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11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Tell Your Son on that Day: Thoughts on Chinuch for Our Generation

by HaRav A.Y.L. Steinman

Chinuch Means Getting Results

There are mitzvos which must be done even without us seeing any results. This specific act is what the Torah tells us to do, so it makes no difference whether or not something good will come of it, the mitzvah must always be done nonetheless. In the case of chinuch the result is also important. One's child has to emerge educated.

Chinuch is the most fundamental issue that affects everyone, and everyone knows it. It was so even in earlier generations, before the Torah was given. About Avrohom Ovinu it is written, "For I know him because he instructs his children and his household after him and they follow Hashem's path . . ." ( Bereishis 18:19). Avrohom Ovinu already knew that chinuch is fundamental.

Everyone knows that chinuch takes priority over everything else. One can't build a home without it. If one wants to raise children properly there has to be good chinuch in the home. The Torah obligates a father to train his sons.

There are some mitzvos that we are commanded to do without knowing their purpose. This is simply how the Torah instructs us to behave. It makes no difference whether the consequences will be good or otherwise. Our duty is always to do the mitzvah. Chazal (brochos 10) tell us that when King Chizkiyohu fell ill, the novi Yeshayohu came to him and told him that he would not recover because he had not raised a family. Chizkiyohu replied that he did not marry because he knew that the children that he would have would not be righteous. The novi told him, "Why do you get involved in Divine secrets? You should have done what you are commanded to do and Hashem will do what He wants to do!"

One of the Torah's mitzvos is to beget a family. You must fulfill the mitzvah and as to the results — they aren't your concern.

But there are mitzvos whose fulfillment does depend on the outcome — chinuch, for example. The posuk (Mishlei 29:17) says, "Reprove your son and he will give you peace and will bring delight to your soul [with his conduct]." The gemora (Makkos 8) notes that this applies even to a son who learns. Even though one's son is a good student it's a mitzvah to reprove him.

Is there a mitzvah to simply scold children, even when it's unnecessary for their education? In truth though, the mitzvah is the chinuch. With reproof a good student can become even better, even though he was already good. It is a mitzvah to reprove him so that he'll improve. There's certainly no mitzvah in telling children off for no purpose.

If a parent knows that no good will come from scolding his son then it is forbidden. The gemora tells us that a father who strikes his grown son transgresses the sin of causing someone else (his son) to stumble in sin. If he knows that his child will challenge him and there will be no educational benefit then there's no mitzvah.

Chinuch isn't a mitzvah like begetting a family, where one doesn't have to concern oneself with the outcome, whether the children will be good or not. The mitzvah is the chinuch itself, meaning that the father's handling should result in his child emerging well trained and educated.

Since Hakodosh Boruch Hu gave fathers the responsibility of raising their sons, they must know that the mitzvah is not simply to scold the child but to ensure that there is a successful outcome. Does one have to be a professional educator to succeed? I know that in all, perhaps only a handful of such people exist.

The outcome of one's efforts depends upon several factors, principally, siyata deShmaya! When all is said and done, educating children is not easy and by no means straightforward. If then, not everyone is an expert at it, how can the Torah command every father to train his son? Does every father know how to do so?

Since a father's obligation is to see that his child emerges trained, he can either do it himself if he knows how, or if not, he can entrust his child to someone else who does know, or consult such a person. The Torah instructs a father to circumcise his son and if he can't do it himself, he must engage a mohel. So it is with chinuch — if he can, a father should train his child and if not, he should seek someone who can, because the purpose is that his son should be educated.

The idea of making a center where people can seek advice on matters pertaining to chinuch is therefore a welcome one. Sometimes a stricter approach is necessary, sometimes the opposite. It's impossible to have everyone rely on his own judgment. Particularly nowadays, people are very preoccupied with all kinds of things, with their work, with supporting their families and with other matters that often make them annoyed and lead them to act without the necessary thought or reflection. The results are then the opposite of what their children's chinuch is supposed to produce.

People come up against all kinds of problems, all because not every person knows how to educate children. In situations where a parent isn't calm, they cannot make a correct judgment about what to do. Much reflection is needed.

People must be aware that all this is fundamental and they shouldn't think that it's easy. It's therefore very important to know how to handle every situation. A father might treat his son in such a way that the son doesn't feel his father's love for him. Even though his father does love him generally, he sometimes does certain things that the son feels are not being done out of love but out of anger and temper . . . that cannot lead to the desired results.

