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14 Iyar 5764 - May 5, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Innate Forces in One's Nefesh: Analyzing Problems of Pupils and Extending Proper Guidance

by HaRav Yehoshua Shklar

The following discourse was presented at a meeting of the Committee of Torah Educators in Yerushalayim.

As a matter of course, a person is stimulated to continue putting efforts into his avodas Hashem only if he correctly evaluates what he has already done. If he thinks that his previous earnest attempts are worthless or of minor significance, he will simply bow out of any further attempts. Maran the Chofetz Chaim zt'l instructs us that this sublime principle can be inferred from the tefilloh that we say directly after vidui.

"We have turned away from Your mitzvos and from Your good laws but it has not been worthwhile for us." Apparently we have here only one confession: our disregard for Hashem's mitzvos has been to no avail.

The Chofetz Chaim, however, explains that there are two separate confessions: (1) We are misvadeh that we have turned away from the Torah's mitzvos and laws. (2) We do not accurately value the good that we have achieved, such as our advancement in Torah study, our feelings of spiritual uplift during tefilloh, our helping others in dire need and our developing good character traits.

Torah educators of young boys and girls must be mindful of the supreme importance of their work, the fruitful benefits in its wake, and consequently its weighty responsibility. They must be aware that their avodoh is "worthwhile for us" and they must carry on this work with even more enthusiasm.

I wish to take this opportunity to accentuate how Chazal understand what is the award in this and the next world for mechanchim, and will cite concisely certain invaluable points to encourage them in their productive work.

1) "The wise will shine like the radiance of the firmament, and those who teach righteousness to the multitudes will shine like the stars, forever and ever" (Doniel 12:3). HaRav Yitzchok Blazer ztvk'l, one of the foremost talmidim of Maran Reb Yisroel Salanter the founder of the Mussar Movement, in his kuntrus called Kochvei Or (annexed to the Or Yisroel), writes that this mitzvah of bringing virtue to many (zikui horabim) is so outstanding, that its righteousness is eternal. Being involved in it, rewards one with sechar not only in Olom Hazeh but also in Olom Habo, and the reward in this mundane world doesn't subtract from one's reward in the World to Come, unlike the case with other mitzvos.

Zikui horabim is a type of kiddush Hashem which is diametrically opposed to chillul Hashem. Just as the sin of chillul Hashem cannot be atoned for even through the most severe suffering in This World except by dying, Rachmono litzlan, or by meriting that Hashem helps one to publicly sanctify His Torah, so too -- in an opposite sense -- concerning kiddush Hashem: all the material benefits in Olom Hazeh cannot possibly detract from one's reward in Olom Habo.

Who are the present-day mezakei horabim if not those Torah educators who, day after day and hour after hour, teach Torah and yiras Shomayim to their young talmidim? Surely, their righteousness "will shine like the stars forever and ever."

2) The gemora (Bovo Metzia 85a) writes: "Even if HaKodosh Boruch Hu has imposed a harsh decree, He will annul it for anyone who teaches Torah to the son of an am ho'oretz, as is written, `If you take out an honorable man from a glutton (meaning a rosho--see Rashi)' (Yirmiyohu 15:19)."

The Maharsha explains the connection between teaching a son of an am ho'oretz and annulling a gezeiroh of HaKodosh Boruch Hu: It is quite natural that someone born to a person ignorant of Torah will also lack any aspirations to excel in Torah study and consequently will also be deficient in Torah knowledge. "Every creature gives birth to what is similar." That boy is as if "decreed" to remain an am ho'oretz like his father. If, however, some compassionate person devotes himself to teaching that boy Torah and, because of his unrelenting efforts and devotion to his talmid, he succeeds in instilling within him sound and comprehensive Torah knowledge, he is annulling the gezeiroh on that boy to remain an ignoramus. Surely, it is fitting to annul a gezeiroh for such a dedicated person who annuls gezeiros on others, as Rashi (in Yirmiyohu, ibid.) writes, "I (i.e., HaKodosh Boruch Hu) make a gezeiroh and you annul it."

