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9 Kislev 5761 - December 6, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Train A Child In The Way He Should Go -- HaRav Chaim Kanievsky Responds To Some Commonly Raised Educational Issues

By Rav Tzvi Yabrov

Rav Tzvi Yabrov prepared a number of questions in matters pertaining to chinuch and to talmud Torah that touch on common issues which affect almost everybody and presented them to HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, who gave verbal replies to the queries. Rav Yabrov later submitted his written version of these replies to HaRav Kanievsky, who gave his consent for publication. Here are the questions which Rav Yabrov submitted, together with HaRav Kanievsky's replies.

The first part dealt with various issues, among them honoring parents, learning with weaker friends, hitting children, learning mussar with young children and more.

Part II

Depth Vs. Clarity

Q. When a child gets swept too far into lomdus and neglects his understanding of the plain meaning of the gemora, should he be set back on course, despite the possibility of his losing the enjoyment of learning?

A. One mustn't take away a child's enjoyment in learning but one does have to learn gemora, Rashi and Tosafos with him and make sure that he understands their plain meaning.

When I travelled to yeshiva, my father zt'l said to me, "Macht nisht kein Teireh. Fri'er, veis Shas! First know Shas, and then make chiddushim!"

Complaints about the Rebbe

Q. When a child comes home complaining about his melamed in cheder, and his argument seems justified, should he be supported, even though this erodes the status of the melamed, or is it permissible to "interpret" the situation?

A. This is an old question and it seems that there is no choice but to reconcile the child to the melamed's behavior, even though the child seems to be correct. It might not be possible to justify the teacher entirely, but one should speak to the child in a way that does not detract from the melamed's position of authority. One should explain to the child that the melamed's opinion is such and such and that he is doing this for the child's benefit, or for the benefit of other talmidim . . .

Also, when the father has a difference of opinion with the melamed in the cheder or with the maggid shiur in yeshiva, he has to use his common sense when speaking to his son and explain that it seems that one can't say such and such, [rather than flatly stating that the teacher is wrong], so that his son does not lose his esteem for the teacher.

When Father and Son are of Different Opinions

Q. A boy wants to go and learn somewhere that his parents feel is not suitable for him. Should he get into a fight with them about it? Can one rely on the boy's judgment? Does the answer depend on what the boy's reasons are and his father's reasons for disagreeing?

A. The Shulchan Oruch (Yore Dei'ah siman 240:25), rules that if a son wants to learn in a particular place and his father does not agree, the son does not have to listen to his father. However, this naturally only applies when the son is right.

If a young boy doesn't listen to his father, he should be taken to a great man who will explain things to him. He shouldn't be allowed to do what he wants. If he is already a grown up bochur and he understands, it is difficult to put pressure on him. I once commented: why is it that the Torah says that a father can annul his daughter's vows but not those of his son? Because a son who learns Torah sometimes understands things better than his father, while a daughter will do whatever she's told.

Overdoing Things

Q. When one sees a boy who is immersing himself too deeply in learning, to the point where his health is suffering, but there is a danger that if his parents say something to him, he'll think that they are trying to stop him from learning -- should something nonetheless be said, and who should say it?

A. Something needs to be said to him, because this kind of thing can sometimes lead to a situation where he'll stop learning completely R'l. Things like this have happened before. However, one should use common sense when speaking to him. I heard from the gaon and tzaddik HaRav Eliyohu Dushnitzer zt'l, that the Chofetz Chaim zt'l, would enter the yeshiva at eleven p.m. and turn off the electricity saying, "Tomorrow is also a day!"

In general, it is not possible to lay down rules in such matters. One needs to exercise judgment and resolve and see that one speaks to him sensibly.

Loshon Hora About a Brother

Q. When a child tells his parents loshon hora about a sibling, when there really is a constructive purpose for the sake of the other child's upbringing, so that the parents can ensure that he won't repeat the misdemeanor, is it permissible to believe the story, or should the first child be reprimanded for speaking loshon hora?

A. One is allowed to believe it however, one should explain to the child that he shouldn't say such things unless he means them to be beneficial.

I Can't Afford It

Q. When a child asks his father for something and the father does not think that his child will benefit from it, for either material or spiritual considerations, may the father lie and tell his child that he has no money to buy it, even though he really does have?

A. It is forbidden to lie, however, saying "I can't afford it" is not lying, because he means that he hasn't got money for this particular thing.

Exercising Discretion

Q. When one is learning a sugya in gemora, or the like with young children and one arrives at a topic involving matters of modesty, is it permissible to deviate from the truth, since one is clearly doing so for the child's educational benefit?

A. One should explain it to the child briefly and if he asks questions one should say, "When you'll be older you'll understand." This is how Father zt'l also used to answer when he was asked too many questions: "When you're older you'll understand."

Supervision During Amidoh

Q. When a father is in the middle of the Shemonah Esrei and he sees that his son is not praying properly, and this disturbs the father's concentration, may he signal to his son to remind him to pray? What is the din when the son's behavior is not disturbing the father but he wants to signal to his son for the son's benefit?

A. He may signal to his son, as long as he doesn't interrupt his tefilloh by speaking. I once asked a great man whether a father has to glance at his son in the middle of his own amidoh to check how he's praying and he responded, "Chayecho kodmin! Your own needs take precedence!"

Forgetting Yaaleh Veyovo

Q. If a child who is old enough to pray forgot to say Yaaleh Veyovo in the Shemonah Esrei, on Rosh Chodesh or on Chol Hamoed, should his father train him to pray Shemonah Esrei again?

