By Rabbi Dovid Abenson
Once again, I have been flooded with emails regarding the controversial topic of The Box Child discussed in two previous articles here on Matzav.com. All emails are much appreciated. Thank you.
Most letters were positive and were appreciative that their experiences were highlighted and brought to the forefront. However, I would like to address those few emails which questioned a number of points in both the Box Child part 1 and Box Child part 2.
A reader described a “gadol” as a great person, and stated that even though our generation has issues, ” to say that American Jewry has not produced great men is a lie.”
I would like to enumerate that the article, as stated, was referring to “gedolim” who were born and bred and more importantly educated in America. Of course America has had Gedolim such as R’ Kotler, R’ Moshe, R’ Yaakov, R’ Mordechai Gifter, Rav Pinchas Scheinberg, the Lubavitch Rebbe, the Satmar Rebbe to name just a few. The above gedolim were all educated in Europe.
In clarifying what makes a “gadol”, the definition it not that he is “great”, perhaps skillfully cognizant in Shas and can accurately address halachic sheilos. The definition of a gadol is a person who yes, acquires vast knowledge in Torah, but is recognized as someone who helps and cares for Klal Yisroel on a global sphere and his advice is accepted and seeked universally.
This leads to another email I received regarding emunas chochomim-believing in the advice of the gadol. A gadol has been given a special siyata d’shmaya from Hashem to be able to answer questions even though they themselves have not been exposed to that particular nisayon. For example, we know gedolim who unfortunately, were not blessed with having children of their own, but were extremely accurate in their advice to parents regarding chinuch habanim.
Have we been producing born and bred gedolim here in America (in the past 60 years,) with those virtues with the educational system we have today? In my humble opinion, the answer is, not many. As mentioned in a previous article, we have implemented the western educational philosophy into teaching Torah today in North America. Some children, if asked, feel there is no difference between learning a kodesh subject and an english subject. That’s a big problem! Does that mean that kodesh classes are viewed just as subjects? If so, then their holy messages will not become integrated into our children’s lives. Weekly testing on Chumash and Gemara is from secular sources, putting unduly pressure on students to “have to” learn Torah. As an educator, I have worked with many students who get 100% in Chumash and Gemara tests, but yet cannot translate a posuk or understand Rashi’s questions. If getting 100% for chumash/rashi and A+ for davenning is the criteria, then of course they will be viewed as subjects. On this theme, how can a teacher possibly mark a child for davenning. This is between man and Hashem! We find in the story in Nach, with Eli and Channah, that when he saw her mumbling during davenning, he thought she was drunk, even though we are told it was heartfelt prayer. He made a mistake in his observation and we can learn from this that one cannot judge a person by his davening.
I would like to digress here and mention regarding punishing a student using the Torah as a form of disciplining the student. I.e. the child is required to rewrite the gemara text or to stay behind to miss recess if homework is not done from the previous night. This type of approach teaches the child to dislike Torah. I have met numerous adults who were punished this way and do not look at those gemaras which they were punished with as children.
I received an email from a rebbe who advocates homework. He maintains it reinforces the class taught from the previous night. I would like to requote my rebbe HaRav Matisyahu Salamon Shlita, who maintains “that home should be a place of refuge.” After a long day at school, the child must be able to come home to switch off from his day and not feel stressed to finish off hebrew subjects. I would like to emphasize this by the example of Moshe Rabbeinu who never gave out “homework” when giving over the aseres hadibros to Bnei Yisroel. It says ” ayle mishpatim asher tosim l’fneihem”.- these are the judgments that you should place before them. Rashi brings a mechilta down.” HaKodesh Boruch Hu says to Moshe Rabenu that “it should not occur to you to say I shall teach them the chapter and the law 2 or 3 times until they memorize it but I shall not trouble myself to make them understand the reasons of the matter and its explanation. Therefore it says in the posuk, you shall place it before them like a table that is set and well prepared to be eaten from its place before a person.” In a synopsis this principle is for all mechanchim that when they give over new information in the classroom, it must be clear and concise to the point that it can be applied and used. If a student wants to go over it later that night, it is his choice, but it should not be done as a forced pressure.
The ways of Torah are pleasurable and all its paths are peaceful – Darchecha darchei noam v’chol nisevosecha shalom. Let’s keep it that way!
Rabbi Abenson is the founder and director, author and lecturer at Shaar HaTalmud, a unique yeshiva based online program, featuring evaluations and upgrading of skills in Hebrew reading and Gemara studies, consulting school principals worldwide to improve their ability to discover students who possess under developed skills. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-877-HATALMUD ( 428 2568). His website is: shaarhatalmud.com.