This is very difficult, because usually, when a person sees something wrong they become angry and act out of anger. Chinuch that is given in an atmosphere of anger cannot succeed. It's extremely difficult for a person to be calm and tranquil in such situations. Great wisdom and tremendous siyata deShmaya are therefore needed for chinuch to yield successful results.

It is very good for parents to consult whoever they can, at least to gain understanding and seek advice about what to do. Through this, may Hakodosh Boruch Hu help us and may we see the fulfillment of the posuk, "And all your children will be learned in [the ways of] Hashem and your sons will have much peace."


It's Not Enough to Call a Child Shmuel for Him to Become a Shmuel — "I'll Bring Him to Hashem's House and He'll Dwell There Forever" Must Also Be Fulfilled!

All parents have to know that if they want their children to become genuine bnei Torah they must take steps to see that right from the beginning, their entire education is directed towards the goal of "and he will dwell there forever" (Shmuel I, 1:22). Their child should be someone who is brought "to Hashem's House and will dwell there forever."

The Yalkut Shimoni (Shmuel I, on posuk 1:23, "But may Hashem fulfill the word about the lad") comments that a Heavenly voice would go forth every day and spread [lit. exploded] throughout the world saying, "A certain tzaddik will arise in the future and his name is Shmuel." Every woman who gave birth to a son would name him Shmuel. Once they saw how the child behaved they would say, "This is not [that] Shmuel." (It's unlikely that this is that great tzaddik, whose arrival had to be announced beforehand.)

When Shmuel was born and his behavior was noted people said, "We think that this is he." (They understood that this was the tzaddik whom Heaven had announced.)

The problem here is that making an announcement that a tzaddik is going to be born is without parallel. Every generation has its righteous individuals. In all generations there have been tremendously great tzaddikim and prophets. Each generation has its own dynamics. Why all of a sudden was there a need for such an announcement? And by a Heavenly voice that Chazal tell us "spread throughout the world," no less, not an ordinary one that ordinary folk can merit hearing but one that "exploded" like a bomb! Everybody heard that a tzaddik would be born who would be called Shmuel and that he'd be that tzaddik.

What was Heaven trying to achieve here? Just to provide the information that there'd be a tzaddik called Shmuel? Fine — when he came along then people would know about him. Why was it important to relate this in advance?

Apparently the intention was that everyone should strive to have a son as righteous as Shmuel. Everyone had a chance to merit it being his son. Otherwise, why make such an "explosive" announcement for everyone to hear that a tzaddik would be born?

What were people supposed to do about it? Some thought that they would name their son Shmuel and that would be enough. With the name Shmuel surely he could be that tzaddik.

But it doesn't work like that! The mere name Shmuel is no help at all! The child has to be trained in a superlative way that will produce a tzaddik like Shmuel. Had numerous mothers raised their sons in a way that could produce such a tzaddik, there might possibly have been a number of tzaddikim like Shmuel. But in the event, nobody else merited it, only Channah.

What did Channah and Elkanah in fact do to merit raising a Shmuel? The posuk tells us that Channah pledged that once her son was weaned she'd bring him to Hashem's House and he'd dwell there forever. In other words, from the very outset, all Shmuel's training was based upon him spending his life dwelling "in Hashem's House forever," living a life of holiness and purity there.

Nowadays there is no Beis Hamikdosh, but the opportunity exists for youngsters to grow tremendously. Every parent must know that if he wants his sons to be genuine bnei Torah, measures have to be taken and he must ensure that right from the beginning his son's education is directed towards the goal of his dwelling "in Hashem's House forever." He should deliver his son "to Hashem's House" and his son's entire life should be centered upon Torah and yiras Shomayim. Then, he will eventually merit his sons growing into talmidei chachomim, tzaddikim and yirei Shomayim. Otherwise . . ..


We Can't Let A Single Bochur Go

Every bochur in yeshiva, every neshomoh that arrives in yeshiva, is the cream of Klal Yisroel's youth. These are literally Klal Yisroel's precious jewels . . . People must be aware that this is to be charged with caring for gold — the most valuable gold that exists in the world. Every Jewish soul! Each and every one is a precious treasure that must be guarded carefully!

Sadly, in recent years, alongside the increase of Torah study, boruch Hashem, the increase in numbers of yeshivos and chadorim and the swelling of the ranks of Torah students, boruch Hashem, there has also been an heightened need for strengthening yiras Shomayim. I don't mean to say that Torah doesn't need strengthening. It does as well. But yiras Shomayim is in dire need of strengthening.