People look desperately for special segulos to annul gezeiros that have, chas vesholom, been decreed upon them. This abovementioned gemora clearly tells us a precious segulah. Torah mechanchim have, more than anyone else, the opportunity to annul the gezeiroh of being amei ho'oretz on such children, to alter their nature, to implant in them a desire to study Torah, and to make them into real bnei Torah.

In school, we deal with all levels of talmidim, including those to whom the Maharsha refers. If we succeed in these opportunities, undoubtedly Hashem will also annul decrees against us. This is yet another blessed aspect of our sacred avodoh in chinuch of children to Torah and yiras Shomayim.

Of course, the above is easier said than done. We must contend with this challenge on two spheres: 1) Successfully stimulating the talmid. 2) Diagnosing correctly the student's learning problems. Let us explain one at a time.


First of all, how do we stimulate a talmid? How do we wake him up from his intellectual slumber?

Just as the body calls for its material pleasures, so too a person's mind craves intellectual matters, the learning of which give it pleasure. The body and the intellect are alike in this sense. If you give one's intellect the stimulation it desires, it demands more and more of that same stimulation because it derives a keen spiritual pleasure from it and naturally yearns for more.

A child detests being bored, of studying tedious, dull and uninteresting subject matter. It "drives him crazy." He insists upon something novel, a chidush of some sort, whether encountering something thought-provoking, or meeting fascinating people or going to see some intriguing new place that he never visited and seeing, hearing or doing anything there that will pique his curiosity. If we give him this chidush, he will hunger for more and more of the same.

This quest for spiritual stimulation is an innate force in a person's soul and it is especially prevalent among adventurous young children who are particularly eager to explore the unknown and the unfamiliar.

Here are two examples of teaching gemora in a way that rouses talmidim to heightened interest in the subject after they understand the novelty in what is being taught:

1) After Reuven's bull gored Shimon's bull and killed it, the value of the carcass is deducted from the amount that Reuven, the mazik, must pay to Shimon, the damaged party -- see Bava Kammo 10a-10b. If the carcass devaluates before the case is presented to beis din (ha'amodoh ledin), there is initially a difference of opinion in the gemora if the nizak has to bear the difference and we continue to estimate the loss according to the higher original value of the carcass, or perhaps the mazik loses out and we calculate the loss according to the present worth of the carcass, which is lower. What can be the explanation to this machlokes?

Let us talk in exact figures in order to simplify the explanation. When Shimon's dead bull was alive it was worth 200 shekel and immediately after it was killed its carcass was worth 100 shekel. Some say that we assess the damage as a total loss, meaning the full 200 shekel value of the original live bull. The dead bull is simply part of the compensation for the damage. If that is how we approach the case, then if the carcass is later worth only 50 shekel when the case is decided, the mazik is only then paying 50 shekel towards the 200 shekel damage and therefore he must add another 150 shekel.

It is, however, possible to assess the original loss to the owner as being the original value of his bull minus the immediate residual value of the carcass at the time of the damage. If so, the mazik only has an original obligation of 200 shekel less 100 shekel, meaning 100 shekel. Even if the carcass goes down to only 50 shekel before the case is presented to beis din, that has nothing to do with the mazik since he only caused a damage of 100 shekel in the first place.


It is an established rule that if someone admits to being obligated to pay a fine (knas) he is exempt from paying it (Kesuvos 34a). The gemora (Bovo Kammo 74b) presents a machlokes whether this exemption from paying the fine applies even if witnesses afterward came to obligate him, or if it only applies as long as no witnesses came forward. According to this, after witnesses come he must pay just as if he never admitted to the fine.

This machlokes can be explained as follows: Why does his admission exempt him? Is it because his admission is regarded as a form of payment? If that is the explanation, he cannot be obligated to pay the fine again at any time since he has already "paid" it.

