The Box Child 3


rabbi-dovid-abensonBy 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 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 or 1-877-HATALMUD ( 428 2568). His website is:

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  1. I just finished reading through all 3 of your articles. Yasher koach! They are extremely well written, and (IMO) pretty much spot-on.

    My wife and I both had our own issues with the yeshiva system, and now we see it coming with our own children. My wife, in fact, was once told by a principal exactly what you wrote: “In our school, we have a certain mold. You don’t fit the mold for our school!” Yes, when she was in 9th grade, the principal in the Beis Yaakov she attended really said that to her!

    As for me, I never had a Rebbe or teacher tell me something that openly. I had my own issues. Years later, one of the Rabbeim I did not do well with actually came over to me and apologized for not being mechanech me properly. I really appreciated his approaching me to say that, but it was years too late – the damage had already been done.

    So how do we fix this issue? You had mentioned the old model, from Europe, of a small group studying with a melamed. Nowadays, it’s just not that easy. In those times, was there a secular education? Most people in those times ended up supporting themselves with a craft (today we’d say they’re blue-collar workers). You worked as an apprentice for a while, until you were ready to have your own business. Nowadays, that doesn’t work for a large population. There just aren’t enough jobs out there. There also aren’t enough melamdim to handle the large population. Yeshivos keep springing up because the ones we have don’t have enough room! If we can’t fit in the children with 25 kids per class, how can we make it work with a group of 7-8 kids per melamed? There’s just no way!

    What I believe it really comes down to is the Rabbeim. Everyone knows that Rabbeim make little to no money. For plenty of people who are capable of being melamdim, it’s just never considered as a serious option because of that. They need to support their families (very often large ones). How can you do that with a salary that is usually less than $30,000 per year?

    My Rosh Yeshiva, R’ Yaakov Bender shlita, often speaks about how Rabbeim are underpaid and under-appreciated. He wishes for the day when they’d make more money. I believe he has it right. If Rabbeim made more money, then it would be a viable option for many more people as a way to earn parnassah. Then we’d have the Rabbeim needed to have smaller groups of students, with more individualized attention for each child.

    The biggest issue with this, of course, is the cost. Tuition is already out of control. I’ve heard that well over 50% of families in the tri-state area are getting scholarships! Since most yeshivos will never release numbers, this can’t be confirmed, but that is the number I’ve been told. Paying Rabbeim larger salaries would only raise that tuition even higher. Unfortunately, this is something I have no clue on how to solve.

  2. Yasher Koach! I admire your dedication and focus to help our children who do not fit the ‘box’. Certainly the ones that do, don’t need advocating for!
    Your last line summed up what should be guiding us in everything we do, certainly in Chinuch, and that is Diracheha Darchei Noam. If it is being presented to our children as Noam, it is diracheha-the Torah’s way; if it is not, the system has to be re-evaluated. We are obligated to reach each child regardless of their challenges.And their challenges become our opportunities to help them, not to chuck them out.
    Chazak Ve’Amatz!

  3. Rav Pam ZTZ”L would get VERY upset when people said that America did not produce gedolim. He often repeated we produce gedolim “vos vollen zich nisht geshemt” in [prewar] Europe. Perhaps someone is projecting their own lack of respect for our gedolim who guide us in developing our chinuch system.