Chassidic Education In These Modern Times?
By Rabbi Yeshaya Weber
Moshiach is proud to present an article by the experienced
mechanech, Rabbi Yeshaya Weber, addressing the question of how to
educate a Chassidic child in this modern technological age.
met with a number of parents of ten-year-olds in order to prepare
this article. One of the parents asked the following question: My
question is one many parents have. We want to educate our children
in the ways of Torah and Chassidus. We want them to carry on our
traditions, yet we cannot ignore the many influences of the
"modern era," which our children are exposed to wherever
they turn. What is the best way to provide a Chassidic education
in these modern times?
question is a general one and touches on many topics. Perhaps we
should first attempt to better understand the question. We must
also provide some general guidelines as background for the answer.
is important to note that a Chassidic education is not a discovery
of recent generations, but a revelation of the inner content of
Jewish education as it is outlined in Torah.
leaders always knew how to direct chinuch – the chinuch
of the nation as a whole, but most especially the chinuch of
Jewish children – in accordance with the needs of the time and
the challenges of the particular era. An outstanding example of
this is brought in the first chapter of Bava Basra, about
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla, who is remembered favorably for
instituting the enactment that every father bring his son to a
teacher. Before he did so, fathers were expected to teach their
children themselves. Rabbi Yehoshua saw that an enactment was
necessary since, due to the difficult times, many children were not
being taught by their fathers and they grew up ignorant.
Gemara says that the enactment was expanded so that it
became the obligation of every community to provide a teacher for
the local children. The serious punishment awaiting those who do
not comply with this enactment illustrates the importance
attributed to it. Jewish leaders at the time saw this as vital to
the continuance of the Jewish people.
such as this along with rules and various educational approaches
established over time, based on the pure understanding and
far-reaching vision of gedolei Yisroel, became the
foundation for a religious Jewish education.
education only began to be revealed and developed at a time when
the Jewish people cried out for spiritual help. In contrast with
earlier enactments and specific decrees which were promulgated in
earlier generations, the Chassidic approach to education sheds
light on the entire topic of education. Chassidus addresses the
entire Jewish nation and relates to every individual, including
those Jews who were simple, who found it hard, whether due to lack
of knowledge and understanding or because they simply weren’t
strong enough spiritually to cleave properly to the ways of Torah.
Chassidic education was not limited to a framework, a rule or a
decree, but created a new atmosphere that breathed life, instilled
warmth and generated self-confidence that fortified people against
negative enticements. It helped them face daily challenges to
their livelihood and health without breaking, in a way that
special atmosphere that imbued the warmth of a Chassidic education
applies to every generation and era and is effective and
influential under all circumstances. We have to know the
weaknesses of the era, with which issues and problems we have to
contend, and focus the energy of our Chassidic chinuch there.
era is complicated in that it lacks a definite identity. On the
one hand it offers many tools and possibilities, yet on the other
hand, it does not provide a line of thinking based on any ideology
or principles, directly or indirectly. Our era is noteworthy for
its intellectual laziness, which leads to emptiness.
differentiates our generation from those which preceded it. In all
other eras, our spiritual battle for survival was waged on an
ideological front. As difficult as it was, people knew who and
what they were fighting against. There was an opposition to
confront. Today there is nothing concrete to fight against. We go
to battle instead against boredom and vacuousness.
ideological messages used in previous generations to fight
opposing ideologies are not helpful as a first line of attack in
our time, which is empty of all ideology. The first tools we have
to enlist in our battle are the tools of the times, so that we can
penetrate the emptiness. For that is the approach of Chabad: to
take the available tools and use them to penetrate enemy
territory. Then, when we have a foothold, we are able to present
our ideology in order to fill the vacuum.
question defined our era as the "modern era," a
description I don’t think is correct and appropriate for our
generation, in either the positive or the negative sense. The term
"modern era" is already obsolete. A more precise
characterization for our times would be "the era of
era offers the privileged to accomplish a great deal with a
minimum of time and effort. These opportunities shatter
limitations of earlier generations. Superficially, one could think
there is no need to invest in learning about and developing one’s
personality, a view typical in our era in which superficiality and
shallowness prevail. One’s personality can shrink into
non-existence, and technology, which is developing and progressing
by leaps and bounds, can take its place.
problems specific to our generation can be condensed into four
categories, which I choose to describe as the "arbaa avos
nezikin" (the four primary forms of damage):
) The boredom of a child caused by playing games that do not
require thinking or depth, but physical speed and quick reflexes.
