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24 Cheshvan 5760 - November 3, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Chinuch -- A Torah Perspective

by HaRav Tzvi Shraga Grossbard

The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly sick -- who can know it? I, Hashem, examine the heart and search the kidneys, to give every man according to his ways according to the fruit of his doings (Yirmiyohu 17:9- 10).

Man is composed of major and subordinate powers. Some fill only a secondary function during his life, while others are more decisive and serve him constantly. Above these are powers that form man's very essence and are the primary forces in his actions and thoughts. These principal powers mold his personality and model his image and appearance.

One of these main forces is desire.

The Sha'arei Teshuvah of Rabbeinu Yonah writes most clearly that, "Desire is situated in man's heart and is the root of all his doings." Acts sprout from this root -- from desire. The body operates only as a servant who carries out commands and missions laid upon it by a supreme, absolute power. Desire, with its many assistants, rules over man.

This is man's actual condition. There is no mortal in the whole world who is born with a pure and clean heart, void of desire. This is man: already at birth, as he stirs from his mother's womb, this key power binds itself to him and it accompanies him until death.

There is only one counterbalance against this destructive power: constant abstinence from physical lusts.

Now we are approaching the primary deficiency of educational systems in general, and of the Israeli one in particular. This cardinal failing, found exclusively in those systems not built entirely upon the foundations of Torah, in the end spells ruin for these systems.

We can explain it as follows: our Holy Torah, a Toras Chaim, paints desire as a destructive power that causes results approaching complete havoc. In education and in general, the Torah concerns itself primarily with subduing this power and turning it into Hashem's servant and that of man's intelligence. Our Holy Torah sees the reformation of this power as our prime objective and only through control of it does man have his basic guarantee that enables him to choose good.

Rabbeinu Yonah continues, "If he refines desire, then instead of his body serving it he will draw it after his intelligence, and it will accompany and serve his intelligence. All his acts will be bettered." By succeeding in crushing and taming his desire, and by making his intelligence rule over it, "all his acts will be bettered." Such control over desire insures that one will do righteous acts, "as is written, `as for the pure one, his work is righteousness' (Mishlei 21:8). A person who is purified of his desires acts uprightly, too."

The Holy Torah is especially concerned about the development of desire during childhood and adolescence. These are periods of intensive body and character development. Any deviation, any corruption in this sensitive period, is like a flaw in a building's foundation. Even a slight deviation eventually results in chaos.

The Rambam (in the Sefer Hamitzvos) warns against a person indulging himself in excessive eating and drinking during childhood, according to the conditions specified in the halocho of the ben sorer umoreh. Here the Torah warns us against habitual excessive eating and drinking during youth, and punishes it with the harshest penalty -- death -- so as to frighten others away from copying such behavior.

Desire destroys the image of humanity within man and allows destructive, untamed forces to gain control of him. His adoption of animalistic characteristics is the most certain and all-inclusive ruin that could be. Animalistic behavior means an eternal, incurable split with true humanity.

The Vilna Gaon writes in Even Sheleimo: "Every person who passes through Nehar Dinur (Gehennom) is judged according to the way he acted (on earth). Tzaddikim receive only a cooled-off judgment there, while reshoim are judged with fire . . . and those who follow their animal nefesh are destroyed, since broken earthenware cannot be fixed." These are the terrible and awesome results of developing animal lust.

We must fully realize that even when a young boy has developed this destructive power within him the Holy Torah rules, "Let him die while still innocent and not full of sin" (Sanhedrin 71b). This power, that has begun to develop while he is young, will certainly cause him to deteriorate further. He will follow one desire after another until he commits theft, robbery, and even murder. For his own good and that of the public, "Let him die while still innocent and not full of sin."

This is the crossroads for an educational system. Modern non- Jewish education, upon which secular education in Eretz Yisroel is based, cannot control these powers. Furthermore, it lacks any techniques for curbing them, for the simple reason that their mentors in the fields of education and character are totally baffled in this area. The truth is that they have no basic knowledge of children's kochos hanefesh, and what is worse, partly out of sheer helplessness and partly for their convenience, they have created a warped new system. This system contradicts reality and dictates, among other things, "Do not punish your child! Do not restrict or restrain him! Let him develop `naturally' and `normally.' "

Not only do they not try to place limitations on children, to define correct behavior for them, but intentionally (or perhaps unintentionally) they promote the growth of desire within them. They intensify the children's power of desire. From their very childhood they implant the forty-nine gates of tumah within their previously pure soul. These secular educators manufacture wholesale the animal feeling that is widespread in this spiritually impoverished generation. Why have they established houses of avoda zorah for the idol of desire? Why are there establishments with modern academic titles that disseminate immoral pictures? Is this not an insane plea for the development of man's animalistic feelings? (Note that we are talking here about fundamental physical desires and not matters of ideology.)

