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6 Tammuz 5765 - July 13, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Proper Torah Chinuch

by HaRav Shimon Moshe Diskin

Part II

In the first part, HaRav Diskin cited the example of the dedication of the Menorah by the Maccabeeim on the original Chanukah that showed that even if they could have used impure oil to light the Menorah since it was for communal purposes, since they were setting the foundation in chinuch of the Menorah they had to use pure oil in order to ensure that the subsequent avodas Hashem using it would be proper. Similarly, in setting the educational foundations of children, everything must be pure. When educating a child, the parents and teachers must realize that they are not just educating one person — they are also laying the foundation for all the generations to come after.

A parent must do what is best for his child, and not be concerned with his own comfort. He should be concerned that his child fulfill all of his potential, even if he perhaps will not be so comfortable with the result. Parents should not assume that their children are like themselves and will respond the same way to the influences that shaped them. One must not fight a modern war with last generation's weapons. The yetzer hora always makes sure to use the latest and most modern techniques, so he must be countered with the methods that can defeat him.

How to Educate

First of all, we believe and have actually seen that psychology and pedagogy are only earthly efforts to educate our children. HaKodosh Boruch Hu handed over the education of children to all parents, even those who are not necessarily the most learned, those who are not scholars. The cornerstone of success in educating children is to increasingly beseech Hashem to provide children with a pure heart, ahavas Torah, and yiras Shomayim. Those who think they can effortlessly free themselves from this duty by approaching a chochom and tzaddik and asking for his brochoh are way off course.

It is told about a father who asked a tzaddik for a brochoh for his son to be like the tzaddik. The tzaddik answered: "You have arrived too late. My mother cried over me even when she was pregnant that Hashem should help her educate me."

Profuse tears and heartfelt requests from the mother and father, each one in the way he understands how to entreat Hashem, are the pillars for achievement in chinuch. The Pninei HaGriz cites that HaRav Zeev Chechick asked the Brisker Rov to give his son a brochoh to be a godol in Torah and yiras Shomayim. The Brisker Rov answered that he will be a godol in Torah if the father studies with him, but to be a yirei Shomayim depends on the mother's tears.

It is obvious that the proper way of chinuch is not by ordering children to do so-and-so. The benefit of such behavior is quite doubtful. The main method of chinuch is one's personal example, since a child's nature is to copy the way his father acts. I remember that once, in order to obtain a building for the yeshiva, I met with some government official who was authorized to do this. He was an ardent Zionist and questioned me whether my talmidim are educated in the spirit of the miracles and wonders that had been done in "the Holy Land" (by which he really meant "the State of Israel").

I knew that if I told him the truth I could forget about the building that the yeshiva's talmidim needed so desperately. On the other hand I could not lie, and anyway I felt that I would not succeed by telling any lies. So I told him that I did not believe it possible to educate students by directing them about what to do or how to think. The foundation of chinuch is that the teacher must serve as a role model: just as I am, so will the talmidim be educated. If you want an answer to your question first clarify my outlook.

A father should refrain from engaging in anything that, although it is not harmful to himself and perhaps sometimes is beneficial, his children might consider a decline in ruchniyus. About such a situation the principle applies that something forbidden to be done publicly should not be done privately either. The word always gets around. A father should energetically perform mitzvos and do so in a more mehudar fashion, study more Torah, daven with more kavonoh and engage in more chesed, and further refine the way he speaks. The limitations he has accepted upon himself for the sake of his children's benefit should not bother him, since he will eventually gain from them.

Details Concerning Education

We must devote maximum patience to the child when we talk with him, since the beginning and the most significant part of chinuch is at home. A father should not be impatient when hearing a child's questions; he should regard his son like a talmid. Do not answer with short responses. On the contrary, a father should answer at length and make all efforts that the answer be understandable. He should especially be careful that the answer be truthful and not simply dismiss the question with a flimsy response. Through comprehensible and logical answers he develops the child's thought processes. He should be mindful not to offer an incorrect or superficial reply, since "lies have short wings" and inevitably his answer will be contradicted. The results are that the child's trust in his father deteriorates. In addition, a skin-deep answer accustoms the child to thinking superficially too.

On the other hand, a father must be extremely forbearing, and even when a child acts in a disgusting way he should take care how he reacts. An improper response sometimes distances the son from him even more. This is especially relevant for older children who are more exposed to sin. The nearness parents offer their child at home protects children so they do not deviate from accepted normal behavior. The child in turn will be careful not to antagonize his parents, since he too does not want them to distance themselves from him.

It is proper to tell children stories about tzaddikim and people who should be emulated. A child's innate character and power of imagination makes him live in the world of the story. He wants to copy the positive characters he hears about in the story. We should insure that he has books to read during his leisure time, something especially important for children who are avid readers. Supplying them with good reading material prevents them from looking into books they should not read, and the other beneficial aim is also attained.

It should also be pointed out that the contents of all books need to be reviewed. Even books that appear like sifrei kodesh should be looked over carefully before being handed over to our children. I have seen many such books that are sometimes about topics like doing teshuvoh, where the aveiros that the baal teshuvoh did beforehand are spelled out. Although the author shows how important the teshuvoh he did was, sometimes the child is curious to know what these aveiros are like and is attracted to some of the aveiros he reads about. It is said that anyone who deals with a repulsive person becomes repulsive too.

Even books generally considered literature suitable for chareidi children should be checked anew to see whether they fit our way of life and the problems of this generation. Portraying in a positive light people who fitted a certain bygone environment may be negative for our particular environment.

A certain detail should be examined. There are authors who tend to describe all gedolei Yisroel as having been born into lives of kedushoh, and that it was said of them that they inherited the great neshomoh of a tzaddik — ever since they were young children they were kodosh, different from other children, and did not act like them. Besides the fact that in many cases this is not true, telling stories in such a way causes children to lose hope. The child will claim that he has no connection with those gedolim, since he was not born with such attributes or talents and cannot compare to them. He will conclude that they are not the proper role models for him.

End of Part II

HaRav Shimon Moshe Diskin, zt'l, was a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Kol Torah in Yerushalayim. His yahrtzeit is 16 Tammuz.

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