These are games of limited and momentary pleasure, which do not
provide lasting satisfaction; 2) paralysis of personal
development; 3) insufficient development of learning skills; 4)
lack of energy to the point of utter passivity.
can a Chassidic education address these problems?
the time it was revealed, Chassidus has proven itself as it made
its way successfully through all life’s challenges. Our
generation is no different than any others as far as this goes.
a child is educated according to Chassidic principles, even if it
seems to be passing him by without making an impression, it’s
not so. The power of Chassidus is that it is the inner dimension
of Torah which works on the p’nimiyus (one’s inner
dimension). It penetrates deep inside. Even if it is not outwardly
apparent, subconsciously it affects the child tremendously.
times one sees a child who has certain negative outward behaviors
expressing Chassidic ideas. This contradicts other actions of his
which seemingly reflect his true character. Is this a split
personality? Not at all. It’s just that his Chassidic chinuch
has succeeded in undermining the "inclination of man’s
heart is evil from his youth." Even if it did not succeed in
completely dominating it and uprooting it and becoming the sole
ruler, its influence is apparent. At first the success is little
by little, but with perseverance, this chinuch will conquer
the child’s heart and soul. It will influence the nature of his midos
and transform them in such a way as to become his ingrained world
question is, how does one implant a Chassidic chinuch, a chinuch
which provides the means to prevent the "arbaa avos
nezikin" mentioned earlier?
a child is educated consistently according to Chassidic
principles, such as true simcha and inner satisfaction with
Yiddishkeit and everything it stands for, and he sees himself as a
shaliach to fix the world with the goal of bringing the
world to its ideal state with the Yemos HaMoshiach – he thinks
deeply about this idea and seeks ways of making it happen. The
desire to bring about this lofty idea is what develops the child’s
personality and gives him energy, and brings him to a state of
action in which he uses originality and creativity.
desire to attain the fulfillment of Hashem’s desire does not
produce children who are "programmed," but rather,
children who think for themselves. A child who has goals such as
these will have a mind and heart full of real content and lofty
desires. Being occupied with these matters and working to realize
them will give him tremendous inner contentment. A child like this
will not be bored.
analyzing the question and understanding it on a deeper level, the
time has come to deal with the original question. We need to
explain how to direct our children’s chinuch and get them
to use modern technology properly in a positive way. This is one
of the greatest challenges of chinuch in our times.
order to successfully deal with this challenge, the simplest
advice is to walk in the path the Rebbe MH"M set out for us
and to adopt his advice. The Rebbe’s advice is to encourage our
children and to inspire each of them to be a mashpia; to
enlist their inner strength and talents and harness them in the
service of this important goal. When a child knows that he has a shlichus
to fill in the world, that he has to influence his
surroundings, he realizes that he has to be a personal example.
When he will be faced with tests and have to deal with challenges,
he will know he has to guard his standing. For his
responsibilities are not only to himself, but to the entire world,
or at least to his immediate surroundings (what for him is his
entire world). Rising to the occasion, he will dig deeply within
himself and draw the necessary strength from his abilities and
talents, in order to stand strong and win the battle.
is our job to make sure he has the inner resources to draw upon.
We have to forge his personality and strengthen it on the
emotional level with topics of emuna and bitachon and
sippuk (inner contentment). This way we will imbue him with
the absolute conviction necessary to see himself as being
sufficiently educated and prepared for a responsible role.
we speak about a responsible role, it doesn’t mean merely
subjecting the child to organizational tasks such as organizing mesibos
Shabbos and the like. Although every project is important
and precious and its influence is great, it is important to
remember that not every child is gifted with organizational
skills. Not every child can express himself appropriately and
articulately. Not every child is blessed with the self-confidence
to stand before a group – even when the group consists of
children – and express his world-view in a convincing manner.
child’s responsible role is first expressed in understanding
that in our world every individual is a partner with everybody
else. The individual has a responsibility to the group and the
group has a responsibility to the individual. However, it isn’t
enough to convey only general messages. You have to relate to
specific issues the child has to deal with, those he is familiar
with from daily life at home, in his classroom, and wherever he
for example, an individual success or failure. You have to look at
the specific event in a broader context, to understand what the
significance of it is, and to discern the ramifications to the
world at large. Even when the analysis and one’s conclusions
lead to blaming others, one should emphasize the general problem
and how much it is necessary to strengthen oneself.
educational objective ought to be faithful to the guiding
principle of being a mashpia and shining a positive light
on one’s surroundings. This is the personal avoda of
every child – that he continue on the path upon which he is
educated: "Educate a child according to his way; even when he
ages he won’t veer from it." Being a mashpia will
protect him spiritually and strengthen him in life. It will
provide him with the tools to handle any situation, including the
subject we are exploring at this time – technology. It will
enable him to use it in a purposeful way to fulfill his important shlichus.
conclusion, we are in a tremendously powerful era in terms of the
tools and technical means it provides. On the one hand, there are
opportunities to use these tools for the good. The more we
strengthen the child’s personality so that his positive inner
character becomes expressed outwardly, the more he will know how
to use these tools in a permissible and proper way. His use of
them will be well thought out, based on the confidence that he has
the maturity and is responsibility to handle the situation.
and young people who have more specific questions than those
addressed in this article are invited to send their questions by
fax in Hebrew to (03) 960-7289.