The Box Child

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rabbi-dovid-abenson By Rabbi DovidAbenson

We reserve the right to limit the quantity of successful bochurim coming out of this yeshiva © 2014. Every institution craves for the ‘box child’ The box child is a child which fits the mold. No need for intellectual explanation.

He achieves like the norm, and does not deviate from the regulations of the institution. Unfortunately this trend has been adopted from the western philosophy and has crept into our institutions and has become reality.

Shlomo Hamelech states: Al Pi Darchoi, “Teach the child according to his ability”, not “Darchem” – Your methodology. (Policy)

Before the second world war, it was a common practice to hear about many children being illuyim (geniuses). Today I’ve asked many mechanchim and parents, do we hear such terminology today regarding our children? They answered a profound “no”.

However there are many non-Jewish children who have gone on to become geniuses and some becoming celebrities. Where have ours gone?

We have created great orators and Jewish singers, but we are missing our born and bred American gedolim. We have had 60 years to reproduce
our gedolim. Where are they? Most of our greatest gedolim came from overseas. Why does importing need to happen?

My answer is yes, we have geniuses. We have many potential gedolim. The geniuses are those who are being medicated, out-of-the-box, off the derech
or in rehab.

I fully believe that if Rav Moshe Feinstein or Rav Meir Shapiro just to name a few, would be living today as young boys, they would all be thrown out of our institutions because they were not boxed candidates.

Before the war, parents would come together and pay a rebbi to teach their child in small groups. After a number of years, and at the approximate age of 12, the rebbi would announce that it was time to move onwards to a yeshiva, because he could no longer teach the child.

I always wondered how a rebbi could say such a thing. Did the child have behavior problems? Is that the reason why the rebbi could no longer teach him?

Perhaps the reason why the rabbeim would send the child away, at a tender age, for a higher level of learning is because they themselves felt inadequate to go higher and the child would not benefit from their teaching any more.

Today, if the child shows to be smarter than the rebbi, what normally happens is one of two options:
a) The rebbi throws the child out of class, as it appears the child is being chutzpahdik
b) Notifys the principle or parents, that the child needs medication or psychological help.

A story is circulating about a rebbi who called his student’s parents and informed them that their son needed Ritalin as he was being very hyperactive during class time. The father replied and said, “I don’t think my son will take it.” The rebbi came up with a plan to make the child take it every day.
Every morning the rebbi would ask the child to make him a coffee, and as a result the child would get “a candy” aka Ritalin pill, as a reward.
Three months later at the child’s PTA, the rebbi informed the parents that their son was doing amazing and was much calmer in class, showing great results. He recommended carrying on with the Ritalin. The father replied; “My son told me that the first day he received the candy he did not
like it, but he didn’t want to show you a lack of hakaroshatov, so he decided to put it into your coffee… ever since!

This easy cop-out must be stopped. Our children are not boxed children. Our rabbeim are not packagers.

Let me clarify a misconception regarding the famous Chazal which brings down the following. 1000 students go to study in yeshiva, and only one comes out a poisuk (godol)l and there is another Chazal which states that everyone has the ability to become like Moshe Rabbeinu. This seems like a strong contradiction.

The answer is that Hashem bestows upon people, characteristics and middos to bring out their full potential. It is a true gift from Hashem and if one can study and seek out his potential and utilize it to its fullest, he is considered to be in the same category as Moshe rabbeinu.

On the other hand, regarding the 1000 students which go to study and only one becomes great, it doesn’t mean that the yeshiva only needs to cater for the box child, and the ones who are not following the protocol get to be thrown out of the school and left uncared for. This is the wrong interpretation of what Chazal mean. Rather this staement means as follows. It is the full responsibility of all institutions, that every single child gets the right education whether these are boxed or out-of-the-box children, and if the institution does not know how to deal with this particular case they must get outside help to rectify the situation.

From my personal experience spanning nearly 3 decades in education, I have found that many times the problems students are facing stem from the institution not having the knowledge, expertise, understanding or professionalism in how to help the particular student.

When Chazal say only one person out of 1000 becomes a poisuk, that means that the other 1000 children should still be taught the beauty and greatness of Torah Al Pi Darko. If only we truly applied what Chazal teach us, much of the problems we face with students today would be eliminated, and simchashachaim would not be dimished in any way in LimudHaTorah, causing the child to lose interest.

As an after thought, sadly to say, this concept of fitting a child into the box has manifested itself unfortunately even outside the school system. There are religious Jewish groups which feel that if a Jew does not dress like them, act like them or speak their language, they are considered in their eyes as second-class citizens and these groups publicly call THEM goyim or even Nazis. This terrible outlook was created by our educational system and this is not Judaism at all.