We see that even though, boruch Hashem, there are those who learn Torah, there are sometimes very distressing instances of bochurim deteriorating in yiras Shomayim. Although the yeshivos usually hold their own and engage in all sorts of schemes to benefit the students, we must be aware that it is simply impossible for us to give up on a single Yiddishe bochur who can grow into a talmid chochom, or an upright Jew. We can't let a single bochur go. We must work on every single one.

It often happens that people mistakenly think that a good student doesn't need supervision — that he's already making his own way ahead. He learns, he arrives for davening — he's okay! Then suddenly we see that there's a crisis!

The truth is otherwise. We don't only need to look out for the bochurim who are known as being weaker. A good bochur also needs supervision — and it needs to be close!

We can't let a single bochur go and we also can't give up hope on a single bochur. We have to work very hard. I don't mean to say choliloh vechas that this is not being done. Every rosh yeshiva, every mashgiach and every maggid shiur certainly makes an effort. But there is a need for encouragement with everything. The more we ourselves are encouraged the greater our ability will be to rescue nefoshos.

Every yeshiva bochur, every neshomoh that arrives in yeshiva, represents the cream of Klal Yisroel's youth. These are literally Klal Yisroel's precious jewels. Sadly, the vast majority of Klal Yisroel . . .

How many bnei Torah are there left? Proportionally, very few and these few must be guarded vigilantly! The necessary degree of protection is so great that it can't even be imagined. Everyone needs strengthening in this respect.

The gemora (Bovo Kama 62) says that if someone was given a bag of money to look after and was told that it contained silver when it really contained gold, if it was stolen he can argue that he undertook to guard silver, and not gold. A certain gaon once commented that if a person is given ten thousand dollars to look after he'll be very careful with it but if he knew that there was really a hundred thousand dollars there he'd look after it differently. Even though the lower sum also needs to be well guarded, he'll take much greater care in looking after a hundred thousand.

We have to know the value of a neshomoh, the treasure that lies within each and every Yid ! If someone doesn't understand this properly and thinks, "One bochur, well, it's not terrible," it means that he's not taking proper care. He has to know that he's been entrusted with gold — the most precious gold that exists in the world. Every Jewish soul, each one is a precious treasure that needs to be very well guarded!


We Must Fight with All Our Strength Against the Attempts to Intervene in Chinuch

Everyone knows how important chinuch is. It has always been fundamental, not only in our generation but in every generation. The posuk says about Avrohom Ovinu, "For I know him, because he instructs his children and his household after him [telling them] to follow the path of Hashem, practicing fairness and justice so that Hashem will bring what He has promised him upon Avrohom" (Bereishis 18:19). The Torah tells us that the main reason that Hashem loves Avrohom Ovinu ("I know him" is an expression of love) is because he instructs his children and household after him to follow the path of Hashem.

There are other things that could have been said about Avrohom Ovinu, for example, that he sacrificed himself to oppose avodoh zora, even allowing himself to be cast into a fiery furnace to demonstrate his faith. He was unconcerned and he sacrificed himself. Yet the Torah particularly stresses the fact that he trained his children and his household to practice fairness and justice. This is how the Torah praises Avrohom Ovinu.

In fact, some ask that while it is written that Avrohom Ovinu influenced many people to adhere to serving Hashem, bringing them close to the Shechinah by instructing them to abandon the worship of their idols and all other vanities, nothing has remained from all these people!

The answer is that since they did not train their own offspring like Avrohom trained his, they had no continuity. Even though they elevated themselves, there was no continuation and nothing has remained.

Only Avrohom Ovinu knew the secret — that the main thing is to train one's family. Therefore, "he educated his children and his household after him to follow the path of Hashem" and he has thus been perpetuated. Every generation, until our own day, has a tradition and a connection going back to Avrohom Ovinu and his path of practicing fairness and justice that he implanted in his descendants.

Chinuch is thus first and foremost. Until now, Klal Yisroel has indeed guarded chinuch like the apple of its eye but sadly, there has recently been a breach whereby they want to have a say in our chinuch as well. Even though they have realized long ago that their own chinuch is useless, they still want to be able to tell us how to educate. We must certainly fight against this with all our strength but our main point concerns the things that are up to us. As to what concerns them, we certainly have nothing to do with them . . .


