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How do you prevent an adolescent from reaching a crisis point? What are the conditions and reasons that create a divide between parents and children? How can we protect our children from the danger of democracy that has destroyed all preexisting standards and when the way of the Torah is that parents and grandparents are the authorities? Transcribed from a lecture to parents and educators by veteran mechanech, RNachman Yosef Twersky. * Part 1

Most of the time, when parents provide their child with a feeling of security, so he feels good and secure at home, they have the best guarantee that their child wont reach the crisis point.

There are many conditions and reasons that can cause a child to feel insecure at home. When he is on the receiving end of unrestrained criticism or even just thoughtless comments, this leads to many problems that sometimes cause a split to be created between parents and their children.

I will first talk about how this works in chinuch and how careful a person must be at home so as not to fall into those types of speech patterns. Then we will focus on the Rebbe’s approach to chinuch which is not the world’s approach, just like the crises of the world are not Chabad’s crises and just like our children are not like the children in the rest of the world. As Chassidim of the Rebbe, we were given special abilities and we walk on a firm and strong bridge.

In previous generations, the problem of chinuch was not widespread. In normal times, children went in the ways that gave their parents nachas. It was natural for a parent to be mechanech his child and for his children to go in his ways. They didn’t have chinuch problems on the scale that we have today and therefore, education professionals were not needed and were non-existent.

In modern times, the phenomenon of democracy has entered the world and has destroyed all the formerly accepted standards and has brought in secularism. It used to be, according to Torah, that parents and grandparents were the authorities, “ask your father and he will tell you, your elders and they will say to you.” The secularist view is that we, the younger generation, are progressive, while grandpa is old and doesn’t understand today’s day and age. It’s out with the old and in with the new. And this is where all the problems began; advances made in technology have only exacerbated the problem.

The question is, we as parents today, who live with the reality and the challenges, what can we do? How can we, despite everything, protect our children from crises?

The first thing to know is that there needs to be mutual understanding between parents and children. On the one hand, parents need to remember that they are the authorities at home who educate their children and teach them how to behave. At the same time, special attention has to be given to establish the credibility of the parents – parents need to respect one another, and when a word from Father is respected at home, then the child feels and understands that there is an authority that needs to be obeyed. On the other hand, a child needs to feel loved. It’s not enough to say it. He needs to see and experience it.


In T’hillim it says, “as arrows in the hand of the warrior, so too are the youth.” The period we are talking about (ages 14-16) is an age and stage which shapes the personality of the child. A bachur of this age is not relaxed; he is very turbulent and this is why, particularly at this age, we need to be very careful with him.

It is reasonable to assume that you won’t find a twenty year old going off the derech or changing his way of life. There are instances, but they are few. Most of the changes that take place are between the ages of 13 and 18-19, the time that a child is transitioning to adulthood. During this time period, he may not be interested in hearing from others but wants to attain knowledge and understanding. This is the time to help him build himself up.

I’d like to emphasize one fundamental thing – a child who is happy at home and in school does not fall! He may have some declines, but in general, a child who’s feeling good is a happy child who will continue going in the way of Torah and mitzvos as he is taught. The problems begin when a child does not feel good; it makes no difference what the reason is. He is bitter or thinks he is, so as soon as some change in life occurs, the phase of adolescence, the bitterness takes on greater significance and therein lies the danger.

In order to prevent this, you first have to have a warm, friendly relationship with him; he needs to be close to his parents. Parents have to see to it that the child is content and it’s their responsibility to see to it that materially and spiritually he’s in a good place. Not just to tell him that they seek his welfare but to do everything possible so that it is actually good for him.

For example, there are those who have time for strangers but when a phone call comes in from a child they push him off for another half an hour. It is possible that this phone conversation is very important and the conversation with the stranger can be pushed off. When a Jewish parent is aware that his child’s chinuch is the most important thing in life, then he will act altogether differently.

That being the case, we parents need to influence our child in the best possible way, not to just give him orders like in the army, because otherwise he’ll grow up to do as he pleases. In order to build up the personality of a child you need patience and peace of mind, a pleasant demeanor, to speak in a friendly way with him and give him personal attention, not yelling, orders, screaming.

I once spoke with a father who has fifteen children and who told me that several times a year he takes each child out to a restaurant to give him quality time and personal attention.

This can provide all of us with food for thought as to how the connection with our child needs to be. All the more so when you know that a child is lacking something, that he needs to be taken out by himself and listened to. With some good food the conversation goes differently, the child thinks differently and it leads to feelings of closeness. The child will feel close to his parents and he won’t fall even when facing challenges.

