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5 Shevat 5760 - January 12, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Avoid Chinuch Pitfalls

by HaRav Binyomin Sharansky

Because I realize the chinuch and educational achievements of our children are of primary concern to our readers, I feel it essential to underscore several pressing topics some of which even carry a "kosher" label -- and precisely because of this the required alertness pertaining their dangers is lacking.

Grave reservations about this subject are slowly spreading among parents and educators. I believe the level of criticism must be heightened and its scope accelerated. We should be much more resolute to do something about this problem.

The enemy is nearby, ready to pounce on us.

We are urged to experience one of the most characteristic temptations of modern times. Sizable newspaper advertisements and huge posters displayed in public areas convey the message: Because they are concerned about finding a good way of filling up our children's time and also preventing their growing up deprived in comparison with secular children, shrewd promoters are organizing entertainment evenings and impressive song, music, and dance shows. Although adults are invited too, the main stress is on teenage and even younger audiences. Those behind the programs promise solemnly that they do not violate any halocho in Shulchan Oruch.

Rabbonim and educators do not have to attend these shows to know what they are. Having seen the effects on our children, they are prompted to voice their objections. They warn the public not to be beguiled into participating.

But how clever our "benefactors" are! They have even found a way to bypass the rabbonim, a way to listen to the rabbonim but . . .

There is now no need to be physically present at the show to experience it. One can slide a CD-ROM disk into the convenient computer drive and see the show at home, in the family circle, parents and children together.

And what they see on the screen is devastating! One does not need to be a professional psychologist to understand how harmful what they see and hear is. Although the singers wear yarmulkes, they still engage in unrefined movements and wild behavior.

@BIG LET BODY = We realize that parents truly want to educate their children to dignity and refined demeanor. We therefore feel it our duty to point out hidden shortcomings that, with all their good will, parents sometimes do not notice.

For instance, there are some people who think that there is nothing wrong with these video disks although their influence on the soul can actually be disastrous. These disks do not induce gentleness but the diametric opposite, not refinement but repulsive behavior and impure foolhardiness.

Let us pay attention to what is happening: Just as we do not rely on a storekeeper's claims that his products are kosher, and we stand up for our rights to see the authorization signed by reliable rabbonim, no less must we be careful with the spiritual food that we see and hear. We must be mindful of the atmosphere and effect upon our children that all sorts of experiences, gadgets, and electronic apparatus have. It is totally impossible to rely on a simple stamp of "inspected" on the label or an anonymous message heard on the disk announcing it was "censored by avreichim." Everyone agrees that Divine food must be supervised even more than material food.

We feel that one of our educational responsibilities is to inform parents that they should not allow their daughters to accept invitations to look even at (nameless or unauthorized) "censored" disks at a relative or neighbor's house. We cannot treat this matter lightly.

Sometimes seemingly innocent sights are shown on the screen that in truth are suffused with alien symbols. Sometimes they have Catholic themes, or just the tone is the antithesis of our Jewish world. We are well aware that there is nothing that penetrates our senses without leaving a trace.

We, therefore, again request: Keep your eyes open and explain to all your household members the threat hiding behind those "innocent" sights and "censored" sounds. Prevent them from meeting with an influence alien and contradictory to our precious values. The modern world forces us to grapple with new tests to our ruchniyus. Do not allow routine to dull our alertness and upset the sensitive sensors of our power of criticism.

Let us remember that only a short time of gazing at a disk or even (yet another malady of contemporary times) aimless wandering in a mall, are liable to extinguish the sacred flame that with all our might and main we have ignited in the talmidos throughout the many years they were educated in Beis Yaakov schools. Doubtless the desire to see these sights and hear these peculiar sounds cools down any desire to see kedusha and hear voices of Torah study and Judaism. The Sochotchover Rebbe zt'l said on the posuk, "You shall be holy" (Vayikro 19:2) that, "although a person through his own efforts cannot become perfect in kedusha, he should at least incessantly aspire to reach this level of kedusha. `You shall be holy' -- through a ceaseless craving for kedusha."

Accordingly, although we can never guarantee what level of kedusha we will attain, we must not stifle, even for one moment, our craving for kedusha. These sacred cravings are inimical to allowing the use of CD-ROM and DVD disks, videos, television, and attending entertainment shows that strengthen only the opposite of kedusha.

"My son, give me your heart" (Mishlei 23:26). True chinuch is not only creating good habits and converting virtuous behavior to routine. All of our combined power should be harnessed to the supreme educational task: instilling a love of spirituality in our girls' hearts. We are commanded to permeate divrei Torah within our intellect and emotions, as the Torah writes: "Place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul" (Devorim 11:18). The Seforno (ibid.) explains that "`upon your heart' means we should reflect about divrei Torah, and `upon your soul' means we must fulfill them willingly." We are required to reflect, not to think superficially, and not to perform mitzvos by rote.

"With all your heart, with all your soul" (ibid., 6:5). Ibn Ezra interprets the heart as being daas (intelligence) a cognomen for the nefesh hamaskeles (the discerning soul). Rashi explains (Sanhedrin 74) that "you should cherish His love more than anything else."

