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Thursday
Aug162012

THREE VITAMINS: A, B, C - AHAVA, BITACHON, (SIMCHAS) CHAIM

The day a child moves from elementary school to high school is one of the most challenging. It’s a major transition from childhood to the demanding life of “bachur-hood.” It’s at this point that many parents make fateful mistakes. * How can a parent be sure that his child is registered in the yeshiva that is right for him? * Do parents know what is best for their child? * Are tutors an effective solution? * With the new school year around the corner, Beis Moshiach spoke with four mashpiim and mechanchim. * Although we talked with educators from Eretz Yisroel, the points mentioned apply to Chabad parents around the world. * Sadly, one of the participants and a regular contributor to Beis Moshiach, Reb Chaim Ashkenazi, was since taken from us at a relatively young age. May his words and memory be for the ultimate blessing, that all of us join in learning in the yeshiva of Melech HaMoshiach.

PARTICIPANTS:

Rabbi Chaim Ashkenazi a”h Former mashpia in Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim Ohr Yehuda

Rabbi MM Wechter Mashpia, Nachalat Har Chabad

Rabbi Y.Y. Levkivker Menahel, Chabad elementary school in Tzfas

Rabbi Zalman Notik Mashpia, Yeshivas Toras Emes, Yerushalayim

School will be starting soon. Hundreds of bachurim will be entering high school. How can parents be sure that they registered their children in the right yeshiva?

R’ Ashkenazi: There is no guarantee. We can only hope and trust in Hashem that we, as parents, did what we had to do. Nevertheless, how do you make the decision? You can consult with the teacher or menahel ruchni, who know the student and know the yeshivos out there. Ask them what would be suitable for this student.

Before buying a suit or hat, you check the child’s size; all the more so should we check his “size” before registering him in yeshiva.

R’ Levkivker: Parents, who know their children after seeing their progress over many years, attending parent-teacher meetings, and hearing that their children are mastering the material (not necessarily excelling), are sure that their children should attend a regular mesivta. They must still be very careful as their children make the transition to high school.

As for those parents who know that their child displayed a desire for freedom and was not that interested in learning, and they heard from teachers who said their child was not mastering the material (whether because of their inability or other reasons) – all this ought to be a red light. They definitely have to think twice before registering their son, in order to ensure that the school is right for him.

In addition to thinking it through for themselves, they need to speak to the child’s teachers and, if necessary, with professionals.

What percentage of boys would you estimate require that extra degree of investigation?

R’ Levkivker: I think 30% of talmidim’s parents need to thoroughly look into the matter with mechanchim and professionals.

R’ Wechter: Whenever a child moves up a grade it’s a transition, but the move from elementary school to high school is very significant and parents have to think carefully about what best suits their child. How did the child do in elementary school? Did he fit in? Was he happy? Did he have friends? Who are his friends? Based on this, a parent can decide where the child should go for high school.

If the answers to any of those questions aren’t positive, that would indicate the child is lacking something, for whatever reasons. You need to find out the reasons. Maybe he was offended because he did not get the attention he felt he needed; maybe there are other reasons. This child needs a high school where they will give him attention and meet his needs.

R’ Notik: Chazal say a person should learn where his heart desires. Even if he’s still a child and can’t take all the factors into account, he still has an inner sense of what he needs. There’s a child who feels he needs a warm place and it’s important for parents to know this. For other children, the routine and discipline are more important.

You cannot rely only on the child, a thirteen year old, and of course the decision is the parents’ to make, but they should make this decision together with the child. This will give him the feeling that they aren’t dictating to him, but are taking his needs into consideration.

Why should parents consult with the staff or professionals when they know best what suits their child?

R’ Levkivker: There is a letter from the Rebbe in which he says (Igros Kodesh vol. 9, p 287):

You write about …sh’yichyeh, and a place to learn for the coming z’man. In matters such as these, you should consult with his teachers who encounter him every day and take what they say into account. This is because they see the boy when he is learning and when he is with his classmates, and they see objectively, unlike parents who, because of their paternal love for their children, are suspected of looking at them not as they really are. Since parents want what is really best for their child, and for the long-term and not just temporary good, obviously it is worthwhile giving up certain things for the child, as long as he goes on the straight path for days and years to come …

The Rebbe tells us parents that we have a problem seeing our children’s difficulties objectively. It is natural (and this is as it should be) for us to look at our children in a positive light, but this can prevent us from seeing other things. Obviously, we can’t afford to ignore or cover over problems that need to be addressed. A teacher, on the other hand, is not biased.