The Torah Educator Holds the Key to the Jewish People's Future

When learning with talmidim, it happens to everyone that one often forgets just what one is dealing with. The mechanech doesn't realize that he has the foundation of Klal Yisroel's coming generation with him. Children are usually somewhat annoying, so the mechanech often gets angry and yells. He can sometimes even say things that are extremely hurtful! He forgets that he is holding Klal Yisroel's "diamond" in his hand! All of Klal Yisroel depends upon them. If he harms a soul, it can sometimes take years for the hurt to heal!

Everyone certainly tries to do his job faithfully and to do as much as he can, but a person is still human. He is sometimes preoccupied (by all sorts of things) and he'll forget what he's dealing with. The result is that he treats chinuch as though it's a job like any other and forgets that while teaching, he's not involved in ordinary work but is working with neshomos, that can have consequences for several generations! Doing the job well can sometimes result in the emergence of souls that will later illuminate the world, while on the other hand, the reverse can inflict a wound that damages the soul.

A person must therefore always bear this uppermost in his mind. Besides thinking about the actual subject matter that he's teaching, he must think about the fact that he has "men" in front of him. We're not talking here about some other job, like repairing worldly goods. The talmidim before him are the future of Klal Yisroel.

One should bear this in mind continually, as far as possible and one should take great care, in the knowledge that Klal Yisroel's future depends on this! The responsibility that rests upon each individual is unimaginable.

(At a general meeting of mechanchim of Chinuch Atzmai)


The Importance of Children's Teachers

The world judges someone with a high-paying job as being more important. This is precisely the reverse of the Torah outlook!

I once heard that the Chofetz Chaim demonstrated that the way people think does not follow Torah ideas or a Torah outlook. If a child damages someone, an ordinary person is of the opinion that the father has to pay. Your child did damage!

If however a person's animal — his cat for example — causes damage people think that he's not liable.

Torah law is exactly the opposite! If a cat causes damage its owner has to pay, while if one's child caused damage his father is not liable! This shows that the way people think is opposed to the Torah outlook.

So it is with the status of teachers and educators. We see from Chazal that a children's teacher is a very distinguished position indeed. The gemora (Bovo Basra 8) says that the posuk's words, "And those who provide merit for the public are like stars forever" (Doniel 12:3), refer to children's teachers. Chazal thus considered this a very important charge.

In the eyes of the world at large however, someone who has a job where he earns a lot of money has a higher status than a teacher, because on the whole teachers are not wealthy and have difficulty in making ends meet. This way of viewing things is diametrically opposed to the Torah's outlook!

A person must learn to ignore the worldly outlook, because this world is not the important one. The important world is Olom Habo and all that matters there is what is important to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. In Hashem's eyes, those who teach Yiddishe kinder are extremely important.


A Melamed Should Learn a Little Mussar Before Going in to Teach his Shiur

Children can gauge whether or not their teacher's words are genuine. If what he says doesn't come from his heart, not only is it ineffectual, it's harmful!

People should be aware that in education, everything hinges upon the personality of the mechanech. Someone might be a gifted speaker and talk about yiras Shomayim and everything else that's important, but if the things he says are not a reflection of his inner essence, if he himself is at fault and the things he says are not in his own heart, in other words, if he's not at the level that he's speaking about and is only speaking this way because this is what one needs to speak about — such talk has absolutely no effect whatsoever! Students will not grow or develop from it.

If we want children to grow up to sincerely fear Hashem, to be talmidei chachomim and to love Hashem, and to have fine character traits, the person teaching them must also be a somewhat higher type. It's impossible for him to be a low character, possessing bad traits himself but speaking like a tzaddik. Such talk will not help and will have no influence at all. It is of prime importance to ensure that the teacher's own personality is in order.

In Ohel Yaakov, the Dubno Maggid zt'l writes, "When I was in Vilna with my teacher, namely rabbenu, the pious gaon Rabbenu Eliyahu of Vilna zy'a, I asked him what triggers spiritual effect and how a tzaddik can bring his own fear of Heaven to have an influence on his contemporaries.

"He replied with a parable of a large vessel that is surrounded by small ones. You are standing and pouring into the large vessel without stop. Like it or not, when the large vessel becomes full and overflows, what flows out of it will reach the smaller vessels around it. Before it itself is full however, nothing at all will reach the adjacent vessels."

