There is a wonderful gemora in Taanis (24).
"Rav came to a certain place. He decreed a fast day but no
rain fell. A shaliach tzibbur went down [to lead the
prayers] before him. When he said the words, `Who makes the
wind blow,' the wind blew. When he said, `Who makes the rain
fall,' the rain fell.
"Rav asked him, `What is your occupation?'
"He said, `I am a children's teacher and I make no
distinction between the children of the rich and the children
of the poor. I take nothing from whoever can't afford to pay.
I have pools of fish and I use them to bribe anyone who
doesn't want to read, so that they'll learn. I arrange and
correct them until they come and read.' "
When Rav asked the shaliach tzibbur what his
occupation was, he wanted to find out what merit the man
possessed that had brought the sorely-needed rain. The reply
was that he taught young children and treated those from
wealthy and from poor homes equally. He took no payment from
those who could not afford it and he used his own resources
to persuade children who were unwilling to learn, to do
Our teachers have taught us that every statement of
aggodoh in the gemora is part of Torah and is
intended to teach us lessons about living a Torah life. This
wonderful story contains several far-reaching and novel
teachings about education and about Torah study that are
applicable to both the school and the home setting. Let's go
into some detail about what the story teaches us.
It is a time of drought: No rain falls, no produce grows, and
there's no bread. The people cry out to Heaven for their
lives and Rav decrees a public fast. Jews raise their eyes
heavenward for salvation but no rain falls.
And lo! As soon as the shaliach tzibbur begins his
prayer the wind blows and rain falls — an open miracle!
Rav asks the shaliach tzibbur in what merit this
happened and he replies simply, "I am a children's teacher."
The gemora brings all the details of his reply to
First, in teaching the children he makes no distinction
between those who come from poor and those who come from rich
families. All are treated the same way, with the same
understanding and the same dedication. Even though the
teacher's income comes from the wealthier parents, he is not
concerned that his livelihood might suffer by his evenhanded
treatment of all his students.
Second, he takes no payment from those who cannot afford to
Third, if a child is unwilling to learn, he "bribes" him with
gifts from his fish pools. He doesn't abandon him. He expends
effort and ingenuity until the student comes by himself to
In telling us all this, the gemora is addressing
teachers, instructors, fathers and mothers. One must never
panic at the prospect of a difficult student, who has no wish
to learn, but should seek ways to "bribe" him.
It doesn't have to be with fish. There are more spiritual
types of bribes as well. A particular trait in which the
student or child excels in might be singled out. Every child
has something in which he is outstanding. This can be used as
a means of drawing him towards gemora study.
As an example, I'll mention what one educationally-aware and
warm-hearted family managed to do for one of their children
who didn't enjoy a particularly good reputation at his place
of study. This special family found a way to imbue their
child with enthusiasm. The child had a talent for music and
singing. They told him that he would be the family's
"musician" at Seudah Shelishis and the arrangement
lasted a long time. Through this the child received respect
and felt accomplished. It gave him a very positive self-
image and today he is a distinguished talmid chochom
and a prolific author of seforim.
Rabbosai! Let's give this a little attention and thought! Of
relevance is an excerpt from a letter that the Chazon Ish
wrote to the rosh yeshiva of a certain yeshiva
ketanoh. "You have the youth . . . from the . . . yeshiva
over here with you. He needs both material and spiritual
support for, according to my knowledge, he cannot be left to
depend on his father's livelihood and it is impossible to go
into detail . . . it is imperative that the yeshiva
immediately provide him with full maintenance . . . Care
should be taken to see that one of the rabbonim becomes his
friend and I would also ask that the . . . sheyichyeh,
should take an interest in this."
What devoted and fatherly concern lies in these words! The
boy is in need of every type of support and there is no one
to help. It is vital that the yeshiva should immediately
start providing him with meals. The Chazon Ish begs that a
spiritual friend and mentor be found for him. His concern for
the talmid encompasses every aspect of his well being,
from beginning to end. This is the type of concern that we
should show for the welfare of our dear ones.
The truth is that we have absolutely no way of evaluating the
worth of a Jewish child's soul. In his commentary to
Sanhedrin (91), the Maharsha provides some astounding
insights into the power of the Jewish soul. The gemora
states, "Rav Yehuda said in Rav's name, `Whoever withholds an
halochoh from a talmid is like one who steals him away
from his ancestors' inheritance, as it says, "Moshe commanded
us Torah, moroshoh, an inheritance, for the community
of Yaakov." It is the possession of all of Yisroel from the
Six Days of Creation.' "
Two questions can be asked. First, what is the significance
of the gemora's expression, "Whoever withholds,"
implying an unwillingness to teach the halochoh, rather then
the simpler, "Whoever doesn't teach an halochoh"? Second, why
is the Torah said to have been Yisroel's possession since
Creation? The holy Torah was given at Sinai!
These questions are answered by the Maharsha, who writes that
the gemora is speaking about a talmid who is
hard of understanding, like Rabbi Preida's talmid, to
whom Rabbi Preida would teach everything four hundred times
until he knew it fluently. Not to teach such a student
sufficiently is tantamount to depriving him of the halochoh.
