How not to bite your student/child’s head off



  • There are days when a certain student might walk by you and he’ll stick out his hand for a high five.
  • Weeks, pass, and that student refuses to look you in the eye.

What happened? Perhaps you refused to accept a shady excuse for late work. Perhaps you busted her for cheating. Perhaps you told his parents about a problematic outburst in class.

Parents, too, know this feeling — the same son or daughter who, last week, snuggled with you on the sofa now won’t sit next to you in the front seat of the car.

Angry words were exchanged. The word hate may have emerged. The parent, it seems, has ruined the child’s life. Oaths were made: the child promises she will never forgive the parent.

The parent may remain silent…or perhaps the feeling is mutual. Either way, there are at least 15 minutes left to the trip to the orthodontist. It will not  be a pleasant 15 minutes.

Well, that was horrible. Now what?

What do we do with our feelings of rage and anger in moments when the most important people in our lives have betrayed us in the most unimaginable ways? The student or child who once was so adorable, you wanted to “eat him up!” has now nearly provoked you to bite his head off off!

Jeremiah Lockwood, singer of the Sway Machinery, (and grandson of the esteemed cantor Jacob Konigsberg) brings a solution to this dilemma, complete with haunting soundtrack and animation, in this week’s Torah portion Bechukotai on

Lockwood points out that parshat Bechukotai contains a mixture of blessings and curses. If the people maintain their covenant with God, Moses tells the people, then their crops will grow, and there will be peace across the land. If God is forsaken and the covenant is broken, well, the list of curses, Lockwood says, “is nearly too unseemly for mentioning in polite company.”

  • Boils.
  • Fever.
  • Carnivorous Animals.

Lockwood pauses before uttering the final curse: parents will eat their own children.

Immediately, he says, the topic of the parsha shifts,  and the rest of Bechukotai is occupied with tax codes.

Why the shift?

A better question is how the shift, and Lockwood suggests that throughout  the list of punishments, God’s rage mounts, and then through doing this, the rage is spent, clearing the way for love and mercy and, I’d add, some semblance of normal conversation.

While it can be unwise to indulge in fantasies about the harm that should come to those we love who have hurt us, I’d like to suggest that another message emerges from the juxtaposition of the horrible and the mundane.

After a wrathful conversation, after accusations and bickering and screaming have run their course, not only can there be a return to normalcy, but there needs to be a return to normalcy.

Bitter students need to be complimented on their excellent topic sentences. Furious children need to be invited down for dinner. Even spouses need to employ the commonplace structures of day to day life; they can become redemptive when returned to after the un-utterable is uttered: walks.  Meals. Email check-ins. Washing dishes. Driving. Laundry. It’s the job of the teacher or the parent to wait it out, to keep safe structures in place. Show that even un-utterables are only words, and that when followed by consistent, dependable acts of love, support, and compassion, they can fade into the past.

Next time your child or student speaks to you like he or she would like to chew your head off, perhaps you can remember that in Bechukotai, even God felt that way.

And even God got over it.