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Tough Love

Tough Love


What’s in a Sash?

Every morning, Jews thank G‑d for “girding Israel with strength.”1 According to the Talmud, this blessing is offered when we strap on our belts.2 The sash is associated with strength; for example, in Psalms, King David describes G‑d as “girded with strength.”3 As a warrior, he certainly thought of the girdle as a garment that stiffens the spine and carries the warrior’s weapon.

But Jewish tradition gives the sash an additional, more spiritual, dimension. It is strapped to the body between the heart and the loins, symbolically separating the lower and baser parts of man from his heart and mind.4 In fact, many Jews, particularly chassidim, wear a special sash (colloquially known as a gartel) during prayer, as a reminder to banish their inappropriate thoughts.

So, in our morning prayers, we thank G‑d for girding us with strength of character, thus empowering us to attach ourselves to all that is holy and G‑dly.

Indeed, one of the earliest commentators on Jewish liturgy, the Abudraham, linked this blessing with the verse in Jeremiah, “As the girdle is attached to human loins, so have I attached the entire house of Israel to Me.”5 The girdle was usually worn over loose-fitting garments, and was the only garment that cleaved tightly to the body. As we tie the sash around ourselves, we pray that G‑d bind us to Him. And as we do, we remind ourselves that this attachment demands both purity of spirit and strength of character.

Thus, when G‑d told Job, “Gird like a warrior your loins,” we understand the phrase on two levels. The literal meaning is that G‑d was telling Job, “Prepare to arise from your afflictions.” But on a deeper level, G‑d also told Job to strengthen his relationship with Him, thus addressing both Job’s physical and moral strengths.6 As one commentator explains, for the Jew spiritual strength translates into physical strength, for G‑d protects His children when they follow in His ways.7

This brings us to the sash worn by the priests in the ancient Temple, which is described in the Parshah of Tetzaveh. The sash was worn below the heart, prompting the Talmud to comment that the sash atoned for impure thoughts carried in the heart.8

Here we have the perfect amalgam of the sash’s two dimensions: a sash that girds the priest with strength also purifies his heart, attaching it to higher, holy thoughts related to his worship of the divine.

Tying the Priestly Sash

A fascinating Talmudic debate discusses the order in which Moses tied the sashes onto the high priest Aaron and his sons on the inaugural day of worship.9

The Torah presents the narrative about this day twice, once as G‑d’s instructions to Moses, and then again as the description of the actual day. But a discrepancy appears between the two narratives.10 In the book of Exodus, G‑d first instructs Moses to dress Aaron, the high priest, in his priestly vestments, and then to dress Aaron’s children. At the very end, G‑d instructs Moses to tie the sashes around everyone’s waists. In the book of Leviticus, where the inaugural ceremonies are described, we read that Moses dressed Aaron in his vestments and sash, and then dressed Aaron’s children in their vestments and sashes.

The Talmud assumes that Moses didn’t deviate from G‑d’s instructions. The question is merely why the Torah portrays G‑d’s instructions differently from how Moses executed them.

As usual in the Talmud, there are two opinions. One opinion is that Moses tied all the sashes at the same time; the Torah implied that they were tied separately to teach us that the high priest’s sash was made from a unique fabric, and was not interchangeable with the sashes of ordinary priests. Though they were tied at the same time, they were separate sashes.

The second opinion is that Moses tied the sashes separately; the Torah implies that they should be tied together to teach us that the sashes were all made from the same fabric, and were interchangeable.11

A Parent’s Use of Discipline

How is this 3,300-year-old event relevant to us? Allow me to suggest a lesson.

We demonstrated earlier that the sash represents both physical strength and purity of heart. When raising children, we must sometimes use a stern demeanor and strict discipline. However, we must also retain our love and purity of heart. We must remember that the purpose of our efforts is not to maintain control of our homes, and certainly not to gain the upper hand over our children. It is to raise them as emotionally balanced and productive members of society.

Aaron wore his sash, his symbol of strength, alongside his children because his strength inspired them to be strong. Similarly, we discipline our children not to destroy them, but to empower them. Remembering this ensures that our discipline is effective and laced with love.

Both Talmudic opinions agree that the belt must combine strength and love. Their difference lies in whether we ought to reveal that love while disciplining. According to the first opinion, there was a moment when Aaron stood before his children in free-flowing vestments, representing free love without discipline, and then he tied his sash in front of them. Thus, even when his sash was tied, they knew they were loved. This teaches us that parents must demonstrate their love for their children even while disciplining them.

The second opinion disagrees, and feels that there is a time for everything: a time for love, and a time for discipline. When love is called for, it is disastrous to address the child with firm discipline. Conversely, when discipline is delivered with loving softness, the message is diluted and the child is left confused.

Woe to parents who discipline out of anger and, in their rage, forget their love. A harsh word or angry action, once expressed, can never be taken back—and worse, can affect a child for life.12 Discipline should be meted out only with love. The love can be in the forefront, according to the first opinion, or in the background, according to the second opinion; but there must always be love.


The daily morning liturgy found in every siddur (book of Jewish prayer).


Talmud, Berachot 60b. Raavad (quoted by Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 46) understood that this blessing is to be said as the trousers are donned. However, Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer 7:6) understood that it is recited when the sash is tied or the belt is donned.


Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 46 (s.v. vechi asar), quoting Ra’ah. Also quoted by Taz, ibid. 46:2.


Job 38:3. Rashi on that verse offers the ordinary interpretation, “Prepare to arise from your afflictions.” The additional layer added by our interpretation further enhances the link to the rest of the chapter, in which G‑d rebukes Job for his lack of faith.