This leads the Maharsha to an awe-inspiring statement about
the properties of the Jewish soul, in answer to the second
question. "It means that according to their creation and
their natures from the Six Days of Creation, all of Yisroel
are ready to learn Torah."
The Maharsha tells us that Klal Yisroel were created
with natures that ready them to learn Torah. They were
prepared for this from the beginning of Creation. Anyone who
denies this is stealing what has been his ancestral heritage
since creation, when this was made a part of the Jewish soul.
Once we know that it is the nature of a Jewish child to learn
and understand — that the foundation is always present
— we should try with all kinds of "bribery" to make
each child love learning and imbue him with the ambition to
attain ever higher levels of Torah and yiras
May we see the fulfillment of the posuk's words "and
all your sons will be students of Hashem" (Yeshayohu
A Time For Everything
Shlomo Hamelech says in Koheles (3:1), "There is a
time for everything and a moment for every pursuit under the
heavens." Everything has its own particular time. The bein
hazmanim period affords a break during which our precious
sons usually leave their yeshivos for a time. It is very
important for parents and educators that there be some
discussion of this period.
I came across some wonderful thoughts from HaRav Boruch
Sorotzkin zt'l, rosh yeshivas Telz, in Sefer Eitz
Hadaas Leshosheles Telz. In discussing parshas
Chukas the Rosh Yeshiva brings the gemora in
Shabbos (147) that says, "Rabbi Chalbo said, `The wine
of Progaysa and the waters of Diomeses sundered the ten
tribes from Yisroel.' " Rashi explains that Progaysa is a
place that produced fine wine which was responsible for the
fate of the ten tribes, "because they were pleasure seekers
and were busy with pleasures rather than occupying themselves
with Torah; they therefore adopted sinful ways."
These are shocking words. They refer to the members of the
ten tribes yet the gemora says that they were pleasure
seekers who busied themselves in its pursuit. It was not a
matter of the occasional indulgence; it was their occupation
— and as a result they were not occupied with Torah.
The dreadful consequence was that "they adopted sinful
Chazal do not stop here; they continue with another fearsome
story. Rabbi Elozor ben Aroch arrived there. He was drawn to
these same pleasures and he forgot his learning. When he
returned he got up to read from a sefer. He intended
to read the words, "Hachodesh hazeh lochem . . . (this
month is to you . . .)" but he [misread the dalet in
the first word as a reish, the zayin in the
second word as a yud and the chof in the third
word as a beis and thus] read them as "Hacheresh
hoyoh libom (Their heart was unhearing)." The Rabbonim
prayed for him and he recalled his learning.
Rashi explains that Rabbi Elozor was drawn to the place's
wine and bathing water, which were of the choicest quality.
When he wanted to read from the Torah, his learning departed
from him and he misread the words, until the Rabbonim prayed
for him and his learning came back to him.
The Rosh Yeshiva expressed his amazement at this statement of
Chazal's. Do we have any idea of Rabbi Elozor ben Aroch's
greatness? He was the greatest of Rabban Yochonon ben
Zakkai's disciples, about whom Rabban Yochonon said, "If all
the sages of Yisroel were in one side of the scales and he
was in the other, he would outweigh them all."
The gemora wants to teach us what the effect of a
visit to a place of worldly desire can be — even just a
casual visit. Its influence upon such a holy tanna was
such that he forgot his learning, to the point where the
Rabbonim had to pray for him to remember it.
My dear brethren, precious and esteemed parents, this story
is really frightening but it's Torah, a part of our holy
Torah. It teaches us the tremendous concern that we have to
have for our dear ones during bein hazmanim, those
fateful days when our sons are neither with their parents nor
in their yeshivos. We have to know where they're going for
their outings and what environment they'll be encountering.
Let's give it a little thought and attention . . .
"And Yisroel dwelt in Shittim," ( Bamidbor 25:1).
Looking again in Sefer Eitz Hadaas Leshosheles Telz, I
found a wonderful essay by the rosh yeshiva HaRav Chaim
Mordechai Katz zt'l, in which he discusses this
posuk. He quotes the comments of the Or HaChaim on
these words: "The posuk tells us . . . that because
the people went out to stroll outside the encampment of
Yisroel and the daughters of Moav there were . . . as it
says, `the people went about' (11:8). Rashi explains, `This
is an expression of strolling, effortlessly.' This is the
reason for [the first posuk's continuation] `and the
people started engaging in immorality . . .' "
The Rosh Yeshiva shows that according to the Or HaChaim, the
cause of everything was the stroll they took outside the
encampment. Seeking relaxation and outings outside our own
camp led to their engaging in immorality. This is frightful!
It eventually led them to rebel against Hashem.
Peace and tranquility are beneficial as long as they are
sought within our camp. When their pursuit involves
forgetting one's learning and yiras Shomayim "outside
the encampment of Yisroel," they are improper. The yetzer
hora tells a person that he already possesses a fine
character and is a ben Torah and that contact with
people outside the Torah camp will not harm him. This is
incorrect. The Torah teaches us that stepping "outside the
encampment of Yisroel" can chas vesholom lead to
opposing Hashem, choliloh.