Directing our children to what is good and implanting within them a desire to distance themselves from anything even mildly negative is good solid chinuch. This is especially so in our times when new technological temptations, which are frequently disguised as innocent means of entertainment and business, are devised daily. Only devotion to our task, only through imbuing proper desires into the nefesh of our children, only by continually emphasizing that "Hashem desires our heart" (Sanhedrin 106b, see Rashi), while ceaselessly supervising the means by which to enrich our children in spiritual content and studies, can we be assured, with Hashem's help, that we have accomplished our primary obligation: Conveying to the next generation the wealth of happiness in a genuine Jewish chinuch and yearning for lives of kedusha and purity.

In building our children's character we must forcefully intervene to strengthen their desire for good. A person's thoughts, which identify themselves with his essence, follow his desires. The Baal Shem Tov zt'l teaches us: "Where a person's thoughts are found, the man is found." Maran HaRav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt'l writes in Michtav MeEliyahu that "a person does not interest himself in anything unless he feels an urge to do so, be it in good or bad matters. Since a person's desires form his thoughts and not vice versa . . . his thoughts definitely cannot digest what his desires negate. All mistaken decisions stem from one root: a person's desire to make that mistake. Middos are the reason for his mistakes and not the mistakes a reason for his undesirable middos."

We see that a person's desires control his intelligence. When a person takes an interest in something, his interest is a direct result of his desires. When a person interests himself in something spiritual this interest stems from an internal yearning. If he does an act of chesed it is because his desires direct him to do it. If he honors his parents correctly this shows he really wants to do so, that his heart is set on doing so. Similarly if a girl looks for heteirim to wear a garment upon which chachomim look unfavorably, it shows she really wants to wear that garment, and that is why she is looking for a heter.

Chazal (Makkos 10b) write, "A person is led in the way he wants to go."

HaRav Shlomo Wolbe shlita in Ali Shur describes man's desires: "There is one power that nests inside a person -- his most significant power, and this mighty power causes a person to act, enlightens his way, and awakens Divine Assistance. This power is a person's desire."

"Our work in chinuch is to provoke our students' desire to become closer to HaKodosh Boruch Hu, to do His will. To accomplish this objective we want this desire to draw with it all the strength of body and soul. A woman who wants to educate herself and work on the midda of chesed must resolutely want to do chesed. That is all she must do and Heaven will help her see how and when to do acts of chesed. This is our avoda: continuously to strengthen our desire for purity.

"We must be aware of this overwhelming truth: What a person really wants is what he obtains in his life. The opposite is also true: What a person obtains in his life shows what he really wanted."

We must implant in our girls the desire to do good and then the results will correspond to their aspiration. "Someone who wants to become tahor is helped, and if someone (chas vesholom) wants to become tomei he is helped."

"He will be imbued with a spirit of fear for Hashem" (Yeshaya 11:3).

But how can we implant such a good desire if we remain indifferent to what our girls see and hear -- even if the producer testifies as to the kashrus of these disks or their having a hechsher testify they have been censored?

Dear Parents! We hope you realize that we are not submitting defined and clear directives for your use. We are interested primarily in amplifying your intervention and concern for the chinuch of the young generation, the hope of our future.

We should not be compliant, forgiving, and lenient in anything concerning cultivating the proper desire within our children. The many homes forced because of their livelihood (and in that particular case the rabbonim give a heter) to have a computer at home, must be alert to the undesirable possibilities the computer presents to its users. They must, as the gedolei Yisroel have warned, closely supervise how it is being used.

We should not put away, even for one moment, the conductor's wand when supervising educational matters. We should not allow fads to, cholila, dictate leniency and to conform to undesirable conditions. Constant criticism and unending investigating about the effects of these new (and old) machines is our sacred educational duty.

If our children's chinuch is precious to us -- and it is actually the most precious thing we possess -- we dare not underestimate these vulnerable points. We must be circumspect of new styles and be attentive to all apprehensions. Any slight concession is liable to expand into a major breach. Apathy stemming from laziness encourages risk.

Please, dear parents, be on guard! Inspire your children and household to behave with kedusha. Make it a Mishkan for Hashem, so that His Shechina will forever dwell there. Awaken within your children a yearning and enthusiasm to ascend the mountain of Hashem. Plant within them the ardent desire to reach the coveted goal of always doing Hashem's will. May the zechus of our efforts to educate our children and trying to become tohor stand by us so we will receive assistance from HaKodosh Boruch Hu, Whose eyes are directed to those who fear Him.

We have an exceptional and precious young generation, interested in elevating themselves in spiritual matters. Let us -- the parents and educators -- utilize their promising potential to instill within them a spirit of tohoroh and aspiration to kedusha, until, "He will be imbued with a spirit of fear for Hashem" (Yeshaya 11:3).

HaRav Binyomin Sharansky is the principal of the Tel Aviv Beis Yaakov Seminary.

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