw forth water from it. Instead, Moses angrily hits the rock saying: “Listen now, O rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?” In his anger, Moses uses a destructive label for his people in public.

How can parents teach their children to be more open to others? Showing tolerance and respect for others, despite their shortcomings, can teach children to do the same. Rejecting others, on the other hand, for how they dress, or how they raise their children, to name two examples, can be internalized by children as the way to behave with their friends. Parents can discourage labeling others at home. In this way, children can learn, over time to have a healthy respect for others who are different from them, rather than putting others down in order to raise up their own self-worth.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about social groups and cliques in school and how they can be hurtful.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· How is social life at school organized? Do some kids publicly reject others?

· Is there ever name-calling at school? Bullying?

· How should one respond to such behavior?

· Does picking on others make the doer feel better or worse about himself?

From “Values and Ethics: Torah Topics for Today,” available from Behrman House Publishers.

 

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