Insights and thoughts on various aspects of chinuch from a veteran Torah educator.
In the year 5725, I brought, with siyata deShmaya, five talmidim from Yeshivas Beer Sheva to Yeshivas Hevron in Yerushalayim. The yeshiva's staff had devoted much time and effort to develop the innate talents of these five talmidim and to increase their Torah knowledge, and eventually they were zoche to see the fruits of their labor. Boruch Hashem, all five were accepted to Yeshivas Hevron and today they are outstanding talmidei chachomim. The rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Hevron, Maran HaRav Yechezkel Sarna zt'l, expressed his admiration of the blessed results of disseminating Torah in areas far from the Torah centers of Eretz Yisroel.
Loving our Talmidim
HaRav Sarna told me: "Chazal (Sifri, Voeschonon) write: `"And you shall teach your sons" (Devorim 6:7) - - these are your talmidim.' Why did the Torah not explicitly write, `And you shall teach your talmidim' if that is actually meant? The Torah is coming to teach us that we cannot hope to teach Torah to our talmidim if we do not love them like our own children."
HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkovitz, the rosh yeshiva of Ponevezh Yeshiva LeTzeirim, once told me that he had asked Maran the Chazon Ish zt'l about the correct way to educate talmidim to Torah and yirah. His answer: We must show love and fondness for talmidim as a father loves his sons. Only in such a way can we educate them to Torah and yiras Shomayim. This is what the Tanna (Ovos 1:12) writes: "Be among the talmidim of Aharon: Loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them nearer to Torah." Only through "love of people" can we reach out to our talmidim and bring them closer to Torah.
The Tears of the Maharil Diskin
After the petirah of the Maharil Diskin zt'l, his only son, HaRav Yitzchok Yeruchom Diskin zt'l, was oleh to Eretz Yisroel and accepted the presidency of the enormous orphanage in Yerushalayim that his father had founded. The first time he visited the orphanage he burst into tears. In response to the question of those accompanying him as to why he cried, he answered: "A carpenter steps on bits of wood, a shoemaker steps on scraps of leather, a bookbinder steps on sheimos. I am afraid that the orphanage directors are stepping on neshomos."
Not only heads of orphanages have such a grave responsibility. All those engaged in chinuch share accountability for the welfare of their talmidim.
At the levaya of HaRav Mordechai Shulman zt'l, the rosh yeshiva of Slobodke Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, one of the maspidim told an anecdote that happened to him with that rosh yeshiva. When this man was staying in New York, he needed to go somewhere on the subway. It was already night, a time when people in New York generally avoid riding the subway, at least in those days. Few people rode on it at night, and those who did were usually dangerous characters. For some reason this man decided to take the subway anyway.
He entered a subway car and found six people sitting there. Five of them looked terrifying, and the sixth was HaRav Shulman. The Rosh Yeshiva, who was in America to collect money for the yeshiva, was holding a portfolio which contained money and checks for the yeshiva. The other Jew was terrified and immediately sat down near the Rosh Yeshiva to protect him if any need should arise. He asked HaRav Shulman, "Why does the Rosh Yeshiva ride in a subway when it is unsafe to do so? Why did the Rosh Yeshiva not call for a taxi?"
The Rosh Yeshiva answered: "For more than fifty years I have been engaged in chinuch. I have cared for thousands of talmidim, may Hashem add more. Boruch Hashem, I see results from my work. Among my talmidim are rabbonim, maggidei shiurim, marbitzei Torah, and good Jews who are yerei'im and shleimim. But who knows, perhaps I have unintentionally neglected someone? Perhaps I have inadvertently disregarded the plight of some talmid? Maybe we did not extract his full potential and he even gave up hope? Maybe we broke his spirit and he left the yeshiva and strayed from the straight way? One thing I can tell you: we wanted to do everything we could. We tried to elevate each boy and encourage each talmid, but who does not make mistakes? If some mishap occurred, it was not, cholila, because of intentional negligence. It was a real shogeig.
"The din of someone who kills beshogeig is to go into golus. I therefore went into golus and left the yeshiva to go to a foreign land, to the American continent. There is an explicit Mishnah (Makkos 12b) that someone who goes into golus into a city of refuge should not conduct himself like a distinguished person. That is the reason why I ride in a subway and not a taxi."
Rescue at the Last Moment
Once when I was staying in Chutz La'aretz an avreich asked me to have a talk with his son, who was a talmid in the third shiur of the yeshiva ketana. His educators in the yeshiva had informed his parents that the boy would have much difficulty in being accepted to a yeshiva gedola, since he had not done well in his studies, was slow in comprehension, and did not understand what was being presented in the shiur. Therefore they felt that he could not possibly fit into the program of a yeshiva gedola.
The parents were in despair, and did not know what to do. They wanted to raise their son to be a talmid chochom, but the yeshiva told them that the boy would be wasting his time attending a yeshiva.