A Poilishe tzaddik was once asked why the Halacha is such that relatives are invalid witnesses. To say they are disqualified to speak up in their defense is understandable, as they are subjective, but why shouldn’t they be able to testify against a relative?

The tzaddik answered, “It says regarding testimony ‘and the two men shall stand.’ The first qualification is that the witness be a mentch!”

As parents, it is hard for us to see our children’s shortcomings, since a shortcoming in our children is interpreted by us as our own failing. Parents don’t spend six hours a day learning with their child, and they are not familiar with the classroom environment and how their child fits in.

Furthermore, even for a parent who learns with his son and reports that the learning went well, this is not an indication of how the child performs in class with friends under the conditions prevalent in school and not at home.

R’ Ashkenazi: Many years ago, a couple came to consult with me about their son. I told them my opinion, which was that the child should continue in a Chabad yeshiva where the level was lower than other yeshivos. They did not accept this recommendation and wrote to the Rebbe. Some time later, they came back with an answer from the Rebbe, which said that parents are subjective and can’t make the decision and they should instead speak to the hanhala and present their perspective. Then they should do as the hanhala says.

Usually parents begin by saying: I know there are parents who only see the good in their children, but I’m not like that. My son is really good.

Yes, he might be a good boy but the question is: what should be done so he grows up to be a good bachur?

Parents cannot decide on their own. They might be afraid of how a decision they make now will affect the chinuch of their younger children, or they might be afraid a decision will adversely affect shidduchim for older siblings or the child himself, or they might be afraid their son will be considered second-rate.

Of course, we need to ask Hashem and the Rebbe to guide the hanhala and the parents.

R’ Wechter: There are some important reasons why parents cannot make the decision about the right yeshiva for their son on their own. Parents see the good side, because a person is close to himself and does not see his weaknesses. We know ourselves and we are never comfortable putting problems on the table, so to speak. We prefer avoiding them. Also, there are many things on parents’ minds and they are not looking for additional problems. Until the problems are staring them in the face, they will be preoccupied with other problems that are more urgent. So the simplest solution is to push them away until it’s too late.

Professionals tend to be more objective. They also have more time to look into this because this is their job. This makes their perspective more accurate and legitimate.

Another advantage that professionals have is they are more savvy and experienced. There are signs that only a professional notices, like a doctor who diagnoses a problem based on symptoms that he is familiar with. An ordinary person wouldn’t even notice the symptoms.

R’ Notik: The pasuk says, T’shua B’Rov Yo’etz – salvation comes after doing a lot of consulting. When there are more opinions from more people who know the child, then you are more likely to make the right decision in the child’s best interest.

There are parents who prefer putting their son into a regular program, figuring that if it doesn’t work out well for him, they will switch him to another school. Is this a good idea?

R’ Levkivker: A boy who starts in one high school, and after a while realizes that it’s not the place for him, will have a much harder time switching schools, both because it’s hard to start over with new friends and because of the feeling of failure. This can lead to trouble.

When a boy graduates elementary school, it’s not just a matter of being promoted to the next grade. When a child goes up a grade, he has hopes and expectations that the new year will be different. But when moving on to high school, the hopes and expectations are that much greater, because it’s a completely different setting and, to a certain extent, a new life.

You have to be very careful to avoid a situation in which the child won’t believe in himself, especially at this complex age when failure can take on disproportionate significance.

R’ Ashkenazi: Let’s not forget that as the child grows older, if there are problems, they will grow along with him, as will the gap between him and his peers. Even if he was a quiet boy all the years, that is no guarantee that he will be a quiet bachur. This is a sure way for him to end up out on the street. We can’t assume that if a child continues to learn in a regular program, then everything will work out. This is a ticking bomb.

