Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Adar I 5768 - February 28, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Foundations of Education

by HaRav Nosson Einfeld

Note: At various times in the past, we have published the thoughts of HaRav Einfeld on education (for example, in the editions of parshas Pinchas 5761 and parshas Noach 5761). Here are some more of his observations.

Many educators have complained to me that although what I have written about having patience with talmidim, showing them love, and taking a genuine interest in their general welfare, is surely true, it is impossible for a teacher always to act accordingly. After all, teachers are also human, flesh and blood, and the teaching profession wears one out and frays one's nerves. Even if children are not to blame for being lively, they can surely set a teacher on edge. It is difficult for children to listen and to concentrate, to be quiet and to sit still. You will always find one child for whom being an attentive student is overly demanding. He starts chattering with his neighbor, cracks jokes and doing pranks. Such a "wild" child destroys the serious atmosphere and infects the whole class.

Possibly the teacher has a ocean of troubles, perhaps personal affairs, medical problems, and lack of livelihood. It could well be that the subject he is teaching is complicated and difficult to understand. We all know that some lessons are like that. Only after enormous work and devotion can a teacher succeed with the Herculean task of infusing children with the basic elements of such material.

Sometimes, in the middle of such a backbreaking lesson, suddenly one child starts playing around and making fun of the teacher, and the teacher realizes that soon his classmates will join him and all his efforts at teaching will go down the drain. Can a teacher just remain silent at this? Can we judge the teacher unfavorably if he loses his head and reacts improperly?

A firm foundation of Yiddishkeit is that the Torah does not demand from a person something he cannot accomplish. "HaKodosh Boruch Hu does not try to find fault with His creations" (Avodoh Zorah 3a). Rashi writes (Shabbos 88b) that when Bnei Yisroel said, "We shall do and we shall hear," they, "followed Hashem innocently as those who love [Hashem] and rely on Him not to mislead us to do something we cannot do." Indeed we find that for the restrictions that we could not withstand, Hashem allowed us (Kiddushin 21b, and see the Chinuch, mitzvah 263, that for this reason the Torah permits a Cohen to become tomei when his relatives die. See also the Chinuch, mitzvah 74).

I heard in the name of Maran the Chazon Ish zt'l that the parsha of the yefas to'ar teaches us that it is not difficult to fulfill any of the Torah's dinim.

The Torah is Love Itself

Studying Torah is an absolute obligation, something we are required to do. It is only proper to cite the explanation of Maran HaRav Yeruchom HaLevi Levovitz zt'l, the mashgiach of Yeshivas Mir (Daas Torah II, pg. 190), about the statement of Chazal that HaKodosh Boruch Hu appeared on Sinai as "an old man full of pity":

"Although we are required to fulfill the Torah's mitzvos with love, that is only with regard to how we fulfill them. The mitzvos themselves are truly a burden and a decree from the King, HaKodosh Boruch Hu — but the Torah is love itself! When we make the brochoh before krias Shema at Ma'ariv we say, `With an eternal love have You loved the House of Yisroel, Your nation. Torah and mitzvos, decrees and ordinances have You taught us.' This refers to our receiving all parts of the Torah. We conclude, `Blessed are You Hashem Who loves His nation Yisroel.' How does Hashem show His love towards us? He does it by His giving us the Torah. What is love itself? That is the Torah.

"`When a father and his son, a rav and his talmid are engaged in Torah study . . . they do not budge from there until they love each other' (Kiddushin 30b). Chazal (Succah 49b) teach us on the posuk, `She opens her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is a Torah of steadfast love' (Mishlei 31:26) that teaching Torah is a Torah of chesed since teaching another person Torah is the best thing we can do for him, the biggest chesed in the world. The essence of Torah itself is love and lovingkindness. It seems to me that this is what Chazal mean (Sanhedrin 19b) that `teaching a friend's son Torah is as if giving birth to him,' since the teacher and talmid unite through the Torah's love and become like a son to a father.'"

Is there anything to add to the enthusiastic words of the Mirrer Mashgiach?

An Impatient Person Cannot Teach

The Torah itself is love and chesed and we should likewise study it with love and chesed. HaKodosh Boruch Hu revealed Himself at Sinai like "an old man full of pity" to teach us the way to receive and transmit Torah. HaRav Ovadiah of Bartenura explains that "An impatient person cannot teach" (Ovos 2:5) — not because talmidim will not learn from him properly, but because he is an improper teacher. The Meiri also emphasizes the same message: "His impatience prevents him from speaking pleasantly."