Let us remember the great wisdom of ShlomoHamalech “Al Pi Darchoi” – and not “Al Pi Darchem!”

Rabbi Abenson is the founder and director, author and lecturer at ShaarHatalmud, a unique yeshiva based online program, featuring evaluations and upgrading of skills in Hebrew reading, Gemara studies, consulting school principals world wide to improve their ability to discover students who possess under-developed skills. He can be reached at or 1-877-HATALMUD (428 2568).

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  1. I think this is the first time in my life I am commenting on a news article. I believe this is true and one of the most profound observations I have read in a long time. Thanks.

  2. My best advice to you in your yeshiva: Pick up the child’s feelings and go on living replies. If you fail to notice he is reading you with neglect, you will never see him actualize. Feelings describe his home life and aptitude. A child in fear is uncooperative. Bad moods are not the violence you want to anticipate. And by all means, let the child enjoy his home life with more human interests. A child whose id is suppressed can become a violent eye. Golden hands can see better dreams.

  3. I don’t think I ever heard such emes about this topic!! I know from personal experience how brilliant so many of these misjudged and mistreated kids are. Sadly, you are right on target!!

  4. What rare clarity this Rav has. If we had a q’hillah (fat chance) he could supervise khinukh. I wait his further analysis why this development occurred. Is it because AVODAH does not mean “profession” (parnasah)? The income of our oldest teachers, the Kohanim, depended entirely on the prosperity of the community, and the community had to support them on a specific basis.

    Waiting for more, Rav Abenson!

  5. The #2 rabbi of a Yeshiva, small R said to me, “you will never be a Tzadik nor a Talmud Chachum so go do what ever you want”

    I went to a big Posek we all know, he said, “anyone who tells you that is a rasha, never listen to such a man…what if they told R’Akiva zt’l that?”

    I know the Posek knows who the rabbi is, but I never told him nor would I share his name with you. But if you think I am the only one he harmed, then you are as foolish as that rabbi. Who are these guys?

    And don’t allow my experience to roll all the Rebbe’s into one group, I know there are great caring loving ones out there as well.

  6. This is a box article. Repeating what the usual complainers write. I teach and do not see most of what you say taking place. Totally ignoring demographics instead of saying that the rebbi feels threatened because a talmid knows more than him is ridiculous. The notion that the rabbeim need ritalin not the talmidim is insulting.

  7. Extremely fantastic article!! Extremely well put!! Saying exactly what has to be said about a severely serious problem!!


  8. Thank you, Rabbi Abenson, for having the courage to write this. I fear, unfortunately, that cognitive dissonance will result in your message being either widely ignored, or Rachmana Litzlan, subject to outright attack. The need to defend the status quo against all criticism no matter how valid, the need to shout angry defiance against any critic no matter how how much seichel informs their opinion, is deeply entrenched in the chareidi psyche. Having said this, I truly hope that I will be proved wrong.

  9. Wow, a powerful article.

    I agree 100% to “the box child” theme.

    As a young boy, my friend was sent home regularly. His father kept telling him to use his time wisely. The boy wanted to learn how to make websites. His father said check it up! Today he operates a successful web designing firm all because he was kicked out of yeshiva.

    You may say. Great. Look at what he accomplished. Well this only came from being punished as a youngster. HE DID NOT FIT IN THE “MOLD” therefore he was not allowed back in yeshiva.

    In fact yes, he did accomplish a lot. But what about all those kids who do not fit the mold, sent home and did not become computer experts?

    What are you gonna say?

    It’s so sad that everyone ignores the truth.

  10. mr. mendelowitz zecher tzadik v’kodosh livrocha used to tell his talmidim that one goes to yeshiva not to become a rav (or a gaon) but to know how to choose a rav. the role of the yeshivos should be to create ehrlicha yidden who will raise torahdik families. there will always be those who shine in their limudim. what we need is more people who shine as parents

  11. I find it sad and ignorant for someone to say America has not produced gedolim or great ppl. Go to Lakewood and you’ll see thousands of yungerleit many many who are gaonim and geniuses. gedolim? we have many American born and bred gedolim some whom have been EXPORTED to other countries. Look at how many ppl attended the siyum hashas and learn daf yomi those ppl are American born and bred talmidei chachomim. Besides since when is it a chiyuv to produce geniuses??? I personally know of young exeptional talmidim who have developed beautifully. I think its sad when ppl just spew forth the stereotypical attitude that the American frum community are all amei haaretz.


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