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17 Elul 5765 - September 21, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
The Merit Of Children's Teachers

by Rav Yehoshua Sklar

There is a wonderful gemora in Taanis (24).

"Rav came to a certain place. He decreed a fast day but no rain fell. A shaliach tzibbur went down [to lead the prayers] before him. When he said the words, `Who makes the wind blow,' the wind blew. When he said, `Who makes the rain fall,' the rain fell.

"Rav asked him, `What is your occupation?'

"He said, `I am a children's teacher and I make no distinction between the children of the rich and the children of the poor. I take nothing from whoever can't afford to pay. I have pools of fish and I use them to bribe anyone who doesn't want to read, so that they'll learn. I arrange and correct them until they come and read.' "

When Rav asked the shaliach tzibbur what his occupation was, he wanted to find out what merit the man possessed that had brought the sorely-needed rain. The reply was that he taught young children and treated those from wealthy and from poor homes equally. He took no payment from those who could not afford it and he used his own resources to persuade children who were unwilling to learn, to do so.

Our teachers have taught us that every statement of aggodoh in the gemora is part of Torah and is intended to teach us lessons about living a Torah life. This wonderful story contains several far-reaching and novel teachings about education and about Torah study that are applicable to both the school and the home setting. Let's go into some detail about what the story teaches us.

It is a time of drought: No rain falls, no produce grows, and there's no bread. The people cry out to Heaven for their lives and Rav decrees a public fast. Jews raise their eyes heavenward for salvation but no rain falls.

And lo! As soon as the shaliach tzibbur begins his prayer the wind blows and rain falls — an open miracle! Rav asks the shaliach tzibbur in what merit this happened and he replies simply, "I am a children's teacher." The gemora brings all the details of his reply to Rav.

First, in teaching the children he makes no distinction between those who come from poor and those who come from rich families. All are treated the same way, with the same understanding and the same dedication. Even though the teacher's income comes from the wealthier parents, he is not concerned that his livelihood might suffer by his evenhanded treatment of all his students.

Second, he takes no payment from those who cannot afford to pay.

Third, if a child is unwilling to learn, he "bribes" him with gifts from his fish pools. He doesn't abandon him. He expends effort and ingenuity until the student comes by himself to learn.

In telling us all this, the gemora is addressing teachers, instructors, fathers and mothers. One must never panic at the prospect of a difficult student, who has no wish to learn, but should seek ways to "bribe" him.

It doesn't have to be with fish. There are more spiritual types of bribes as well. A particular trait in which the student or child excels in might be singled out. Every child has something in which he is outstanding. This can be used as a means of drawing him towards gemora study.

As an example, I'll mention what one educationally-aware and warm-hearted family managed to do for one of their children who didn't enjoy a particularly good reputation at his place of study. This special family found a way to imbue their child with enthusiasm. The child had a talent for music and singing. They told him that he would be the family's "musician" at Seudah Shelishis and the arrangement lasted a long time. Through this the child received respect and felt accomplished. It gave him a very positive self- image and today he is a distinguished talmid chochom and a prolific author of seforim.


Rabbosai! Let's give this a little attention and thought! Of relevance is an excerpt from a letter that the Chazon Ish wrote to the rosh yeshiva of a certain yeshiva ketanoh. "You have the youth . . . from the . . . yeshiva over here with you. He needs both material and spiritual support for, according to my knowledge, he cannot be left to depend on his father's livelihood and it is impossible to go into detail . . . it is imperative that the yeshiva immediately provide him with full maintenance . . . Care should be taken to see that one of the rabbonim becomes his friend and I would also ask that the . . . sheyichyeh, should take an interest in this."

What devoted and fatherly concern lies in these words! The boy is in need of every type of support and there is no one to help. It is vital that the yeshiva should immediately start providing him with meals. The Chazon Ish begs that a spiritual friend and mentor be found for him. His concern for the talmid encompasses every aspect of his well being, from beginning to end. This is the type of concern that we should show for the welfare of our dear ones.

The truth is that we have absolutely no way of evaluating the worth of a Jewish child's soul. In his commentary to Sanhedrin (91), the Maharsha provides some astounding insights into the power of the Jewish soul. The gemora states, "Rav Yehuda said in Rav's name, `Whoever withholds an halochoh from a talmid is like one who steals him away from his ancestors' inheritance, as it says, "Moshe commanded us Torah, moroshoh, an inheritance, for the community of Yaakov." It is the possession of all of Yisroel from the Six Days of Creation.' "

Two questions can be asked. First, what is the significance of the gemora's expression, "Whoever withholds," implying an unwillingness to teach the halochoh, rather then the simpler, "Whoever doesn't teach an halochoh"? Second, why is the Torah said to have been Yisroel's possession since Creation? The holy Torah was given at Sinai!

