By Harav Yitzchak Reuven Rubin     

I recently came across a thought from HaRav Moshe Weinberger Shlita of New York that i feel touches on much of the malaise we find in our educational system today.

“When Hashem gave us the Torah on Har Sinai, He was our Rebbe, our Melamed, and He brought us into His “yeshiva” in order to give us the Torah. Every morning, we refer to Hashem as “the Teacher of Torah to His people, Israel.” As the pasuk (Devarim 4:5) says, “See, I have taught you ordinances and statutes.” We learn many of the principles of chinuch, educating our children and ourselves, from how Hashem gave us the Torah.

For example, the Torah teaches that the manner in which Hashem gave the Torah was (Devarim 5:4) “Hashem spoke with you face to face…” From this we learn that a rebbe or morah must engage directly with his or her students and not in a backhanded way which is not truly directed at who the students are and what they need.

Rav Yaakov Galinsky Shlita, one of the last great magidim, has quoted a fascinating Midrash from Koheles Raba 3:15:

It’s strange, when we were youngsters mosdos sought Jewish children, no strings attached, and now, we exclude little children based on the flimsiest hearsay.

The Jewish people were fit to be given the Torah as soon as they left Egypt. But Hashem said “The radiance of their health has not yet returned to my children.  They have just left the slavery, mortar, and bricks and they cannot receive the Torah immediately.” This is comparable to a king whose son has just survived a serious illness and people begin to say “Your son should go back to school.” [The king answers,] “The radiance of my son’s health has not yet returned and you say that he should go back to his school?! Instead, let him take it easy for two or three months with food and drink in order to recover and afterward, he can go back to his school.” So too, Hashem said, “The radiant health of my children has not yet returned from the slavery, mortar, and bricks from which they just left. Shall I give them the Torah?! Instead, let them take it easy for two or three months with the Mann, the well, and quail, and afterward, I will give them the Torah. When? In the third month [Sivan].

We learn a fundamental principle of education from this Midrash. One can only act as a vessel to receive the Torah if he feels like a “mentch,” with a sense of dignity and wholeness. Otherwise, he is a broken vessel, and a broken vessel cannot contain the light of Torah.

I have found wounded children who have struggled through years of attending schools and are grappling with basics. They were broken by a system that made no room for their circumstances and hence these kids are in no position to even begin to learn.

There is a vital lesson in educating our children, other people’s children, and even ourselves. It is brought in Chayei Moharan (432) wherein Rebbe Nachman taught not to push children too much because you don’t know what a boy or girl is going through in life. Many children grow up in difficult environments. It is very hard to push a child to do his or her homework if there are issues at home.

Rebbe Nachman continued “It is impossible to explain this matter properly but it is clear to those who are wise and is extremely important for teachers and so too in many other areas. This is a great principle: Do not push yourself more than is appropriate in any matter, rather it should be gradually and patiently.”

We see that Rebbe Nachman teaches that even with our own growth, we must not force our selves to grow until we fulfil our own basic human needs.

I have seen time and again how things seem to unravel in the classroom if a child hasn’t been sent to school with a sense of menucha. Every morning I ask each boy what he has eaten, where he davened and how much sleep he has had. In truth I need not ask, I will soon see if there is a problem, I just do so to save time. I have no qualm in starting the day buying breakfast for a kid who didn’t get a chance to eat, or calling a parent at night to make sure their son gets to bed on time. Wound up students can’t learn, full stop!

So much is going amiss in our schools because teachers have lost the knack of bonding with their students. Large classes, the need to tick all the boxes, makes it all too easy for youngsters to fall by the wayside, becoming spiritual road kill in the name of “higher standards”.

Schools try not to accept children if there is even a whiff of problems. It’s strange, when we were youngsters mosdos sought Jewish children, no strings attached, and now, we exclude little children based on the flimsiest hearsay.

Actually we are our own worst enemies in this regard. Parents insist that their school let in the cream of the crop, have the highest levels of standards, with no room for children who may not fit in to their preordained mold. Now that may work until the child who doesn’t fit happens to be your own, then the tears start and the panic sets in. Chinuch is about nurturing each neshomah according to its needs, not the needs of status seeking parents.

Our young today are sensitive to many things that perhaps we didn’t experience in our youth, no matter, they are our neshomalach and we have been tasked with their positive growth.

It is well-known that when the Satmar Rav first came to Williamsburg after the War, there were very few survivors from Hungary who were able to join him. He began giving a Gemara shiur and at that time, there were only four or five people in attendance. They were learning Chullin and as soon as he began giving the shiur the first day, he started telling stories of tzadikim and giving chizuk. The second day of the shiur, he again started the Gemara but continued telling more stories. The third day, after telling a few stories, he started asking people how they were doing, whether they were able to find jobs, and the like. Finally, on about the fourth day of the shiur, one of the men asked him, “Nu, Rebbe, the Gemara?” The Rebbe answered him, “Does your Gemara have a daf alef, a page ‘one?’” “No,” the man answered, “no Gemara has a daf alef.” The Satmar Rav then explained, “Do you know what daf alef of the Gemara is? Feeling like a mentch. Having a little chizuk. Having someone ask, ‘how are you doing?,’ ‘Did you get that job interview?’ That is daf alef of the Gemara.” These broken Jews around the table needed to begin with daf alef.




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