Is it any wonder that pure souls who breath this poisoned air, souls brought up on excessive pleasures of every sort, are left without any guidelines of good or evil? The explicit aim of achieving one's desire permits everything.

So-called serious secular journalism is alarmed when it discovers violence among high school children from well-to-do families. Many ask in alarm, "How could this happen? What is the reason? Who is at fault?"

We are amazed at their questions. Why are they so startled? Have they never learned the alef-beis of elementary education? Do they not understand that if they encourage children to attain their desires, the end result is violence?

Let them open up the Book of Books, our Holy Torah, where every letter points at this pivotal principle.

Torah education is based upon what Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of men, wrote: "The rod and reproof give wisdom; but a child left to himself causes shame to his mother" (Mishlei 29:15; see Rashi). This candid advice reprimands all the various modern experts, and guides us in the proper way of education.

Education that lets its students do what they please will eventually end up with these students putting their teachers to shame. Only "Reprimand your son and he will give you rest, he will give delight to your soul" (ibid., v. 17). Only Torah chinuch, an education that restrains impulses and guides the child towards breaking his wild lust, an education that shows students the bounds and limits, has any chance of succeeding in implanting in their hearts good character traits, righteousness, and a yearning to improve themselves.

"He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him rebukes him" (Mishlei 13:24). The Midrash Tanchuma writes: "This teaches us that someone who refrains from rebuking his son causes his eventual spiritual deterioration. We find this in Yishmoel: Avrohom, his father, loved him and did not punish him. Yishmoel afterwards deteriorated, and then Avrohom hated him.

"Similarly, `Yitzchok loved Esav' (Bereishis 25:28), and therefore Esav degenerated, because Yitzchok did not punish him . . . [in the case of] Dovid, too, when he did not admonish and punish Avsholom, Avsholom degenerated and attempted to kill Dovid . . . and caused the deaths of several thousand people . . . Likewise Dovid did not punish or scold Adoniyahu, and therefore Adoniyahu became corrupt.

"`But he who loves him rebukes him' -- that is Avrohom, who rebuked and taught [Yitzchok] Torah and guided him in his ways . . . Similarly, Yitzchok taught Yaakov, his son, Torah and reprimanded him . . . Yaakov Ovinu also rebuked his children and reprimanded them and taught them his ways, so they would not have any impurity.

"Likewise Bas Sheva, the tzadekes, reprimanded her son Shlomo, as is written, `The words of King Lemuel, the burden wherewith his mother reprimanded him' (Mishlei 31:1). This teaches that Bas Sheva tied him to a pole and hit him with a rod; thus she scolded him. And what would she say to him? . . . `Do not visit kings and drink wine and become intoxicated' . . . and,' [said Bas Sheva,] `because I rebuked him he became the wisest of all men.'"

What Chazal teach us here does not need any additional interpretation. Chazal attach maximal significance to an education opposing man's natural inclinations. They declare that educating a person to swim against the current of desires allows that person to become "the wisest of all men."

Education that allows a person to do what he wishes, that lets bad inclinations develop without restraint, reprimand, or limits, causes a child to degenerate stage after stage to the worst possible sins.

According to this approach we have the key to the present day's educational difficulties. Although just one or two generations ago a student was limited in achieving his desires and entirely under the educational yoke, in the present period, because of the influence of foreign methods, even our own wall of education has been somewhat breached, and our dear children are allowed more leniency. Behavior that we feel is permitted we allow without limit and, as a result the children's power of desire strengthens and widens. This causes the powers of intellectual analysis to be pushed aside and the students' heart and mind to become dense.

Difficulties and indecision about choosing the correct way of behavior flourish in such a condition. Reality obliges us to criticize our acts, to check every corner, to analyze every educational approach. We must banish any chometz from our educational system, and any opinion or approach not based on the Torah and Chazal should be eliminated.

We must distrust any new system in the secular educational system, even if it superficially appears beneficial. There is no truth like the Torah's, and no real understanding can emerge without deeply studying and toiling over our Holy Torah. Only by its light will we go, and in that way we will succeed.

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