Wednesday, August 31, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Summertime is nearly over and with it, the leisurely pace of life that brings us so many gifts. One of these is the ability to really listen to someone and not get by with simply being courteous.

During the year, people tend to go through the motions of listening without really absorbing the other person’s message. We nod perfunctorily to our children, our spouses, our parents, friends and neighbors as they talk. We follow the amenities and say the right things to convey the impression we are paying attention… but are we really?

Even when we are paying attention, often it is with impatience. We can’t wait for an opening to seize the floor and put in our own two cents. We are far more interested in what we have to say to others than in hearing what they want to say to us. We hear the lines but not what’s between the lines, the text but not the subtext.

Perhaps one of summer’s blessings is that in slowing down our hectic lifestyle, we suddenly find the time to look into the eyes of the person we are talking to and really tune in to what they are telling us. It’s startling how much one can learn, and accomplish as well as how much we can help someone if we have a genuine interest in connecting.

Many years ago, I took a trip with Rav Yehoshua Fishman of Torah Umesorah to raise money for the organization. Fundraising is one of the most difficult professions and in those days—our trip to Detroit took place before the days of cell phones—it was even more grueling. The weather was freezing. We sat in the car by the 7-11 pay phone making calls, trying to get people to let us in so that we could solicit them to help support Torah Umesorah.

Neither of us remembers how much money we made, if any, but there is one visit we made that stands out. We ate supper at the home of my grandfather, Rav Leizer Levin zt”l. The scene is still fresh in my memory. We were sitting at his small kitchen table and Rabbi Fishman asked my zaydeh how it was that he succeeded in the rabbonus for so many years.

My zaydeh was a far greater person than I can ever aspire to be. He was greater in Torah, in mussar and in bein adom lechaveiro than I and many others will ever be. He set a shining example for me and for so many who knew him of an adom gadol who was as humble as he was great.

He was zoche to learn for seven years in the yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim zt”l, and to live in the Chofetz Chaim’s home for over a year. He recounted to us on that frigid Detroit night that when he left Radin to go learn in Kelm, the Chofetz Chaim said to him, “Leizer, gei redt mit Yidden, go speak to Jews.”

Though I had heard that story several times before, the way he said it that night lit a fire in our hearts. We took little account of what happened during the rest of that trip, but kept repeating to each other, “mir redden mit Yiden.” It no longer mattered to us whether the people we visited and spoke to wrote us a handsome check; we were on a mission to speak to Jews.

My grandfather would often tell me, “Pinchos’l, der rebbe didn’t say to speak at Jews, tzoo Yidden. He said with Jews, mit Yidden. Gedainkt men darf redden mit menchen, you have to talk with people, not at them.”

My holy grandfather carried out his rebbi’s mandate for over seventy years; it virtually became his life’s mission. He was mekadaish sheim Shomayim every day of his life listening to other people and talking with them. Hearing them out, absorbing their pain and their problems, and then, responding and trying to help them.

I miss him more and more each passing day. I try to follow his path. I usually fail. But the message he passed on to us from his holy rebbe merits repeating until we have made it a part of our daily lives: Redt mit Yidden, nit tzoo Yidden.

That year at the Torah Umesorah convention Rabbi Fishman repeated the story and in his masterful drasha, exhorted the mechanchim to “redt mit di talmidim.”

Rav Fishman’s words resonated deeply with the audience of devoted educators. The words of the Chofetz Chaim evoked the highest aspirations of every Rebbi and teacher – to connect with their students, to understand what makes them tick and to tap into their latent enthusiasm for learning. The tale has been often repeated since.

If we want to reach other people and touch their souls we have to be able to speak to them, not at them. We have to look at the entire picture, not just at a part of it. Before pouncing on anyone for an infraction, we have to remember what the person did yesterday and the previous day that might mitigate his offense.

How we speak to people is very important. If we put ourselves in the other person’s place we can be more sensitive to his or her situation and can then be so much more effective in reaching the person.

Children begin the school year with an amazing desire to learn. They come to school the first day with a new briefcase and all new supplies. They are enthusiastic to meet their new rebbi and teacher. They are bubbling with excitement. Everything is so new and so fresh. They get new books, new desks and new classmates. They meet up with their friends who they haven’t seen for a while. Coming home, they have so much to say about the first day of school.

The trick of a good parent and educator is to maintain that enthusiasm as the year continues and the work piles on.

Did you ever hear about a pre 1A child who didn’t want to learn the Aleph Bais? When they begin school, their learning is exciting and interesting, the teachers are vibrant, every day they look forward to learning something new. They know morah loves them, and they love her. Every day they color something; they learn and review a new letter every week. How exciting it all is.

In their daily foray into the classroom, our teachers work hard to make the subject come alive, and to not allow the learning to turn into simple rote repetition. Learning can be a fun and exciting experience. Look around and see the successful rebbis, moros and teachers, who are excited about what they are teaching and who can convey excitement to their charges.

As children age, their teachers strive to maintain their delight in mastering a new skill, in gaining knowledge, reaching a new milestone. Mechanchim work hard to ensure that the thirst for knowledge and accomplishment and the zest for learning that they infuse children with at the start of the school year should not be allowed to dissipate.

School and learning has to be more than words. Children [as well as adults] need to constantly have their attention charged. It is said that our generation has a shrinking attention span and that is probably true. But no one tires of hearing good stories; no one gets bored when held enraptured by a master speaker. If we want kids to learn we have to make the subject matter come alive and we have to keep it interesting. All the pontifications and all the speeches about chinuch cannot replace that simple fact.

Take a closer look at those teachers who breathe life into their lessons, whose own love of learning is contagious, who build incentives and motivation into the fabric of their teaching. Watch how they inspire and stimulate their students by, above all, caring about them and believing in their ability to succeed. Observe how their students revere them and exert themselves to the utmost to win their praise and approval.

These outstanding mechanchim make an art out of winning minds and souls. They invest huge amounts of energy in creating special projects, assignments, trips, contests—they are masters of motivation. They practice that dictum of the Chofetz Chaim; they speak to children, not at them. They understand their charges and are thus able to reach their neshamos.

This is no less true of gifted and dedicated teachers in the general studies department who utilize the rich opportunities that come their way to impress young minds with the niflaos haborai, who teach our children how to think and articulate and how to use the written and spoken word effectively.

As any educator will tell you their true reward is in seeing the enthusiasm in their students’ eyes when the lesson comes alive, when the message gets through and actually touches the hearts and souls of the their charges. We can never properly compensate these mechanchim for the gifts they pass on to our children—the lifelong love and excitement of learning.

To stir up appreciation for their efforts, we need to take a look at the students who were fortunate enough to be taught by such dedicated people.

As school starts and throughout the year, we need to do more than feel appreciation; we need to show the special rabbeim and moros that we do not take them for granted, that we realize that they are carrying out a sacred task—and in so doing, they are aiding us in our foremost obligation—to be mechanech the next generation in Torah and Yiras Shomayim.

Let those immortal words of the Chofetz Chaim ring in our ears whenever we speak to people of all ages, summer, winter and all around the year; redt mit yidden.

May we, together with the rabbeim, moros and teachers have much nachas from our children.


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