Add to this the frustration the boy will feel when his peers are learning and he lags behind, especially when he will get comments from the mashgichim and teachers. The staff will ask – why is this talmid in this yeshiva when we don’t have anything to offer him?

Sadly, this is the reason the street is full of talmidim who have dropped out, because they did not find their place in yeshiva and they left in frustration. They imagined that on the street they would be equal (especially today, when the street is accessible and the atmosphere is about how equal they all are; a child who doesn’t think he’s on par will look for a place where he is).

Putting a boy into an unsuitable yeshiva is like buying a hat that is too big and covers his eyes. When a person goes out with a hat that covers his eyes, he will bump into things and fall and hurt himself. That is just what happens when you put a child into the wrong yeshiva. As such, parents need to know that the bulk of the responsibility rests upon them, even though they are inclined to blame the hanhala of the yeshiva their son dropped out of.

R’ Notik: Experience has shown that talmidim who went to regular programs when they needed something special (which a regular yeshiva won’t provide) sustained great damage that was hard to rectify.

R’ Wechter: If we analyze the question, behind the idea is the fear of the shame the boy might feel if he learns in a yeshiva that is different than his friends. Therefore, maybe we ought to put him in a regular yeshiva. But that is a grave mistake. We are talking about a boy for whom this yeshiva is unsuitable and sooner or later, he will have to leave. That will be shameful.

At every stage, you have to think about the past and the future. Before moving on to high school, you have to think about where he will fit in. Experiments such as putting a boy into an unsuitable yeshiva lead to damage and shame.

Sometimes, parents want to put their son into a regular program and supplement this with a tutor or encourage their son with prizes. What do you think about this?

R’ Notik: Not every parent can stick to this. It requires a lot of effort and consistency. Moreover, a tutor is not the solution, because the boy needs a supportive system throughout the day in yeshiva.

There is a disadvantage too in that the boy can feel different than his peers because they all manage without help, while he needs help.

R’ Levkivker: If the boy was evaluated and the recommendations state that the yeshiva is not for him, what is the point in trying it?

Then again, not everything is black and white and there are some students who are borderline. If their parents make a big effort, and I emphasize, a big effort, because it demands nonstop involvement and encouragement, then you can consider it. However, when the recommendation is unequivocal, they need to accept it.

R’ Wechter: This is a question that many parents think about. You need to remember a very basic thing; if the boy is not a fit for this yeshiva, then tutoring won’t help him. This is because tutoring is for someone who basically fits in but needs some help. However, aside from the learning there are so many other factors, such as the atmosphere is not suitable, a lack of attention, etc.

There is talk about having special programs within the existing yeshivos. What do you think?

R’ Levkivker: The question is only theoretical. In my opinion though, if the yeshivos would do that, it would be wonderful. Just as there are additional programs in elementary schools, we need the same for high schools.

Practically speaking though, it’s not going to happen too soon. Yeshivos cannot open a separate program for a few boys, but it is the obligation of roshei yeshiva to try to incorporate such programs. The time has come to stop ignoring the existing problems; we must address them! We’re not talking about problem bachurim from the aspect of Yiras Shamayim; on the contrary, these boys, in the right yeshiva, would stand out for their Yiras Shamayim.

R’ Notik: If only the regular yeshivos could take boys with needs like these and help them within the existing framework! We can compare it to a suit store that only has a few sizes. Someone who is either much bigger or much smaller won’t be able to buy a suit. Stores like these should have a tailor who will adjust a suit to your size. This is the view of the Rebbe that special programs should not be separate, but should include talmidim within existing schools.

Will a child who needs a program that is different than that of the standard one offered by a regular yeshiva be insulted that less is being demanded of him? Won’t he, just by being in such a program, feel like a failure and second rate among his peers and even in his family?

R’ Wechter: On the contrary, a person feels second rate when he is different than others while being in the same environment. When a child is in a yeshiva that is not suitable for him, that’s what breaks him. In a regular yeshiva, he has to constantly deal with feelings of inferiority, because the other boys are always better than him. He doesn’t understand the material. His self-confidence takes a plunge. When a talmid cannot keep up with the pace of the yeshiva, he will look for some other place where he feels good, i.e. the street.

