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12 Iyar 5760 - May 17, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Principles of Education

by HaRav Nosson Einfeld

More insights and thoughts on various aspects of chinuch from a veteran Torah educator.

HaRav Einfeld explained the tremendous obligation that an educator has toward his students. He is like a paid shomer who is constantly on duty, like Noach who had to feed the animals in the teivah night and day. R' Yeruchom compared it to the poles of the Oron Hakodesh in the Mishkan: they had to constantly be in their supportive role of the Oron, they must never be removed. He is given the tools to teach his students properly, and is held to a high standard of success. Furthermore, the teacher must be filled with love for his students.

A Story and Its Source

To what degree have our leaders been careful to honor talmidim?

R' Zeev Wilensky, a talmid of HaRav Boruch Ber Lebowitz zt'l of Yeshivas Kamenetz, related the following: His brother, HaRav Yonah zt'l, one of the top talmidim of R' Boruch Ber, was one of the few who understood his deep shiurim properly.

R' Yonah eventually left to study in Yeshivas Mir. R' Boruch Ber met R' Zeev and asked him to tell his brother, R' Yonah, to come to Kamenetz to help R' Boruch Ber write down his shiurim and edit them, since he was the best person for the job.

The next morning R' Zeev was told that the Rosh Yeshiva was looking for him urgently. When he arrived, R' Boruch Ber asked R' Zeev if he had already sent the letter to his brother. Although surprised, R' Zeev answered that he had not yet sent it. HaRav Boruch Ber beamed with happiness and explained, "The truth is that I really need R' Yonah for this matter, but if the talmidim see that I called R' Yonah back, there would be some who would lose heart and say: `Aren't we good enough? Why does the Rosh Yeshiva need to bring someone from afar?' I therefore decided not to call him."

Although this seems like an example of the extreme piety that characterized R' Boruch Ber, it actually stems from the Torah itself. Everyone must behave as the Torah teaches us.

At the beginning of Bamidbar, Moshe Rabbenu was commanded, together with the nesi'im, to count the Jewish nation. The Torah (Bamidbar 1:16) points out: "These were the men of distinction in the congregation." The Alshich explains that not only were they great people, they were the greatest in Am Yisroel, and the greatest of the entire dor dei'ah of the midbar. In addition they were "nesi'im of the tribes of their fathers" (ibid.), and still more, they were "heads of the thousands in Yisroel" (ibid.). They were the greatest of the nation in their own merit, and the shevotim too had accepted them as their nesi'im.

The Torah continues: "Moshe and Aharon took these men who were pointed out by their names" (v. 17). The Alshich emphasizes that despite their prominence and their status as nesi'im, Moshe Rabbenu would not have taken them if Hashem had not pointed them out by name. If Moshe had chosen them himself, it is possible someone might think: "Why was I not chosen? Why did he prefer someone else?" This is an example of being careful not to hurt another person.

A Critic's Letter

Not long ago a book called Me'ilo Shel Shmuel was published: it is the story of the gaon HaRav Shmuel Aharon Yudelevitz zt'l. A few weeks after it appeared a supervisor in the Chinuch Atzmai system wrote a letter in which he sharply criticized a story in the book. He claimed that this story helps our enemies and justifies the arguments against traditional chinuch. What story bothered him so?

R' Shmuel studied in cheder under a melamed who was a skilled workman and took advantage of his talent to build a model of the Mishkan from cardboard and paper. When the class studied the Mishkan, he would put his creation on the table in the classroom.

One day during recess everyone went outside to play except for R' Shmuel Aharon, who remained in class to review his studies. When the children returned after recess the "Mishkan" was not to be found. R' Shmuel Aharon claimed he was concentrating on his studies just then and did not see or hear anything, but the melamed was not convinced that he had not taken the model himself.

He took him to the empty teacher's room, sat him down near him and told him to read aloud in Yehoshua the story of how Ochon took an object from the cheirem and was punished by sekilah. The eyes of the child darkened and he burst out crying. At that moment someone knocked on the door and told the melamed that they had found the "Mishkan" and it turned out that a certain child had slipped away with it into an empty classroom. The melamed stood up and returned with the child to the tense class. We will quote the continuation from the book:

"The storm started. The melamed was totally enraged. He yelled at Shmuel Aharon: `You should be utterly ashamed. Why did you admit to something you did not do? Why did you cry? Who were you trying to fool? -- That's enough now. We do not have any spare time. Bring the "Mishkan" and let's continue the shiur.'

"The melamed did not at all regret what he had done and did not ask forgiveness from Shmuel Aharon. He unrolled the colored material that represented the covering of the Mishkan, gently raising the box that was the `Aron Habris' on which were pasted two forms to represent the keruvim. `You see?' he said to the talmidim, `The Aron Habris exemplifies the Torah, since inside it were the two luchos habris. The Keruvim exemplify the rav and the talmid, their faces to each other, to teach us about the love between them.'"