I straightaway started a conversation with the boy. The boy I talked with was not at all like the one described to me. He was a precious, refined boy; only his keen feelings of embarrassment and modesty had caused his present predicament. Since he was so quiet, people imagined he did not understand anything and therefore they did not bother with him.
For the last three years, the fateful years of a child's development, his teachers had ignored him entirely. They only paid attention to the boys with eye-catching talents, who were first to show that they knew what was going on. Because of his refined nature he did not show off his knowledge of what was taught and did not react to remarks about his ignorance. Even when he was not given a chavrusa, he repressed his discontent, and even when he heard from his parents that it was hopeless for him to try to enroll in a yeshiva gedola he was quiet.
I started studying a daf of gemora with him, and saw that the boy immensely enjoyed every word. He asked pertinent questions and answered properly what I asked him. He could follow any reasoning I would suggest to him, and independently developed sound lines of reasoning. It was just as if his soul was opening like a flower exposed to the sun after a dark night.
I took a short leave of all my other affairs and we studied together the material he had to know for the yeshiva gedola's entrance test. I even accompanied him to the test and, boruch Hashem, he was accepted to an exceptional yeshiva. He later became one of its best talmidim and today is a real ben Torah who has built a splendid Torah home.
I really tremble to think what would have been with him if I had not met him at that exact time. What would have happened if the parents had remained silent about their misery? Probably a precious, innocent neshomo would have been lost and remained forever bitter and broken. Actually not only the child himself was saved for prosperity, nor even only the parents, who later enjoyed real Jewish nachas instead of their bitter anxiety -- but the heads of his yeshiva and his teachers were saved from harsh Heavenly criticism. I do not know what account they will have to give for those three terrible years that the boy suffered, but despite the way they acted, he was saved at the last moment.
This is not the only such case. The same type of case happened to HaRav Moshe Aharon Stern zt'l, the mashgiach of Yeshivas Kamenitz in Yerushalayim, and the story is printed in full in his Hebrew sefer (pg. 245). There are undoubtedly many other incidents of real dinei nefoshos, of children being in danger of losing their entire ruchniyus.
On this subject, I remember something HaRav Stern told me. When he was a boy he studied in Yeshivas Kamenitz of Yerushalayim, where HaRav Moshe Bornstein zt'l served as rosh yeshiva and Maran HaRav Eliyahu Lopian zt'l was mashgiach. After he married, HaRav Stern continued his studies in the yeshiva's kollel. His family was large but his apartment was small, cold, and damp. In these conditions, his children became ill in the winter, which forced him to remain at home and help his wife take care of them.
After a few days the venerable mashgiach, HaRav Lopian, paid a surprise visit to his home. "I saw that you did not come to the yeshiva, so I came to see what happened," the Mashgiach said. After he took a look at the apartment he did not need to ask HaRav Stern any additional questions. It was terribly cold and the walls were soaking wet. The noise of the children coughing, emanating from a room crowded with beds, could be heard throughout the house. "You cannot remain in this apartment," concluded the Mashgiach. "You must find another one."
"But I am a kollel student, and my salary is barely enough to keep us alive," answered HaRav Stern.
The Mashgiach replied, "In your wife's kesuvah you obligated yourself to provide her with an apartment where she can live. This apartment does not fill the requirements of the kesuvah. If what the kollel is giving you is insufficient, you must go work to meet your obligation. You, however, do not need to leave Torah. With your abilities you are fit to serve as a mashgiach." In this way the generation was zoche that HaRav Stern later became the mashgiach of Yeshivas Kamenitz in Yerushalayim.
HaRav Stern said: "In every hospital there is an emergency alarm button near the patient's bed. When the patient feels bad he presses the button and a light on the nurses' desk lights up. This is, however, not enough. If the nurses do not pay attention to the light, they will not be aware that someone needs assistance, and the patient's pressing the button is pointless. What if, although the nurse sees the distress signal, she ignores it and continues reading or chatting with her friends? Or even if she goes over to the patient's bed, instead of checking up on his condition she scolds him for making such a fuss? The patient has gained nothing. Her duty on getting the signal is to offer the patient immediate aid. Only then has the alert fulfilled its purpose.
"A yeshiva student, too, and likewise a kollel student, sometimes broadcasts alarm signals. The trouble is that those who are responsible to help do not always discern these alarms. Sometimes, they do spot it but do not do anything about it. Sometimes they do approach the student, but they feel it is enough to admonish him or calm him down, without getting deeply involved in the matter and offering the necessary assistance.
"When I did not appear at the yeshiva for two days, it was as if I was sending out alarm signals. Maran HaRav Lopian zt'l intercepted them and rushed over to my house. He did not feel he had done his duty until he involved himself fully and proposed a future as a mashgiach for me. HaRav Lopian was a mashgiach, a supervisor, in the full meaning of the word."