These questions are answered by the Maharsha, who writes that the gemora is speaking about a talmid who is hard of understanding, like Rabbi Preida's talmid, to whom Rabbi Preida would teach everything four hundred times until he knew it fluently. Not to teach such a student sufficiently is tantamount to depriving him of the halochoh. This leads the Maharsha to an awe-inspiring statement about the properties of the Jewish soul, in answer to the second question. "It means that according to their creation and their natures from the Six Days of Creation, all of Yisroel are ready to learn Torah."

The Maharsha tells us that Klal Yisroel were created with natures that ready them to learn Torah. They were prepared for this from the beginning of Creation. Anyone who denies this is stealing what has been his ancestral heritage since creation, when this was made a part of the Jewish soul. Once we know that it is the nature of a Jewish child to learn and understand — that the foundation is always present — we should try with all kinds of "bribery" to make each child love learning and imbue him with the ambition to attain ever higher levels of Torah and yiras Shomayim.

May we see the fulfillment of the posuk's words "and all your sons will be students of Hashem" (Yeshayohu 54:13) !


A Time For Everything

Shlomo Hamelech says in Koheles (3:1), "There is a time for everything and a moment for every pursuit under the heavens." Everything has its own particular time. The bein hazmanim period affords a break during which our precious sons usually leave their yeshivos for a time. It is very important for parents and educators that there be some discussion of this period.

I came across some wonderful thoughts from HaRav Boruch Sorotzkin zt'l, rosh yeshivas Telz, in Sefer Eitz Hadaas Leshosheles Telz. In discussing parshas Chukas the Rosh Yeshiva brings the gemora in Shabbos (147) that says, "Rabbi Chalbo said, `The wine of Progaysa and the waters of Diomeses sundered the ten tribes from Yisroel.' " Rashi explains that Progaysa is a place that produced fine wine which was responsible for the fate of the ten tribes, "because they were pleasure seekers and were busy with pleasures rather than occupying themselves with Torah; they therefore adopted sinful ways."

These are shocking words. They refer to the members of the ten tribes yet the gemora says that they were pleasure seekers who busied themselves in its pursuit. It was not a matter of the occasional indulgence; it was their occupation — and as a result they were not occupied with Torah. The dreadful consequence was that "they adopted sinful ways."

Chazal do not stop here; they continue with another fearsome story. Rabbi Elozor ben Aroch arrived there. He was drawn to these same pleasures and he forgot his learning. When he returned he got up to read from a sefer. He intended to read the words, "Hachodesh hazeh lochem . . . (this month is to you . . .)" but he [misread the dalet in the first word as a reish, the zayin in the second word as a yud and the chof in the third word as a beis and thus] read them as "Hacheresh hoyoh libom (Their heart was unhearing)." The Rabbonim prayed for him and he recalled his learning.

Rashi explains that Rabbi Elozor was drawn to the place's wine and bathing water, which were of the choicest quality. When he wanted to read from the Torah, his learning departed from him and he misread the words, until the Rabbonim prayed for him and his learning came back to him.

The Rosh Yeshiva expressed his amazement at this statement of Chazal's. Do we have any idea of Rabbi Elozor ben Aroch's greatness? He was the greatest of Rabban Yochonon ben Zakkai's disciples, about whom Rabban Yochonon said, "If all the sages of Yisroel were in one side of the scales and he was in the other, he would outweigh them all."

The gemora wants to teach us what the effect of a visit to a place of worldly desire can be — even just a casual visit. Its influence upon such a holy tanna was such that he forgot his learning, to the point where the Rabbonim had to pray for him to remember it.

My dear brethren, precious and esteemed parents, this story is really frightening but it's Torah, a part of our holy Torah. It teaches us the tremendous concern that we have to have for our dear ones during bein hazmanim, those fateful days when our sons are neither with their parents nor in their yeshivos. We have to know where they're going for their outings and what environment they'll be encountering. Let's give it a little thought and attention . . .

"And Yisroel dwelt in Shittim," ( Bamidbor 25:1). Looking again in Sefer Eitz Hadaas Leshosheles Telz, I found a wonderful essay by the rosh yeshiva HaRav Chaim Mordechai Katz zt'l, in which he discusses this posuk. He quotes the comments of the Or HaChaim on these words: "The posuk tells us . . . that because the people went out to stroll outside the encampment of Yisroel and the daughters of Moav there were . . . as it says, `the people went about' (11:8). Rashi explains, `This is an expression of strolling, effortlessly.' This is the reason for [the first posuk's continuation] `and the people started engaging in immorality . . .' "

The Rosh Yeshiva shows that according to the Or HaChaim, the cause of everything was the stroll they took outside the encampment. Seeking relaxation and outings outside our own camp led to their engaging in immorality. This is frightful! It eventually led them to rebel against Hashem.

Peace and tranquility are beneficial as long as they are sought within our camp. When their pursuit involves forgetting one's learning and yiras Shomayim "outside the encampment of Yisroel," they are improper. The yetzer hora tells a person that he already possesses a fine character and is a ben Torah and that contact with people outside the Torah camp will not harm him. This is incorrect. The Torah teaches us that stepping "outside the encampment of Yisroel" can chas vesholom lead to opposing Hashem, choliloh.

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