On the other hand, it may be that he is exempt after his admission only because a person cannot make himself culpable for a fine. If there are no witnesses, he just need not pay a fine based only on his own testimony. If so, if witnesses ever come, he must then pay the fine.

There are numerous examples like the above of analytic distinctions written by the Acharonim that motivate young talmidim to think and to try to analyze what they have studied. By teaching them these chidushim we can inculcate our young talmidim with love for Torah learning.

* * *

How do we accurately diagnose the underlying cause of learning problems? I read in the Niv HaMoreh an article written by my dear acquaintance HaRav Nosson Einfeld, formerly the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Beer Sheva, in which he expounds precious principles in chinuch, axioms that we must always keep in mind.

He cites an anecdote involving HaRav Moshe Aharon Stern, zt'l who later served as the mashgiach of Kaminitz Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. HaRav Stern was once surprised by a visit of HaRav Eliyahu Lopian, zt'l (who then served as mashgiach in the yeshiva of Kfar Chassidim) to his home. HaRav Lopian unexpectedly visited his talmid's dilapidated house and found wet walls and children coughing and shivering from the cold weather. HaRav Lopian had resolved to visit, when he noticed that his talmid was missing a few days from the yeshiva, and he decided that he must see him to find out why.

After seeing obvious signs of abject poverty in HaRav Stern's house, and learning personally of his talmid's hand-to- mouth existence, he immediately instructed him to utilize his blessed talents and become a mashgiach in Kaminitz Yeshiva of Yerushalayim.

HaRav Eliyahu Lopian said that every hospital patient has an emergency button near his bed. When the patient feels he needs something urgently, he presses that button and a light turns on at the nurses' desk indicating that this patient is calling for help. That, however, does not necessarily mean he will be immediately helped or even be helped at all. If the nurse doesn't look at the light, his pressing on that call button is to no avail. Likewise, even if the nurse sees it but pays no attention to it and continues reading a good book or chattering with her friends, the patient will continue to suffer. If the nurse comes over, but she just rebukes him for pestering her and doesn't ask what is bothering him, the poor patient has no hope.

What the nurse should really do, is to hasten over to the patient, find out what is bothering him and help him. Only then will the call button fulfill its raison d'etre.

HaRav Moshe Aharon Stern, zt'l, the mashgiach of Kaminitz, concluded: "A yeshiva student and even a kollel student sometimes broadcasts distress signals, but unfortunately many times no one notices them. When I didn't come to the yeshiva for a day or two, the Mashgiach sensed the signals right away. So he came to my house, saw what the reason was, entered the picture and obtained for me a position as a mashgiach."

This applies also to us, to those who are zocheh to be mechanchim. We must comprehend how important it is to diagnose a talmid, to analyze the progress in his studies, in his yiras Shomayim, in his middos tovos and in his behavior with peers, mentors and teachers. If the result of our diagnosis is favorable, we must motivate him to elevate himself even more. If, choliloh, we find that the talmid has deviated from what we think he can be according to our evaluation, we must pay attention to the emergency signal. We must discern where the signs of distress are coming from, react immediately and try to find a viable solution.

Also, parents must pay attention to what is happening with their children, the precious neshomos that were entrusted to them. They must be attentive to any call from the emergency button, grasp what is bothering their precious children and seek reliable advice as to how to rectify their problems. If everything is, boruch Hashem, proceeding well, they must spur them to continue in their way.

The Chovos HaLevovos (Sha'ar Yichud HaMa'aseh chap. 5) writes that we must put to good use every success over the yetzer hora and correctly realize the value of such an achievement. "You should esteem highly any success, no matter how minor, in overcoming [the yetzer] and regard with respect even a slight gain over him, so that it will serve as a step to rise even higher."

May Hashem help us always to have the privilege of being mezakei horabim through teaching Torah and to have our talmidim and children "shine like the stars, forever and ever" and bring immense honor to their parents and educators.

HaRav Yehoshua Shklar served for decades as the Head Supervisor for Torah Studies in the Chinuch Atzmai Movement.

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