Fire. Those blue-and-yellow dancing flames, that wrecking force of nature. All it takes is one match and a slight rub against the white phosphorus, and lo and behold, fire!

My 11-year-old son is absolutely fascinated by fire. So fascinated that he grabs every opportunity to strike a match. It also seems to be contagious, because in a recent series of bush-burning events in our neighborhood, the arsonists were 11-year-olds from his class. The neighborhood bulletin called for all parents to keep a close eye on their children, and toMy 11-year-old son is fascinated by fire specifically check pockets for matches and cigarette lighters. And although my son is too timid to be the initiator of such a crime, he certainly runs out every time he detects a slight whiff of smoke. That’s why, on Motzaei Shabbat (Saturday night), when we lit the havdalah candle to usher in the new week and bless G‑d for creating fire, I kept a close watch on him and announced: “Those matches belong only to me!”

But fire must have stronger power than a mother’s admonishment, because the minute I turned my back, he had lit the candle and was trying to drip the wax in circular designs. I grabbed the candle from him and took away the matches. “Don’t you understand that fire is dangerous? There is no way that I will let you play with matches!” I yelled.

He looked at my face and, realizing I was angry with him, turned around and hit his sister. Then he looked at my face again and, seeing that I was still mad, he tried to break a hook off the wall. I figured I was causing too much damage by being there, so I left the room to think about it. What was it that caused him to hit his sister? Why was my shouting causing him to break the hook?

The issue had been coming up recently. Why is it that when I smile at someone, he turns around and lets the next driver cut him off? Why does a compliment cause a child to actually want to go to bed? I was walking around with the question in my mind when a long-ago physics lesson seemed to bubble up from the cellar of forgotten memories. Oh, kinetic energy. If I take a ball and throw it down with force, I have passed energy into it, which in turn bounces on the floor with force. The floor absorbs the energy and pushes it back up (well, depending on the amount of energy I used to begin with).

So I yelled at my son for playing with matches. It does not matter if I was right or wrong. Regardless, I foisted negative energy on my son. He had to let it out somehow; it was too much for him to contain alone. He, and everyone else, doesn’t have the extra space for negative impact. It fills us with such power that we feel we have to turn around and punch someone else. Or bite into a chocolate bar.

Eating something that you should not be eating or doing something that you should not be doing are ways of letting off negative energy that was recently absorbed, regardless of the perpetrator’s intention. When something is perceived as bad, the human psyche cannot tolerate the negative energy, and it must be exported—through insult, sin or smack.

Now, through yelling at my son, I had stumbled upon an important lesson that he still hadn’t learned: mood regulation—the ability to realize that negative energy has been absorbed, and to find a safe and positive method for diffusing it. We need to teach our son bomb disposal.

Teens and adults walk that world, absorbing shock wave after shock wave of deadly power. And, not knowing how to diffuse it, the waves wreak havoc in their lives, their psyche (both physical and mental) and their future. Food, drug, alcohol and criticism addicts have grown—not because they were negatively impacted (that energy is unfortunately available to all of us), but because they have never been taught how to dispose of negative energy.

I took my son by the hand to his room, and we sat down. We talked about power and matches. About the energy that is everywhere we go and in everything that surrounds us. We talked about how some is positive and some negative, and about how when someone initiates a positive-energy reaction, itWe talked about power and matches generates another such reaction. We talked about how nice it would be if only positive energy would be in the world, and we dreamed of Moshiach, the final redemption, when the world will overflow with positivity.

“So meanwhile, so long as Moshiach has not yet come, we need to do something,” I said. He was puzzled. “Why do we have to do anything? What does the negative energy in the world have to do with me? I didn’t cause any of it!” I preferred to let the discussion remain theoretical, and not remind him about matches and fires.

“What do you think? Can we do anything about the negative kinetic energy roaming the world? Can we change the equation?”

He thought about it and said, “If human beings have the power to cause the negative energy, then they certainly possess the power to generate positive energy. If I say something nice to my sister, she might go and share her doll with her friend. And the friend will listen to her mother and come home right away because she is filled with positive energy. Yes, I can!”