The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Canary in the Coal Mine

From Rabbi Yakov Horowitz:

I ask all fathers to think about the term “Canary in a Coal Mine” as an excellent metaphor to keep in mind when raising children. Early coal mines did not have adequate ventilation systems, nor did the miners have sophisticated detection devices for deadly methane and/or carbon monoxide gases. Canaries are especially sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide, which made them ideal for detecting any dangerous gas build-ups. Miners would therefore routinely bring a caged canary into new coal seams. As long as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe. Once the canary quit chirping, signaling that it was ill – or worse – that would signal that conditions would turn deadly for humans in the near future and an immediate evacuation was in order.

In my many years of dealing with families and at-risk children, I have found that wives and (usually eldest) children serve as “Canaries in Coal Mines.” For when they stop singing – when the simchas hachayim of a family life begins eroding – it is a sure sign that things are not in order and it is almost certain that there will be casualties chas v’shalom in the future unless immediate changes are made to the environment. I have also found that mothers are usually far more sensitive to hearing these warning signs than are fathers (I discussed this regarding the concept of making aliya in last week's column).

So please listen carefully to your wife – now and forever.
This is sage advice. Being a kanoi (zealot) can suck the life out of your family. Adopting chumra after chumra can destroy your children's simchas hachayim. Everything has to be measured and, as RYH says, it is often the wives (and (usually eldest) children) who are much more attuned to these issues.



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