But if he is in a program that suits him, he will be able to develop according to his abilities. It will make no difference what the learning level is. Since it’s a program that is constructed to meet his needs, he will feel good. This is where he will grow and build himself up as a Chassid and Yerei Shamayim, and then there is a chance that he will continue in yeshiva after high school.

It’s true that the initial decision to put him in a yeshiva like this is hard, but only good will come out of it. It’s easier to decide to send him to a regular yeshiva, but afterward, problems will crop up.

R’ Levkivker: No. If the goal of the yeshiva was explained to the boy, and the boy knows himself, and he knows that the only difference between this yeshiva and other yeshivos is in the academic load, and that the level of Yiras Shamayim is no less than that in other yeshivos and is even more, not only won’t he feel hurt, he will be proud.

As for peers and siblings, the decision to learn in another sort of program should be made after consulting with professionals who know yeshivos. If they think the chances of fitting in to a regular high school are slim, this has to be taken under serious consideration.

Yes, it can be hard explaining this to a child, but the child himself knows he is not able to sit an entire day and learn the way he would be expected to learn in a regular program.

When a child knows that he will be attending a yeshiva program that will encourage him to learn and achieve and will strengthen his Yiras Shamayim, and he will be able to attend post-high school yeshiva programs, this will encourage him. This is the goal: to help the child progress so that he will be able to continue in yeshiva g’dola/beis midrash.

R’ Notik: This is a very important point for parents to take note of. Upon directing a child to a yeshiva where learning ability is not required, the child needs to know that it is not because he is second rate; on the contrary. Because the parents know their child and his talents in other areas, they want him to derive the maximum in those areas where he is successful rather than try and succeed in areas where he will be disappointed.

As for his siblings, parents need to convey the idea that just as there is a Minister of the Treasury and a Foreign Minister and a Defense Minister, and the Foreign Minister is not the Minister of the Treasury, not because he is not as smart but because this is his area of expertise, so too with children. Each child is smart and successful in different ways.

R’ Ashkenazi: Parents need to value every child, even one who is not the biggest scholar or the most diligent when it comes to learning.

Parents are afraid that if their child goes to a different kind of yeshiva, it will negatively affect the chinuch of the rest of their children.

R’ Ashkenazi: And if the oldest boy goes off the derech, that won’t adversely affect his siblings? We are not talking here about a choice between a yeshiva that will teach him to be a rosh yeshiva versus a yeshiva where he will grow to be a balabus. We are talking about the child’s soul! Will he remain with us or, G-d forbid, will we lose him?

R’ Levkivker: When parents conclude that their child needs a different sort of program, these sorts of fears have no place. If there is a chance that a younger child will fall, does this mean we can allow the older one to definitely fall?!

R’ Wechter: This question and the previous ones that parents ask are an attempt to avoid the problem. Each one says it in different words, but it’s all the same thing.

An important principle to remember when it comes to chinuch is that a child must know that not everything in life goes easily or automatically. There are problems in the world, serious ones, and that’s the way of the world. There is no perfection and no “smooth rides.” This is an opportunity to show the child a lesson in life. If we address the problems and look for solutions, the child will learn that this is how you deal with problems; you don’t avoid them.

We cannot ignore problems, because they will get worse. They don’t resolve themselves.

What about the family’s reputation?

R’ Notik: The family’s honor? That sounds like something taken from our Arab cousins. Parents need to understand that what is truly important is what is good for their child and not their personal honor. The greatest damage in chinuch occurs when the father makes decisions based on his honor. He wants his child to daven so that people will say that the children of so-and-so daven. If we want successful children, we must address their needs and not our position of respect in the community.

R’ Ashkenazi: I once heard from a (non-Chabad) rosh yeshiva who is also a successful psychologist about some bachurim whose parents are highly respected people in their community, which is why they sent their kids to learn in a prestigious yeshiva. But the boys dropped out. They said – some of them while standing under the chuppa – that they would never forgive their parents for the pressure they exerted on them.