The Gaon is telling us that if one wants to influence others before he himself is filled — in other words, if he himself is not full of spirituality, of Torah and of yiras Shomayim — he will be unable to do so. He can only influence others after he himself has grown and has become a more elevated character. Only then can he affect others! If he hasn't done so, it is all in vain!!

A person can speak and speak and speak but the children have a better idea than he does himself of his true level. Children can gauge whether or not their teacher's words are genuine. If they don't come from his heart, not only are they ineffectual, they're harmful!

If a teacher can possibly learn a little mussar by himself before he comes to teach, it is highly recommended. What greater gaon was there than the Chasam Sofer ztvk'l? Yet when he taught talmidim he would learn a little from Chovos Halevovos at the beginning of the shiur. Although he was learning with grown bochurim, not with children, this is also relevant to a children's teacher because everyone individually needs to learn mussar.

One doesn't have to learn Chovos Halevovos; there are other good mussar works. The point is that it should help him be on a slightly more elevated level when he goes in to teach. The beneficial effect he'll have on his students depends on this.

Love is a Fundamental of Chinuch

One of the fundamentals of chinuch is to draw talmidim closer with love. The general rule is that the closer a talmid is drawn, the greater the likelihood of his being attracted to Torah.

The Chazon Ish ztvk'l once told me that the Chasam Sofer ztvk'l did not want to make any external demonstration of the great love that he bore his talmidim. He said that people often have grievances against a rov but they don't dare to take any action against the rov himself. If however they knew how much the rov loves his talmidim they would distress the talmidim in order to cause the rov pain! That was the extent to which he loved his talmidim. (I later found this in the Chasam Sofer's biography.) The Chazon Ish wanted to cite this as an example of the great love that one should bear one's talmidim. That way, the talmid behaves differently.

Weave Yiras Shomayim into the Study

The most important thing for teachers to pay attention to is to see that whatever is being learned, yiras Shomayim is also stressed. This is a major aspect of chinuch. While one can't dwell only upon yiras Shomayim because ground must be covered as well (gemora, Rashi, Tosafos, Chumash Rashi and so on), while learning, the other material care should be taken that a little yiras Shomayim is also highlighted.

The teachers of yesteryear would imbue the children with yiras Shomayim. This is very sorely needed, especially in our generation — one that is so devoid of spiritual content. So much Heavenly mercy is needed to ensure that they should not choliloh vechas be influenced by the street, that it is dreadful! We must imbue the talmidim with the ability to withstand the influence of the street by suffusing the atmosphere with yiras Shomayim.

Dwell On Interpersonal Dealings

Similarly, the area of interpersonal interaction must be addressed first because lapses in this realm damage a person's essence. When relations with other people have been rectified, there is a chance of improvement in one's relationship with Hashem but when a person is not behaving correctly towards others, he is not conducting himself properly towards Hashem either.

Train Young Children Not To Envy Others

Chazal say, "Jealousy among scholars increases wisdom." That only applies to the jealousy of scholars i.e. teachers, but jealousy among talmidim usually minimizes wisdom instead of increasing it. Jealousy of a superior student doesn't usually lead a weaker student to try and emulate him but instead leads him to lose heart and be upset, thinking, "What am I worth?" and be unable to bear the pain he feels because of the other student's superiority.

This can be somewhat offset by training children from a young age to know that they should never measure themselves against other students. They should understand that just it doesn't occur to anyone to be upset that he's not as great as Moshe Rabbenu o'h , or as the Vilna Gaon zt'l. They should realize that each person is supposed to become what he is supposed to become, not to be like other students.

Everyone is endowed with his own particular abilities and his own opportunities. If people would get used to not looking at others and instead develop according to their own strengths, everybody would be happy and would merit attaining what is in their power to attain!

Even though children are trained to practice kindness towards others, this is still insufficient. Talmidim should not only be encouraged but it should be explained to them that each individual was created to serve his Creator with his own strengths.

This is certainly not an easy idea to absorb. Even adults have a hard time accepting this, how much more so youngsters. Nonetheless, if even a little of this feeling and this awareness penetrates — not to look at others — it can save a person. Everyone can then grow into a talmid chochom and a yirei Shomayim and can attain great things.

This doesn't only affect youngsters. It is seen everywhere, in yeshivos and in other institutions. One student's particular success leads to jealousy and to all kinds of negative consequences. The greatest happiness is to be found in not looking at what others have but by considering instead what one's own responsibilities are.

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