Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Cheshvan 5761 - November 2, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
"Let Your Brother Live With You"

by Chaim Walder

A well known American psychologist launched a study about fifteen years ago, in order to examine the leadership qualities of people.

He systematically observed classes of children aged 9-10, examining their behavioral patterns in the classroom and at recess. He accompanied them on their trips and watched them as they fought and played pranks. This study led to many conclusions, the most interesting being the unequivocal one that children who were considerate of and related to their weaker friends became successful adults, and far surpassed all the others.

One child named Roger, for example, participated in a running race with his classmates. Suddenly, his friend William fell. Roger stopped running, approached William and helped him up. While consoling him for his pains, he placed his hands on his own knees, and contorted his face in order to indicate that he felt similar pains. The psychologists regarded Roger as a child with the unusual potential to endear himself to people and to give them the feeling that he empathized with their pain. Fifteen years later he became the director of a very successful computer firm, and all predict a glowing future for him.

Let us focus not on the "show" Roger put on, but rather on his having stopped running in order to return to his friend who had fallen. The study describes similar types of behavior during trips, when certain children forgo the fun in order to support a weak child who can't keep up with the rest of the hikers. The inner strength to yield and to dedicate oneself to others is the essence of leadership.

In the book Sam Hachaim, Reb Moshe Chiger writes about a youngster who lost a very expensive pencil. One boy from Kletsk, a lamdan and a masmid, spent the entire day trying to help him find it -- the young Eliezer Menachem Shach.

To stop the normal flow of life, the pleasure, the momentum, in order to go back and support a faltering person is what makes someone exceptional and worthy of leadership.

Man's inclination goads him in the opposite direction. Most of us harbor deep-seated feelings of scorn for the weak. Some think that the weak are to blame for their plight. This outlook begins with our attitude towards overweight people, whom we easily to blame for their situation saying that their eating habits caused their excess weight, and it extends to people who do not succeed in their studies, in their work and in their lives. We call a luckless person a schlemiel, and regard schlemeil-keit as a fault, even though we really know that lack of success is from Hashem. We regard lack of talent as laziness and lack of drive. We always try to personify things, in other words to impute G-d-given qualities to people, in order to shirk our obligation to help our fellows and to place the blame on their already weak shoulders.

But even when it is clear to us that a person isn't at all to blame for his situation, and that his fate is miShomayim (we are referring here to special children, who suffer from learning difficulties or low intelligence) there are those who prefer to place them aside, in their own institutions, so that they won't hamper the progress of others. Am I not right?

As human beings we are commanded to pause, to go back, to pick up the fallen, and to support them, even if it will slow down our own marathon. But for some reason, only a few behave that way, and since the brunt of the work falls on the shoulders of the few, they have a lot of work on their hands, and they remain on the scene while others evade their obligation to help their weaker brothers both physically and emotionally.

Many experts claim it is best to place special children in regular frameworks. As a result, the idea to divide the special children among the regular institutions in our cities should be carefully considered. Every school can tolerate at least one special child per class. The school won't be ruined as a result, while the lives of hundreds of weak children will be saved.

One way of coping with the problem is that of establishing homogeneous classes for special children within the regular school. The special children can study alone, and during recess mingle with the rest of the children. Sadly, only a very few unique institutions agree to that idea.

If we don't teach ourselves to look back and to help the weak, an institution might refuse to accept a child only because he has crutches. Actually, that has already occurred, even though that was a rare instance which surely doesn't point to an overall trend.

In the past, I taught in a regular class where one of the students was very handicapped. He absorbed fluids through a tube which extended from his stomach. Because he was very handicapped, the other children would go outside with him, fill bottles with water, and replenish his fluid supply. It was a very unpleasant task which even adults found difficult, but the children helped him with much mesiras nefesh, and regarded him as part of them.

I followed the development of those who helped him. Eleven years have passed and they are currently 19 years old, and it is possible to discern their maturity and seriousness, as well as their success in their studies and social relationships. They didn't lose a thing from their contact with a disabled child, and by the helping him. Quite the opposite is true.

Today, our children have hardly any contact with mentally disabled or handicapped children. And when they do know them, it is not a personal acquaintance, but rather a distant and alien one. There are some people who really treat weak children like outsiders, by offending, pestering and even hitting them. However in institutions which accept special children, even highly handicapped ones, the giving, the dedication and the gentleness the other children display toward them is evident. Accepting a weak child in one's school is both a chessed for the handicapped child as well as a source of chinuch for the regular child and an opportunity for him to improve his character traits.

Until we manage to effect changes in this painful issue, we suggest that every parent make certain that his children know and assist at least one handicapped or developmentally delayed child.

In my mind's eye I see the expression of parents who, when reading these lines, say to themselves: "I don't want my child to be exposed to such things." But it is precisely to such parents that this article is directed. Apparently they too never merited to help and to know the different one, the special one. Do not deny this to your children.

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