This foolish pride is paid for in kids who end up on the street. Then the parents are shocked and full of complaints: Why do their children look and act that way when they have such beautiful Torah’dig/Chassidishe homes?

One of the main reasons is the pressure exerted on the children. Today, children cannot be forced to eat or to learn. Our generation is not made for pressure. As the Rebbe said, our generation is Ikvisa d’Meshicha; you can tolerate a too-small garment but too-small shoes are unbearable. This generation, which is compared to the heel, cannot be pressured.

R’ Levkivker: I’ve met parents who were nervous about their family reputation. We need to remember this: Chinuch is a Mitzva d’Oraisa (scriptural commandment); a father must teach his son. The family reputation is not even a D’Rabbanan (rabbinic ordinance)… And you can well imagine what sort of reputation a family will have if a child of theirs ends up on the street.

Parents – Do what is best for your child! It is painful to have to say this, but it is horrifying to see children put in yeshivos that are inappropriate for them because of family honor.

What are the chances of a boy who learns in a special program eventually joining a regular program?

R’ Wechter: As I said earlier, when a child is in a program that is appropriate for him, he has a chance of mainstreaming later on, but there is no definitive answer. One thing is clear though: the earlier a bachur attends a yeshiva like this, the higher the chances that he will attend a regular yeshiva later on.

R’ Notik: When there is a warm relationship, the bachur can make so much progress that he will achieve things he never thought he could achieve and eventually go to zal/beis midrash.

These might be bachurim who are bright, but who can’t or won’t sit and learn. When they are in a program tailored to them, they are given the opportunity to develop diligence over time and to develop their talents. There is no question that after a while, they can switch to a regular yeshiva.

R’ Levkivker: It must be emphasized that specifically through a special learning program the chances are much higher that a boy will grow to be a Tamim who can go to zal/beis midrash, where the structure is not as rigid as it can be in high school.

Why is there an association made between weak academic abilities and weakness in Yiras Shamayim?

R’ Notik: It wasn’t like that in the past. In the Seifer HaZichronos it tells about bachurim who were not at all bright, and yet they had yiras Shamayim that was even greater than that of the scholars. Why isn’t it that way today?

The answer lies in the situation today in which in an elementary school class you have a group of students, some of whom are bright and some of whom are not. The teacher feels that it is his job to teach the material in the best possible way. The group of bright students is treated differently by the teacher; they are praised.

Alas, there are also students in the classroom whose academic abilities are not their strong point, but they are strong in Ahavas Yisroel, in niggunim, in Yiras Shamayim, etc. Usually, this group is not of particular interest to the teacher, since he is hired to teach material.

The message conveyed is that a child is only considered a success when it comes to learning. The non-academic talmid thinks, if he doesn’t stand a chance academically, he is not a success. He gains his feelings of self worth from those boys who are not behaving as they should. This is the number one cause for kids dropping out.

The story is told about a rosh yeshiva who gave compliments to certain talmidim even for how they dressed. The staff didn’t go for this at all. To their surprise, the rosh yeshiva told them he prefers that a bachur hear a compliment like that from him than from people on the street. Interestingly, these bachurim developed into big talmidei chachomim.

If teachers would give compliments and make encouraging remarks to children in every area of Torah and Yiras Shamayim, not just academics, the situation would be ten times better. This is precisely what is meant when the pasuk says, “Educate a child according to his way.”

Bachurim need three vitamins:

Vitamin A – Ahava (love) and Emuna (belief) on the part of his parents and teachers in a talmid’s hidden abilities

Vitamin B – Bitachon (faith/confidence), which will allow a child’s hidden abilities to be revealed

Vitamin C – (Simchas) Chaim – joy of life

R’ Ashkenazi: A talmid needs to be loved; he has to be shown that he is worth a lot. Education needs to be tailored to the individual without compromising an iota on Yiras Shamayim and Chassidus.

R’ Wechter: “Chanoch L’ naar Al Pi Darko” is what is missing today.

***

The responses are short due to space considerations. Every point that was discussed can be elaborated upon. But after all the advice, we need to remember to daven. “Ask for mercy from the One to whom wisdom belongs.”

 

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