Wednesday, May 24, 2006


The Torah Umesorah convention which closed this past Sunday was, once again, a memorable, extraordinary event. For the past 50 years, the organization founded by Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz and guided from its inception by Gedolei Torah, has designed an annual inspirational weekend to uplift the spirits and enrich the lives of our children’s rabbeim and moros.

The convention is like no other in Jewish life. Selling out weeks in advance, participants eagerly rush from session to session in a drive to soak up as much information and inspiration as possible. Everyone present is there for the same purpose—to enable themselves to grow in their mission of transmitting our heritage to the next generation.

The feeling that lingers post-convention is that I wish I was a kid in school again. Yes, it’s great to be a child, carefree and full of innocence. But I am referring to something more than that.

The day after the convention, I found myself imagining I was a little boy in school again. I pictured how it would be to have a rebbi who was present at that convention and returned to class energized, armed with tools and inspiration for his chinuch mission.

No, I have no complaints against any of the rabbeim who taught me when I was in school. They were all giants dedicated to their task and charges. They were motivated by their life’s mission and were successful in raising a generation of good people. But if I was a school child again, how I would want my rebbi to have had the benefit of being present at this year’s convention!

I was there and watched rabbeim from across the country react with emotion, as their minds and hearts absorbed the words of inspiration and guidance coming from some of today’s leading Roshei Yeshiva, rabbonim and mechanchim. When asked how they were enjoying Shabbos, people tried to put their feelings into words and choked up, overcome with emotion.

The moving welcome for Rav Aron Leib Shteinman set the pace for the entire weekend, which was essentially a gathering celebrating and invigorating mechanchim. In his humble, unassuming manner, he addressed several questions pertaining to chinuch. One was most touching. The question posed was how one should deal with a child who is a mechutzaf.

His response was most telling. He said that “children don’t want to be bad; every child wants to be good.” Sometimes they are in pain or reaching out for attention and affection, and they act out improperly. It is the teacher’s job to see into a student’s soul and use positive methods to reach and impact the child, he said.

Everyone listening knew these words came straight from the heart; you could almost feel the great love in Rav Aron Leib’s response.

The urge — and knee-jerk reaction — is to smack down a misbehaving child, but any rebbi who was present at that session will forever reach out with love and understanding. Every time he is faced with a discipline situation, he will undoubtedly recall the image of the venerated sage as he spoke so warmly, softly addressing thousands of mechanchim from across North America.

The next time a child talks back insolently, the rebbi will remember Rav Aron Leib telling his listeners to treat their students with love and care. He will remember him saying that one must never publicly embarrass a child. Those children also have feelings. Like everyone else, they need to be inspired and uplifted.

The speakers’ words will ring in their listeners’ ears each day as they set out to perform their avodas hakodesh. True, their task is demanding and at times frustrating but gatherings such as the TU convention fortify the sense of mission that led them to this profession to begin with.

There is much we can learn from the way these dedicated individuals aim for self-improvement. They teach by example, as well as by action and deed. People at the convention marveled at the sheer will to shteig these energetic mechanchim demonstrated. Let us hope that their own drive to learn and improve will carry over to our children and to us, as well.

At the Sixth Knessia Gedolah which was held in Yerushalayim 25 years ago, Maran Rav Elazar Menachem Shach zt”l addressed moros of Chinuch Atzmai schools.

He expounded on the posuk in Doniel, 12:3, V’hamaskilim yazhiru k’zohar harokia umatzdikei horabim kakochavim l’olam voed.

The Gemorah in Bava Basra 8b explains that the maskilim referred to here are the gabbaei tzedaka, for it requires great intelligence to know how to distribute charity in a manner in which the recipient is not embarrassed to accept the needed assistance. The posuk says these gabbaei tzedaka will be rewarded for their efforts and will shine like the stars of the heavens.

The second part of the posuk refers to melamdei tinokos, and the posuk says they will forever shine like stars.

Rav Shach explained that every morah has a responsibility to understand the issues their students are confronting and to assist them. “The teacher should be able to tell from the expression on a child’s face if she has a problem, and should then deal with it. Some students have the confidence or courage to come forward and seek help with a problem, but others are too embarrassed. Every morah and madricha must develop the intuition to enable them to understand their students, and must find the means to help.”

You have to bear in mind that the consequences of your actions and how you deal with your students lasts for generations, Rav Shach said. If the student does not resolve her issues, they will often manifest themselves in successive generations. But if you rise to the challenge and help her work it out, your positive influence will affect not only her, but her children and her children’s children, exactly as the posuk states, “kakochavim l’olam voed.”

A child is forever; the way we treat children has everlasting impact. People may feel that since a child is young and immature, they can take certain liberties with him. Nothing could be further from the truth. A child has to be treated as the bearer of a Yiddishe neshoma. Anything that we would not do to an adult we should not do to a child. The consequences can be irrevocable. Those stars will remain forever. If we light up their little hearts, they will sparkle for generations, as will the mechanech. If, however, we don’t reach into the child’s soul, the black mark will be eternal.

Regrettably, the financial rewards available to those who choose a career in chinuch are nominal. But the spiritual rewards are of a completely different caliber. Who besides the dedicated mechanech can exert such a profound and everlasting influence on continuing generations?

Similarly, the impact of a 91-year-old gadol who traveled half way around the world to be mechazeik the mechanchim will also be timeless. Even had he not said one word, his very presence would have been enough. The mere sight of a person of his spiritual stature encompassed by an other-worldly aura was a lifelong lesson in gadlus ha’odom. The sight of someone so elevated yet so humble overwhelmed people to the point of tears.

There are times when words are not necessary. There are even times when they detract.

A dear friend of mine once related to me that his son, who was a specially gifted and well-behaved boy, decided one day to take advantage of his father’s absence to see if he could drive a car. He sneaked the keys out of the house, inserted them in the ignition and shifted into gear. Expert driver that he wasn’t, he drove the car right into the house. A neighbor had to be called to extricate the boy from the mess.

The boy was petrified about what his father would do to him when he came home. But he was wrong. When the father returned late at night, he didn’t say a word to the boy. The son was in his bed but couldn’t sleep, fearing his fate. He was anticipating a severe tongue lashing and the beating of his life. But it didn’t happen; the father didn’t say a word.

The next morning, with head bowed, he sheepishly faced his father but no words came out; he was too ashamed and scared. The father simply hugged him and said, “I still love you,” and that was the extent of the conversation. The boy never forgot that incident. He says that he will never forget the lesson of his father’s love as exhibited that day. The silence drove the message home much more forcefully, louder and longer lasting than angry shouting could have.

Let us follow the words of the wise and learn how to reach children and adults so that our stars and theirs will shine forever.


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