A. He should pray again. However, it all depends on the circumstances.

Things Which Promote Forgetfulness

Q. Should one be careful that a small child who does not yet learn Torah, should not do any of the things that are mentioned in seforim as causing a person to forget Torah, such as putting a baby's clothes underneath the head while sleeping etc. or perhaps, since he does not yet learn Torah, he has nothing to forget?

A. One should certainly avoid them because they weaken the memory.

Helping to Solve Puzzles

Q. Children often ask their parents for help in solving riddles, then they send off the solution and win prizes. Are the child and the solver transgressing the prohibition of theft? Aren't they misleading the proprietors?

A. They set up the competition knowing that this happens.

Can A Wise Man Reveal the Solution?

The Medrash Rabba (Eichoh 1:11) brings an incident that took place when someone entered a classroom and found the children there without their teacher. He asked them questions and they answered them. They said to him, "Let's make up between us that whoever asks the other a question that he can't answer, will take his clothes from him." The man agreed because he was relying on his wisdom.

He said to them, "You, who live here answer my question first."

They said, "No, you answer first because you are old." They then asked him a riddle which he couldn't answer and according to their agreement, they took his clothes.

The man went to their teacher, Rabbi Yochonon and said, "Woe, Rabbi! Such bad things happen here. When a guest comes among you, you take away his clothes!"

Rabbi Yochonon replied, "Perhaps they asked you something which you couldn't answer?"

The man said, "Yes."

Rabbi Yochonon said, "It wouldn't be right for me to tell them to return your clothes because you made an agreement with them. However I will tell you what to answer them, and then they'll give your clothes back to you." And this was what happened.

The pupils understood that the man had not found the solution on his own and that their rebbe Rabbi Yochonon had a hand in the matter and they applied to him the posuk (Shofetim 14:18) said by Shimshon, "If not for your having plowed using my calf [i.e. your having worked on my wife to extract the answer from me], you wouldn't have found the answer to my riddle," as if to say, "We know that you didn't find the answer yourself and that our teacher told you."

In his sefer, Rav Pe'olim (cheilek IV, Choshen Mishpot siman 5), the Ben Ish Chai cites this medrash as proof that the wise man was not wrong in revealing the solution and he thus resolves a question that was put to him. Our question is, How was the wise man permitted to reveal the answer. Wasn't there a suspicion of theft involved in his doing so?

A scholar referred me to Shofetim 14 where we find that Shimshon at first promised thirty sheets and thirty suits of clothing to whoever found the solution to his riddle but in the end only gave the suits. Quoting the Abarbanel, the Malbim writes that this was, "because he had an argument [that they did not deserve anything because his wife had told them the answer] so he gave just half, like money of doubtful ownership."

Q. What was Shimshon's doubt?

A. Whether the original agreement had included this way of finding the answer.

Q. And what about the proof from the medrash?

A. There he did it to prevent chilul Hashem.

He Didn't Know

When our teacher mentioned the elderly man in Yeshivas Lomzha in Petach Tikva who asked him about Boaz's not inviting Mono'ach to his simchas, he recalled another question that he was asked while they learned there.

The gemora (Avoda Zora 39), relates that a certain question was asked of one of the amoroim and "he didn't know." The question was then put to a different amora who gave an answer. What is the purpose of the gemora telling us that the first amora didn't have an answer? Is the gemora, chas vesholom, merely reporting something detrimental about the first amora?

I replied that the meaning of the gemora is as follows. When someone has a doubt in halochoh as to how he should act in a certain situation, it may be that there are not two options at all and that he's groping in the dark simply because of his lack of knowledge. If he brings his question to a great man however, and his response is, "I don't know," or, "I have no answer," the entire question takes on new meaning. Now there really are two possibilities.

The gemora is telling us that when the question was put to the first amora and he didn't know, it became clear that there really were two sides to the question.

I later found a Tosafos (Yoma 47, beginning "Hodor poshtoh") referring to a gemora which says, "They later resolved that [the status of the ketores in between the fingers of the Cohen Godol] is in doubt." Tosafos ask what there was to resolve, for as soon as the question was asked to begin with, there was a doubt. "The answer can perhaps be given that originally there was a thought to resolve the doubt one way or the other but then it was resolved that the matter would remain in doubt!" It would remain a question which nobody could resolve.

Our teacher then mentioned another question that was asked by another elder who learned in Yeshivas Lomzha. The gemora (Nedorim 66) brings the following story. "A man took a vow preventing his wife from having any benefit from him unless she gave the food she had cooked to Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon to taste. Rabbi Yehuda tasted it, reasoning that if Hashem's Name can be erased in water [in the preparation of the water for a sotoh to drink] in order to restore domestic harmony, he should certainly agree to do what the woman asked of him for the same end. Rabbi Shimon would not taste it. He said, "Let all the widow's sons die rather than Shimon moving from his place." The Ran explains, "He cursed the husband with dying, leaving his wife a widow and he also cursed the man's sons, who would be known as the widow's sons after their father dies, that they too should die."

At first glance, Rabbi Shimon's view and the barrage of curse which he leveled at the husband and sons seems to be incomprehensible.

I wanted to explain that in fact, it is Rabbi Yehuda's reasoning which needs to be understood. If a husband makes a vow that his wife will have no benefit from him unless the Chazon Ish walks the streets wearing unbecoming clothing, this would result in a dreadful disgrace of Torah's honor. To tell his wife that she could not benefit from him unless she gave her food to a great man to taste was also a disgrace of the Torah's honor. This was what incensed Rabbi Shimon. Rabbi Yehuda, on the other hand, went beyond what was required.

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