A well known American psychologist launched a study about
fifteen years ago, in order to examine the leadership
qualities of people.
He systematically observed classes of children aged 9-10,
examining their behavioral patterns in the classroom and at
recess. He accompanied them on their trips and watched them
as they fought and played pranks. This study led to many
conclusions, the most interesting being the unequivocal one
that children who were considerate of and related to their
weaker friends became successful adults, and far surpassed
all the others.
One child named Roger, for example, participated in a running
race with his classmates. Suddenly, his friend William fell.
Roger stopped running, approached William and helped him up.
While consoling him for his pains, he placed his hands on his
own knees, and contorted his face in order to indicate that
he felt similar pains. The psychologists regarded Roger as a
child with the unusual potential to endear himself to people
and to give them the feeling that he empathized with their
pain. Fifteen years later he became the director of a very
successful computer firm, and all predict a glowing future
Let us focus not on the "show" Roger put on, but rather on
his having stopped running in order to return to his friend
who had fallen. The study describes similar types of behavior
during trips, when certain children forgo the fun in order to
support a weak child who can't keep up with the rest of the
hikers. The inner strength to yield and to dedicate oneself
to others is the essence of leadership.
In the book Sam Hachaim, Reb Moshe Chiger writes about
a youngster who lost a very expensive pencil. One boy from
Kletsk, a lamdan and a masmid, spent the entire
day trying to help him find it -- the young Eliezer Menachem
To stop the normal flow of life, the pleasure, the momentum,
in order to go back and support a faltering person is what
makes someone exceptional and worthy of leadership.
Man's inclination goads him in the opposite direction. Most
of us harbor deep-seated feelings of scorn for the weak. Some
think that the weak are to blame for their plight. This
outlook begins with our attitude towards overweight people,
whom we easily to blame for their situation saying that their
eating habits caused their excess weight, and it extends to
people who do not succeed in their studies, in their work and
in their lives. We call a luckless person a schlemiel,
and regard schlemeil-keit as a fault, even though we
really know that lack of success is from Hashem. We regard
lack of talent as laziness and lack of drive. We always try
to personify things, in other words to impute G-d-given
qualities to people, in order to shirk our obligation to help
our fellows and to place the blame on their already weak
But even when it is clear to us that a person isn't at all to
blame for his situation, and that his fate is
miShomayim (we are referring here to special children,
who suffer from learning difficulties or low intelligence)
there are those who prefer to place them aside, in their own
institutions, so that they won't hamper the progress of
others. Am I not right?
As human beings we are commanded to pause, to go back, to
pick up the fallen, and to support them, even if it will slow
down our own marathon. But for some reason, only a few behave
that way, and since the brunt of the work falls on the
shoulders of the few, they have a lot of work on their hands,
and they remain on the scene while others evade their
obligation to help their weaker brothers both physically and
Many experts claim it is best to place special children in
regular frameworks. As a result, the idea to divide the
special children among the regular institutions in our cities
should be carefully considered. Every school can tolerate at
least one special child per class. The school won't be ruined
as a result, while the lives of hundreds of weak children
will be saved.
One way of coping with the problem is that of establishing
homogeneous classes for special children within the regular
school. The special children can study alone, and during
recess mingle with the rest of the children. Sadly, only a
very few unique institutions agree to that idea.
If we don't teach ourselves to look back and to help the
weak, an institution might refuse to accept a child only
because he has crutches. Actually, that has already occurred,
even though that was a rare instance which surely doesn't
point to an overall trend.
In the past, I taught in a regular class where one of the
students was very handicapped. He absorbed fluids through a
tube which extended from his stomach. Because he was very
handicapped, the other children would go outside with him,
fill bottles with water, and replenish his fluid supply. It
was a very unpleasant task which even adults found difficult,
but the children helped him with much mesiras nefesh,
and regarded him as part of them.
I followed the development of those who helped him. Eleven
years have passed and they are currently 19 years old, and it
is possible to discern their maturity and seriousness, as
well as their success in their studies and social
relationships. They didn't lose a thing from their contact
with a disabled child, and by the helping him. Quite the
opposite is true.
Today, our children have hardly any contact with mentally
disabled or handicapped children. And when they do know them,
it is not a personal acquaintance, but rather a distant and
alien one. There are some people who really treat weak
children like outsiders, by offending, pestering and even
hitting them. However in institutions which accept special
children, even highly handicapped ones, the giving, the
dedication and the gentleness the other children display
toward them is evident. Accepting a weak child in one's
school is both a chessed for the handicapped child as
well as a source of chinuch for the regular child and
an opportunity for him to improve his character traits.
Until we manage to effect changes in this painful issue, we
suggest that every parent make certain that his children know
and assist at least one handicapped or developmentally
In my mind's eye I see the expression of parents who, when
reading these lines, say to themselves: "I don't want my
child to be exposed to such things." But it is precisely to
such parents that this article is directed. Apparently they
too never merited to help and to know the different one, the
special one. Do not deny this to your children.