The story is 100% true, and R' Shmuel Aharon told it to his children endless times -- but according to that critic it should not be told. That story should be erased. No flaws exist in our educational system, no dark shadows are to be found there, and no melamdim exist who destroy nefoshos and sometimes lose their Olom Haboh. Someone who wants to warn about thorns in the vineyard, the critic felt, helps the sitra achra, provides our enemies with weapons, and must be censured.

That melamed did two serious sins. Of the first sin HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l spoke in his old age. "I am far removed from taking revenge, but there is one melamed I will never forgive," he said. He told about a melamed in his home town, Dohlinov, who warned the children not to come late to cheder on a certain Sunday and not to linger looking at how the Christians go in a procession to church.

R' Yaakov hurried to cheder that day but then an elderly woman asked him to help her carry heavy bags. He helped her, of course, and understandably came late to cheder.

When he arrived he told the melamed how he had helped that woman. "You are a liar," the melamed said excitedly. "You stopped to look at the procession of avoda zorah." And he hit him cruelly.

"I will never forgive him for that," R' Yaakov said some eighty years after it had happened. "A melamed must know who his talmidim are, their positive and negative character traits. He should have known that I have never lied in my life."

If the first melamed we spoke of had understood his students' personalities he would have known that Shmuel Aharon Yudelevitz was above all suspicion. The child who did not go to play because he would always review his Torah studies during recess is surely not a child who would steal!

Even if there had been reason to be suspicious of Shmuel Aharon, does that allow the melamed to do whatever he wants? Does a suspicion justify embarrassing a child publicly? Is the melamed allowed to tread on a student's feelings without knowing the full truth?

A ben Torah on the day of his chuppah came before a godol beTorah to confess a cheit that haunted and plagued him. It disturbed his conscience and did not allow him any rest. He was responsible, he said, for a friend of his having stopped being an observant Jew. Now the chosson wanted a kaporo and a tikun.

This is what happened: When he was a young child his yetzer overcame him and he stole a friend's watch. At home he played with the watch and his father found out about the theft. Naturally his father insisted that he bring it back.

When he reached school the whole class already knew about the theft and the melamed was about to make a thorough search. What did the boy do? He went over to the jackets hanging on the wall and slipped the watch into the pocket of one of the jackets.

In short, what happened was that the watch was found in that jacket and the owner was condemned as a thief. All the owner's denials did not help and no one was moved by his crying. He suffered terrible shame and mortification. The melamed did not rest until he decreed his punishment: The children hung a sign on his back reading "I am a thief" and he had to walk through all the classes and show them the sign.

Understandably that broke the child's spirit, and his friends distanced themselves from him and mocked him. He stopped coming to cheder, befriended corrupt children who gladly accepted him, and stopped observing Torah and mitzvos. "It was all because of me," the chosson sobbed. "How can I go and build my house when I know I have ruined my friend's life?"

The godol heard the chosson and said: "Do not worry. You were a small child at that time and were not liable for what you did. Even if you had been liable, you were not to blame for what happened to your friend. The melamed is to be blamed. How could he punish someone without reliable witnesses? He should have thought of the possibility that another boy slipped the watch into that pocket. Even if there were two kosher witnesses about the theft, since when is there a din of misah for a thief? And Rabbenu Yonah (Sha'arei Teshuvah 3:139) writes, `The anguish of being shamed is more bitter than death.' The melamed killed that boy twice over: he shamed him and destroyed his spiritual world. He will never have a kaporo."

One "educator" dreadfully degraded a father of a talmid in front of all the talmidim in his class. The talmidim, along with the "educator," laughed profusely.

The unfortunate talmid went out to the street crying bitterly. He walked around crying in the street for some two hours and the educator never asked him where he disappeared in the middle of the shiur. He did not apologize and did not ask forgiveness for his heartless behavior. The talmid now suffers from depression because of that disgraceful story. Surely that educator has no part in Olam Haboh, as is the halocho with someone who shames another person publicly.

I will conclude with another story, something that happened to me personally. A young boy originally from a secular home came to my yeshiva in Beer Sheva and asked to be accepted. He was a refined boy and I was impressed with him. After ma'ariv, however, one of the staff approached me and said, "I think the Rosh Yeshiva should expel that boy and do so as soon as possible. He is a chotei and a machti who spoils others."

I asked what evil thing he had seen in the boy, and he told me that the boy had talked with another boy next to him in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei. "This is something serious and we must distance boys who corrupt others."

I went over to the boy and said to him, "I want to learn together with you bechavrusa."

The boy was walking on air after receiving such an honor. We sat down to learn Chayei Odom, the halochos of Shemoneh Esrei. We reached the halocho that it is ossur to speak in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei. The boy suddenly said: "Oi, Rebbe, I talked in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei! Does the Rav know that this was the first ma'ariv of my life? I will slowly adjust and learn to act correctly."

Today he is, Boruch Hashem, an accomplished ben Torah and has raised a splendid family. All of his children are studying Torah. I am horrified just to think what would have happened if I had listened to the advice given to me to dismiss him from the yeshiva. Boruch Hashem, I was not nichshal.

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