Doubtless anyone with bad middos or hot-tempered by nature should not teach. Furthermore, if a teacher after being vexed at home walks into his class in anger he is committing a grave sin. I once heard how a melamed innocently told a certain marbitz Torah that once before he left home his bank called and informed him that they refused to endorse certain checks he had made out. He was naturally terribly upset from the news and in such a frame of mind he started teaching his class. He was impatient when he taught them and even corporally punished students for minor infractions of discipline.

The marbitz Torah told him he was exempt from coming to teach on that day. He should have gone to a doctor and asked for a medical certificate attesting to his bad health. "But I was not sick," protested the melamed. "A sickness of the soul is also a sickness," answered the marbitz Torah. "The talmidim do not have to suffer and be beaten up because your checks bounced."

Every experienced Torah educator can easily triumph over a cunning talmid and maintain discipline in the class. When they see the educator is more clever than they are, the talmidim abandon all their pranks and the teacher gains full control of the class.

Anger and Its Reward

The gemora (at the end of Kiddushin) teaches us that, "The only thing a habitually irate person manages to accomplish is to wreck his own body" (see Rashi on the gemora, and the commentaries of the Alshich and the Vilna Gaon on Mishlei 19:19 about not punishing when angry. We must realize that reacting in anger is not chinuch and will never produce positive results.

I will relate two occurrences I heard. An eighth grade melamed walked into the classroom and to his dismay the class ledger was missing. No one disputes that stealing it was a grave sin, something that should never have happened. The teacher immediately condemned the audacity and hefkeirus of such an act and demanded that whoever took the ledger return it to his desk at once. Ten minutes passed but the ledger was not returned. He became angry and poured his wrath on the thief and on the class for covering up for him. "Every family with members who are thieves are all thieves" (Shavuos 89a) and are his cronies.

The end result was that the melamed did not succeed in teaching a lesson and the ledger was never returned. The melamed became angry without any gain whatsoever.

A similar occurrence happened once in another class. This melamed acted differently. He was well acquainted with his students and controlled himself. He disregarded what had happened and continued with the lesson. At recess he called over a certain student whom he suspected of doing this (You need much siyata deShmaya to know whom to suspect). The student came to him taut and terrified, but the melamed smiled to calm him down and gently said: "Please do me a favor. Bring the ledger to me since I must check something written there." This request confused the boy and after he came to his senses he answered: "I saw the ledger in some corner. I don't know who put it there; I'll bring it immediately." He brought the ledger and the melamed pretended to be looking at some detail in it. Meanwhile the student's heart was storming. The teacher closed the ledger and said: "I thank you for returning it to me. Let us now put an end to the matter between us without involving your parents and the principal and without punishments. You hid the ledger, correct?" The talmid burst into tears and admitted he was guilty, that the desire to carry out a prank overcame him. He understood that he was wrong and had done something totally improper. He asked the melamed to forgive him and promised he would never do such a thing again. The melamed forgave him but made it clear that if this happened again he would have no choice other than to tell the parents. The talmid promised to conduct himself better in the future.

Everyone gained in the above anecdote. The ledger was returned, the class was not insulted, and the talmid was not ashamed. The most important gain was that this was an example of good chinuch. The student realized that he should not continue acting in such an unbecoming fashion and was grateful to the educator who did not get angry at him, who acted cleverly and with rachamim.

An exceptionally clever educator with many years of experience told me that once a student openly confronted him and yelled out in front of the whole class: "You are meshuga!"

Everyone was astounded. Such an outburst of defiance could not possibly be disregarded. Many proofs can be found in Chazal that a rav is forbidden to forgive such blatant disgrace. The child too was stunned at his outburst and waited nervously for the harsh reaction that would inevitably follow.

What did the melamed do? He neither sent him away from the class in anger nor did he ask for his parents to come speak to him. With amazing self-restraint he said solemnly: "According to halochoh a talmid is obligated to honor and fear his rav. If he does not honor or fear him, the rav is forbidden to teach such a talmid. I therefore recommend that you be put into a higher class. Perhaps you will honor the melamed there more." The educator showed he did not intend to place him in a lower class (as is usual) but, on the contrary, to promote him.

This reaction totally removed the student's defiance and prompted him to mend his ways. He cried bitterly and asked forgiveness, pleaded with the melamed to pardon him. The melamed clarified that this was not a punishment. It is only the logical reaction to such a situation where a boy does not fear his rav. In such a case he must study with another rav. The talmid, however, considered this to be a terrible punishment, cried and begged to remain in the same class with this melamed. On his own initiative the boy brought his parents to talk to the melamed and promised he would never behave so again. The boy fulfilled his promise and became a well-mannered talmid.

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