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Authority Wrapped In Caring And Concern
By Rabbi Yeshaya Weber

As a follow-up to our first chinuch column by veteran educator, Rabbi Yeshaya Weber, Beis Moshiach presents the following article which focuses on the topic of educating todayís children, who lack the obedience of children of previous generations. * Rabbi Weber analyzes this subject and provides us with the proper approach

Question: One of the things we learned from the Rebbe MH"M is the importance of looking into the siddur when davening. The Rebbe would even say a bracha acharona from a siddur. How can we educate our children to do this, as well as other daily mitzvos, such as saying brachos before and after eating, washing hands properly, etc.?

Answer: In my response, I will focus on the topic of brachos, though the general approach can be applied to other areas as well.

Questions of this sort are usually mentioned in conjunction with complaints about chinuch in general and about the descent of the generations in particular. Most of the time a finger of blame is pointed at the educational institutions, which are said to be slacking off from their duties of instilling important values in the young children entrusted to them.

When children exhibit carelessness in basic and fundamental matters such as saying brachos and davening, the parents see this as a crack that stands to widen into a deep chasm in their childrenís yiras Shamayim and Yiddishkeit. They fear, perhaps justifiably so, for the future of their childrenís religiousness.

These fears are even more understandable when we learn about the chinuch of the Rebbeim. The Rebbeim stress the importance of being very particular with children from a young age regarding brachos and tífilla. All the more so, will parents feel pressured by their older childrenís carelessness to these and other holy matters.

Parents must understand that their criticism of the school system blind us and prevent us from seeing what our real goals are. We automatically find fault in others, for our human nature has endowed us with the ability to scrutinize everybody but ourselves. These negative feelings take root and unbeknownst to us, their effect is to remove all responsibility from ourselves. This is certainly not the best and most effective way to solve problems in education.

If we more carefully examine our educational methods, we are likely to discover that there are areas in which we are inconsistent. Generally speaking, we exhibit flexibility with our readiness to arrive at compromises. Most of the time we are smart enough and aware of the fact that we canít pull the rope too hard or it will break. When a child is stubborn about something, a clever parent will try to work around him and prevent a direct confrontation. Then there are matters that we find ourselves zealously fighting for, unwilling to concede an inch.

For example: when a child doesnít want to go to sleep at the time we established for him, many parents are willing to compromise on a later time. However, when the same child holds something dangerous, we forcibly grab it from him even if we have to wrest it out of his hand. This is because when something is very important to us, no matter the reason, we stick to our guns and donít take being understanding and thoughtful into consideration. We donít give in until we succeed.

In chinuch there are various ways of reacting, in accordance with the circumstances. In one case we compromise, in another we look away without reacting, and in certain compelling instances, we take an uncompromising stand.

The problem begins when we do not exhibit consistency in a specific area. For example, under ordinary circumstances we make sure our child bentches according to all the rules, but then under pressure of some sort, we look away and compromise and let things slide. This lack of consistency prevents a child from getting clear guidelines for the behavior that is expected of him. He gets the message that sometimes itís like this, but other times itís like that, and when there are certain compelling circumstances we can compromise.

If we, the educators, were sticklers for consistency, the child would get an unambiguous picture of what he needs to do and he would properly learn what is permissible and what is forbidden, what is possible and what is necessary, what is optional and what is obligatory.

One of the most crucial goals in chinuch is to establish "red lines." The way to do so is by clearly discerning between the two sides of the line and defining categorically what is on which side without straddling the fence and wavering between the sides. All religious-spiritual matters have to be clearly labeled: This is the way itís done, and thatís that!

If we were successful in conveying a clear and decisive message when it comes to religious-spiritual matters and communicating the sense that this is the most important subject in life and nothing else comes close, a child would internalize the importance of these spiritual values and would relate to them accordingly.

However, when we convey the message that there are other issues that we consider important in life, such as money, secular knowledge, or having a good time, and let the child know that these things are no less important to us than our spiritual values; and sometimes on the contrary Ė we strengthen the gashmi at the expense of the ruchni, even if unconsciously. Then, is it any wonder that the child doesnít get clear messages about the importance of religious conduct, and stick to them?

Our Rebbeim have taught us that the true chinuch, which instills Yiddishkeit in our children, is a chinuch without compromises. "Azoi, un nisht anderish" (this way, and no other way).

After understanding this message and internalizing it, the problem we have is not the principle, but the approach. The principle is: strictness without compromise. But that approach, which was effective in the past, doesnít work any longer, for it has lost its impact.

In the past, the authority that adults had over children, and that educators had over their students, was a given. This was the case not only for religious people and not only for Jews. Young people simply accepted adult authority. Even if they disliked or disagreed with something, they didnít dare open their mouths to express their opinion. This is why there was no need for means of persuasion when children were asked to do something; they just did it Ė no questions asked. If parents tried to explain their request so that children would more readily accept it, it hurt their standing in their childrenís eyes and lessened their authority.