I know a family where the father is extremely busy, he even works at night, but this home is still built on respect for the father, in an exaggerated way. They do precisely as it says in Shulchan Aruch in the laws of respect for parents. When the father walks in, the children stand up. His chair is off limits. When he comes home, the children give him respect. I know the father personally and he is a plain person, but the admiration and respect of his children toward him has resulted in all of his children growing up to be frum, Chassidishe people. A child who has respect for his father won’t do things that go against his father’s wishes. His feelings are naturally drawn toward the way he was educated at home.

As mentioned in the previous talk, the Friday night meal is a foundation for chinuch in the home. When there is a beautiful and delicious meal and people sit around the table and enjoy it together, this is the biggest protection.

Sometimes parents think, “But we aren’t angels. All the chinuch talk is nice, but we’re human beings…”

I want to tell you a secret; your child knows you’re not an angel. And you don’t have to be an angel to merit good children. If the child knows that in general, his parents try to respect one another, his father and mother are genuinely concerned about him, that’s what’s most important to him. When this is the atmosphere in the house, the problems more or less fall by the wayside.


As in every area of life, you can look from the Chassidic perspective and see how the Rebbe views the chinuch of children.

I was in Lakewood a few years ago at a bar mitzva and the bar mitzva boy’s father came over to me and asked me to say a few words. I stood up and shared the Rebbe’s educational approach. When I finished, a few people came over to me and said this was the first time they were hearing anything like this. I saw how we have the ko’ach of the Rebbe and that this impacts everyone.

Why are we busy all day and don’t have time to be mechanech our children? We are worried about parnasa and the health of our children, about their weddings, the mortgage and the like, and they occupy our thinking. When we are told that we also have to be mechanech our children and daven, we wonder how we could possibly have time for all this!

In one of the farbrengens in 5743, the Rebbe presented a great foundation of chinuch that solves the problem of our time if it is followed:

Chazal say that there are three partners in the creation of man, his father, his mother, and Hashem who provides the soul. Said the Rebbe, in a partnership all parties need to invest. This means that we are raising our children together, just like a partner who puts his share into the business. What is our role as parents-partners?

Says the Rebbe, after Hashem placed the G-dly part within our children, we need to see to it that their neshamos shine openly. It should be apparent that they belong to “and you are to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

With this idea the Rebbe solves all the problems. What is our role in chinuch? To make sure that a child openly feels his neshama, that he feels Jewish pride – I am a Jew! This is the parents’ job. How is this done? With Torah and mitzvos.

What is Hashem’s role? Sustaining our children, providing for their material needs, their health, etc.

When parents do their part, by educating to Torah and mitzvos, then Hashem does His part.


One of the problems that adolescent children have is that they feel Judaism is constricting and they want freedom. Why do they feel this way? Because they don’t value being Jewish, the most basic thing which was once instilled in the simplest way, that “I am a Jew” – the appreciation of being the son of the King.

It says, “Educate a child in his way and when he grows older he won’t veer from it.” The Rebbe asks, does that mean he will also remain like a child? Rather, a child has to be instilled with the idea that “Anochi” – I, who has written Myself into the Torah, am “Hashem Elokecha” – your strength and your life. Our chayus is Hashem. When a Jew learns Torah he becomes one with G-d and then even when he grows old, he won’t veer from it. Because when you educate a child with this ko’ach, so that he knows that through learning Torah and doing mitzvos he becomes connected with Hashem, and he is shown the value of a Jew, then even when he grows old he won’t go away from it and will remain this way for the rest of his life.

Someone told me about a bachur who belongs to one of the k’hillos in Williamsburg who went off the derech in an extreme way, more than anyone else his age who dropped out. He went to a Chabad house because he was thrown out of his house. What does a child want to eat on Shabbos? Chulent. This was something that apparently he couldn’t do without, even after going off the derech. Every Shabbos he would go to the Chabad house, say some foolish, heretical things, and eat chulent.

One of the people at the Chabad house offered to learn Tanya with him. At first the boy tried to get out of it by saying he doesn’t believe, but the man insisted and said, I think you do believe, and why are you afraid to learn Tanya? Prove to me that you don’t believe. This shows that you do believe! If you learn Tanya with me and afterward you say you don’t believe, I’ll believe you.

Some time later, they began to learn the first chapter of Tanya. After completing the chapter, he said he doesn’t believe. Then he came again and they learned the second chapter and he said he does not believe. So too with chapter three. When they reached the middle of chapter four, the boy burst into tears.

The man asked him why he was crying and after calming down, the boy said, I’m crying because I wonder why my teachers did not teach me what it says here. What does it say? That a Jew who learns Torah becomes one with Hashem. When I was a boy in school, they taught “an ox that gores a cow” and the teacher told me to put my finger on the place. I wondered, how will this help me make a living? I don’t have the head to learn this. I don’t have an ox or a cow and it is unlikely that I ever will. Why do I need to learn this? But the teacher forced me to put my finger on the place and learn and there were also punishments for the lack of interest that I displayed until I finally dropped out.

