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3 Shevat 5768 - January 10, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
First Things First—In the Paths of Education

A Collection of the Wisdom of Rabbonim Throughout the Ages

The Importance of Recognizing Strengths

Chinuch is crucial in every area, whether it be in Torah, mitzvos or the awareness of eternal values. Everyone, regardless of age or station in life, can be aided by education. Embodied in education is a treasury of wisdom which includes theories and knowledge, and which is strongly geared towards practical application.

As Chazal express it in Yalkut Shimoni (Yeshaya): The words of Torah train a person to mitzvos, the Torah itself educates a person, and by walking in its light, he merits the World to Come.

In this context, we will bring insights of the gedolim throughout the generations.

The Rambam explains the posuk: "Educate a child according to his nature," as follows: Not to command, but rather to educate so that a person should want to obey of his own accord. This means that rather than order the child around, the aim is for him to be motivated from within to follow the right path. In the parshoh of Krias Shema, the Rambam explains the words, "And you shall speak in them," to mean that you should speak of them until the child himself speaks of them of his own accord. We want to attain the level where the child absorbs the message he receives from his teacher and makes it his own.

For this reason, as Rabbeinu Yonah writes in his Gates of Repentance, we have to know the strengths and intrinsic qualities of our children/disciples. The mechanech should always reflect: How did I behave when I was his age? What kind of things did I want? It is crucial to look deep inside the child and understand him well.

Educating In Accordance With A Person's Nature

In parshas Pinchas it says, "Take Joshua, the son of Nun, a man in whom is spirit." Rashi explains that he knew how to go against the spirit of each and every person. This means that Joshua was able to relate to each person in accordance with his nature: whether the person was compulsive or easy going, he responded to each according to his own way of thinking.

The Vilna Gaon explains in his Even Shlomoh that this does not mean that we have to tolerate everyone's extreme tendencies and approve them (for example, finickiness, anger, etc.). However, we must not act contrary to the nature of a person but rather work with his nature and try to improve him.

Chazal tell us that King David was born under the astrological sign of Mars, which predisposed him towards bloodshed. Of course it is impossible to take a fiery, vivacious child and force him to behave like a quiet, mild mannered child. However as the Vilna Gaon says, in such a case, we have to channel his strengths. His tempestuous energies and tendency towards bloodshed can be directed in a positive way, so that he can become a surgeon, for example. It would be even better to encourage him to become a shochet, as that involves a mitzvah.

The most ideal profession for him, however, is to be a mohel! The child's predisposition toward bloodshed will thereby be channeled to a proper and constructive outlet. King David waged holy wars, utilizing his fiery nature to fight the battles of Hashem.

The Vilna Gaon explains that a person has to be educated in a manner that befits his character traits, working with his nature and not against it. There are ways of handling a compulsive person, for example, and ways of handling a mellow person. Furthermore, there are times when a specific character trait has to be utilized and other times when a different quality is called for.

Every character trait has its place. This applies even to anger, although this trait should be used sparingly and gently! We must assess the extent that each trait is needed and its appropriateness.

This is actually the way in which the rishonim explain the concept of middos: This concept derives from the word middoh, which means measure or limitation. We must constantly assess how far to distance ourselves from a middoh and how far to draw it closer to us. The aim is to apply the correct dosage.

The Power Of Patience

This lofty goal cannot be reached without first acquiring the quality of patience. This is the trait that enables us to develop tolerance of others. We should strive to acquire this quality even if we are confident that we already possess it. It is crucial to work on improving it.

Many years ago, HaRav Wolbe, the outstanding educator and mashgiach, chose a group of twelve young, prominent avreichim who had tranquil and stable homes. For a period of six months he worked with them on developing the quality of patience. To everyone's astonishment, the results showed that all the wives, without exception, witnessed a significant change in their households. HaRav Wolbe commented that this demonstrates that even where a person already possesses this quality, it behooves him to work on further improving it.

Once a kallah came to a rov on the day of her wedding after minchah, to request a brochoh for her marriage. The rov asked her what she had davened for that day. She replied: "I davened that all my life I will love my chosson to the extent that I am happy with him today." A beautiful prayer, indeed!

The rov answered with a message which, though true, in retrospect, should not have been said on her wedding day. He told her: "You should know that you won't always feel this way because, as we all know, married life has its ups and downs." Then he added, "Keep on davening that together with the love you will have patience, so that when the more difficult times come, you will wait patiently until the good times are restored!"

A Personal, Warm Relationship

HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l once gave advice to a teacher starting out that he found extremely helpful. The Rov said, "If you want to succeed in education, always treat your students with pleasantness, warmth and gentleness, in the mode of `the right hand drawing them closer.' As for the saying: `Throw bile at your talmidim,' well, do that once every two months, just so they see that their teacher also knows how to get angry once in a while. If you treat them with gentleness and love, you will be successful!"

His words perfectly characterized his own approach, whose entire being exuded radiance, love, and the ability to focus his complete attention on others.

The Rov treated every talmid in this manner. Once a talmid missed one of his shiurim. When the Rov met him the next time he said: "I really felt your absence at the shiur today." Even though he had 45 other students in his shiur, he had still missed him.

From that day on, for two years, he never missed a single one of his shiurim. No matter what pressures he was under, the words of the Rov always came back to him and he was acutely conscious of him waiting for me. Such was the power of that one sentence: "I felt your absence at the shiur today."

The talmid said that in the years he worked as a mechanech, he utilized this advice frequently and it was highly beneficial. He saw what a tremendous impact it has when the talmidim see that a teacher cares about them and takes an interest in them, so that they feel missed when they are absent.

When I began teaching, he made it my primary rule to give my talmidim the sense of being wanted and important.

The Mashgiach, of Kol Torah, the gaon and tzaddik, HaRav Gedaliah Eisemann shlita once gave advice on how to handle talmidim of many different levels in shiurim. A rebbi told him that when he lowers the level of his shiurim, the stronger talmidim become bored, whereas when he raises the level, the weaker talmidim cannot grasp the material.

HaRav Eisemann responded with the following rule: Give over the shiur on a level such that all the students will understand most of the shiur, and most of the talmidim will grasp all of the shiur.

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