The approach of strict authority is no longer functional in our times. Children today are exposed to media and other influences which encourage self-assertiveness, originality, and independence. The changes in the world, as well as the technological advances, are constant and ongoing, and the older generation for the most part canít keep up with it.

The young people, on the other hand, catch on quickly. Maybe it is the fact that there are areas in which they surpass their parents that gives them the illusion that they have the right to be independent in other spheres, too.

Therefore, these days it is important not to impose upon children strict, one-sided authority, because thatís a surefire recipe for rebellion in the near or distant future. The authority has to be wrapped in a mantle of caring and concern, with an attitude of respect for the child as a human being, valuing his talents and accepting his independence as long as it is expressed appropriately, showing a readiness to listen to him and his needs, along with taking a strong position on principles and values, and conveying that in these areas there are no compromises.

Some parents are not clear about understanding or caring, and they demonstrate it by shouting, which really comes from the desire to express their own concerns and let off steam. Conducting oneself in this way absolves the parents of their duty to protest but in no way absolves them of their obligation to educate. Even if their shouting is effective, the results are short-lived. True chinuch, on the other hand, is education with far-reaching ramifications, as Shlomo HaMelech said in the famous verse, "Educate a child according to his way Ė even when he gets older he will not veer from it." The goal in chinuch is "even when he gets older he will not veer from it," i.e., long-term results.

When a child returns home after a long day at school and suddenly begins to act disobediently, although he is accustomed to listening while in school, it should not be cause for concern. We have to understand that while in school the child does everything he is supposed to, since that is expected of him. But when the child returns home, he tries to relax and be himself. The way he does so is by disobeying orders and attempting to do as he pleases. Itís not because he disdains sacred Jewish values, but because he finds it hard to submit to its additional burdens of obligations and responsibilities. He knows whatís right and doesnít desire to rebel. All he wants is to relieve himself somewhat from the pressure. As he matures, he will develop, both physically and emotionally, and then, with G-dís help, he will be able to successfully take on everything demanded of him as a member of the Jewish body.

Nowadays we must be open-minded and examine every educational approach. Even if its source isnít ours, we have to verify whether we can adopt it to further our own chinuch goals, adapting it as necessary to suit our particular educational needs. It makes no difference what the approach is. The main thing is that it brings us towards our goal, which is educating our children to Torah and Jewish values.

When a child davens or says a bracha, he is doing what he should, and this is really what is important to us. We have to refrain from establishing how long a tífilla should take and checking to see how much attention he is giving to each word just in order to satisfy ourselves. We must permit his positive development at his rate of progress. With a little patience on our part and a lot of encouragement, we will succeed.

Encouragement is extremely important. We as parents often err when we convey our disappointment to our child when he does not live up to our expectations. The child concludes that even the little bit he does with great effort is worth nothing. If nobody appreciates it, what did he bother for? Obviously, this is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. Itís important that the child know that we appreciate every good thing he does, every mitzva; that every bracha he says is of inestimable value.

Nowadays itís important to emphasize the principle of consistency and commitment, specifically to small goals, which the child can easily accomplish. This way we donít set ourselves up for too many disappointments and we can offer encouragement and praise more often.

What about pointing out lapses? Is it proper to alert a child to the fact that he didnít say a bracha? Of course! Though it should be in the nature of a reminder like, "Oy, you didnít bentch, you must have forgotten!" One is allowed to forget, but bentching is a must. Or one can say, "Did you get permission to eat without a bracha?"

There are many parallels between mitzvos that pertain to oneís fellow Jew and mitzvos between man and G-d. Furthermore, the mitzva of loving your fellow Jew as yourself is a great Torah principle. Rashi explains that Hashem is also called "your fellow." Thus, just as we train a child to fulfill the mitzvos that pertain to man, we should also educate him to fulfill the mitzvos between man and G-d.

Just as we insist that our child fulfill the mitzvos that pertain to oneís fellow, we must be particular to fulfill these mitzvos ourselves, even when the "fellow" is our own child, whom we are liable to act towards in a superior manner.

A person in a distinguished rabbinical position once told me that when he was a bachur in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim, he had a yechidus with the Rebbe in which he complained that he often forgot to say a bracha before eating. The Rebbe said, "How is that possible?! It says, "You shall not steal!"

When we clarify for ourselves what our obligations are as Jews, and we have a clearly delineated path to follow based on Chassidus, then we can set down this path for our children. This approach will overtake them to such an extent that there will be no room for anything else other than the traditional path of Yiddishkeit and Chassidus.

Parents are invited to fax their questions (even anonymously) to 03-9607289 (Eretz Yisroel).


Authority has to be wrapped in a mantle of caring and concern, with an attitude of respect for the child as a human being, valuing his talents and accepting his independence, as long as it is expressed appropriately...










Nowadays itís important to emphasize the principle of consistency and commitment, specifically to small goals, which the child can easily accomplish.



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