He concluded: If I had known that when I learn Torah I am one with Hashem, why would I care if I have an ox and cow or not? The main thing is to unite with Hashem. This is what bothers me, why didn’t they teach me that?

Since then, the young man has slowly begun to return.

This is what is called planting deep roots. Educate a child according to his way, instill his essence, the essence of his neshama. And then, when he grows old, he won’t turn away from it.

I had a student, a very difficult child, who did all kinds of things to disrupt the class. He had a good head which worked overtime in thinking up mischief at which he wouldn’t be caught. He made me a lot of problems.

I called him over after a class in which he was very disruptive and we spoke. I knew that if I started with rebuke, it would just cause damage. I spoke to him in a restrained and benevolent manner. I did not punish him the entire year since I knew it wouldn’t help.

When he didn’t behave, he would say to me, “Rabbi Twersky, give me a k’nas (fine).” I would say, “You are an excellent student so I won’t give you a k’nas.” I had to exercise quite a bit of restraint considering his atrocious behavior. I happened to see his father while I was on line in a store and I felt I had to talk to him about his son, for I knew that a child like this, with his stormy temperament, was likely to go off the derech.

As we spoke, the father said to me: It says in the Gemara about Dovid HaMelech that when he entered the bathhouse he felt terrible for he was without clothing and without mitzvos. He wasn’t comforted until he remembered the bris mila in his flesh. The father asked me, what does this story mean? Why does the Gemara tell it to us? What message is there in it for every Jew?

There is a deep lesson here that pertains to chinuch. Every person has clothing, as it says in Tanya, garments of the soul. Every child has clothing. The child is tamim (innocent and sincere) and t’mimus (innocence and sincerity) is his clothing. You can sell him things and he’ll buy it all in innocence. When he matures, you can’t sell him just anything since he is more responsible and serious.

There is the time when the child’s clothing, his innocence, is removed but he does not yet have seriousness and maturity. This is a dangerous time. He is not yet responsible for his actions and he can reach the lowest of places and he doesn’t even care. They say everyone goes through this, but the question is how long does it last. Some go through it in a very short time and some take much longer.

The father said to me: My son is in this for a year already and still hasn’t emerged and any little thing can topple him. This is what Dovid HaMelech meant when he said there is one thing that can serve us, the bris in our flesh. We are connected to Hashem. When a bachur wonders, who am I, where am I, he loses his whole zest for life and his stability, and he also loses his feeling for learning, his chayus in davening. If he is given the “chanoch l’naar al pi darko,” the fundamental root message that he is connected to Hashem, then his essence will emerge and this is what strengthens him.

There is a well-known story about the holy Baal Shem Tov that he once had a “fall in [G-dly] intellect.” What did he do? He reviewed the letters of the alef-beis. He connected to Hashem with the essence of Torah, without understanding and grasp, just connecting with the essence. He reviewed it again and again and after a while he got back to himself. By a tzaddik there is sometimes the idea of “a tzaddik falls seven times and rises,” in order to raise up the generation, as it says regarding Avrohom that “Avrohom descended to Egypt” in order for there to be the “and he went up,” an aliya after the yerida.

There are certain times when a person needs to realize that he has to simply hang on just through being connected to Hashem’s essence and not as a talmid chacham or for any other reason.

If I am a Jew just because of external things that are subject to changing variables and not because this is the path of truth, then anything can topple me. A friend told me that he knew a young man who as a bachur had learned in a yeshiva in B’nei Brak and had really “killed himself in the tent of Torah.” Then he got married and did everything he was supposed to do. He moved to Yerushalayim but did not find a suitable kollel so he found a chavrusa and they sat at home and learned. His wife had a government job and one day she noticed visits to Internet sites that were inappropriate. She didn’t know whether it was her husband or his chavrusa. This was a month or two after their wedding. She asked a gadol whether she could install a hidden camera.

To her great sorrow, she saw that it was indeed her husband who, whenever she went to work, went to all sorts of undesirable sites. She went to a number of g’dolim who told her to leave the marriage. Her husband said he had discovered a new world and three months after the wedding he had had taken off his yarmulke and given her a divorce. He has descended into the depths and is now wandering in the worst of places. What caused all this to happen? Apparently, everything he had put into his learning had been for his reputation and for a good shidduch. When a Jew knows that with his learning he connects with Hashem, the results are altogether different. He was missing the primary message, the “chanoch l’naar.”

It is critical that every Jew who learns Torah, which can even be Gemara with Rashi and not necessarily R’ Akiva Eiger or other complex commentaries, knows that he is connecting with Hashem. Obviously, one should learn more and more, but the basis is the knowledge that with any Torah learned and mitzva done, one is bonding with Hashem.

To be continued…


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