Eitz Yosef. This echoes Psalms 20:8: “These [place their trust] in chariots, and those in horses, but we invoke the name of G‑d [in battle].”


Talmud, Erachin 16a. In this section the Talmud posits that each of the priestly vestments atoned for a particular sin, and proceeds to enumerate the specific sins for which each of the vestments atoned. Furthermore, Kli Yakar to Exodus 28:39 notes that the priestly sash was thirty-two cubits long. Thirty-two is the numeric value of the Hebrew word lev, which means “heart.” Once again, the implication is that the priestly sash girded the heart and guarded it against spiritual impurity.


Talmud, Yoma 6a.


The materials of which the high priest’s sash was made are listed in Exodus 39:29. The question is whether the sash of ordinary priests was made from the same set of fabrics. Considering that these included wool and linen, a mix ordinarily forbidden by the Torah, it is important for the Torah to state clearly whether the prohibition was overridden only for the high priest or for all priests. According to the first opinion, the Torah proscribed the use of the high priest’s garment by ordinary priests. According to the second opinion, it was permitted.


We might suggest that since the idea of tying all the sashes all together appears in Moses’ instructions, and the idea of tying the sashes separately appears only later in the description of Moses’ execution, it might be correct to surmise that as a general rule parents must demonstrate love even during discipline. Even according to the opinion that discipline should not be diluted with a demonstration of love, this is true only in the actual execution, under those narrow circumstances that call for a deviation from the norm. But normal protocol, which is addressed in the instructions to Moses, is to always demonstrate love.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, and a frequent contributor to The Judaism Website— He has lectured extensively on a variety of Jewish topics, and his articles have appeared in many print and online publications. For more on Rabbi Gurkow and his writings, visit
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Lazer Gurkow March 6, 2017

Healing from Tough Parenting As we grow and become parents ourselves we begin to appreciate how challenging parenting can be. From this perspective, we view our parents' parenting methods with an entirely new perspective.

We appreciate that we tried their patience, we recognize that we challenged their sensibilities and we acknowledge that, as humans, our parents have the same weaknesses and failings that all humans have.
It is much easier to live with a put down that we know to be false, and that came from a weak and insecure parent than from a put down we believe to be true. When we view our parents in this light, we can do many things. We can a, forgive them, b, find compassion for them and C, most important, not wait for them to empower us to heal, but to realize that they need to do their healing as we need to do ours.

We are capable of healing, and let no one tell us different. Not your parents, not your peers, and above all, not yourself. Reply

Patricia Kissimmee, FL March 5, 2017

I likewise was subject to the same things mentioned here. My mother called me stupid, and my father beat everyone in my family. But it comes down to this: Do you believe the "bad report" that your parents gave you about you, or do you believe God? Joseph gave a bad report of his brothers. His brothers gave a bad report of Joseph to Jacob. Jacob believed that Joseph was dead, and this caused him much suffering of grief while Joseph was in Egypt. But God says otherwise, that all of us are loved, all of us are without fault in his eyes. What it comes down to is, whom are you going to believe, the false report, by either words or actions, that we deserve to be treated like despicable creatures, or we deserve to be loved like children of God? If you keep believing you deserve to be treated like your parents treated you, then the suffering continues. Believe God instead! That, imo is the only way to be truly and completely healed. And yes I admit, much much easier said than done. Reply

Caleb Roberts Alexander, AR February 23, 2015

Listen, you are not stupid. Furthermore, Your story of your childhood is worlds better than mine. Unfortunately, my father's anger was of the worst variety. In it, he beat me with a walking cane and locked me outside during the night in the freezing cold rain all night long. Moreover, he has broken down bathroom doors simply to beat me. Additionally, he has even broke my thumb and thrown solid objects at me.

It is not just me that he has harmed in his anger either. Furthermore, he raised a knife to my mother once in front of two families. It got to the point where I swore a vow in front of multiple witnesses that I would never do the evil the my father has done. I left him a while ago and live elsewhere now. Reply

Anonymous February 22, 2013

Tough love We are commanded to teach children and love from our Chesed our strong right side with Lovingkindness.

We are commanded to teach from our Gevurah our left weak side, as lightly as possible.

The above two build a warm relationship with compassion. Compassion tends to flicker. There is a word for this bond, but i forget it. It means faith, maybe emunah.

We are commanded to teach from a bond of Hod- Sod, trust, a steely resolve. Only when our children trust us are they open to our teachings. I think that the name for this bond is bittul.

When you put the two bonds together, faith and trust , love is palpable. Reply

Rachel Garber Phila February 21, 2013

Sticks and stone may break my bones but words can never hurt me, NOT Those were words that kids used to recite when I was in elementary school, and maybe the intention is good, but in reality, as we have learned from the horror stories we hear of children who are bullied, the results can be disastrous, even deadly. When I was growing up, my mother used to call me dummy, I always thought myself stupid (because that is the word I'd use) then one day, when I was an adult, she called me "Dummy" once again, and I demanded that she never call me that again.

This past Yom Kippur I had the opportunity to be able to forgive her for that, and years of physical abuse, (I won't go into details here of the forgiveness) but the word stuck with me. I am stuck with papers that have information I have to know, I can't throw anything away, for fear that I will it is something I will need in the future. All my life I have felt the need to prove I am not stupid, and that word is the root of it all. I know I am not, but there is still doubt, I suppose, that she is right. Reply

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