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Thursday
Sep192019

IGNITING A SELF-SUSTAINING FIRE

By Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson

The mishna in the tractate Eduyos (end of chapter 5) tells of Akavya ben Mahalalel who, in his final moments on earth was asked by his son to recommend him to his friends. Akavya answered: Your own actions can bring you close to them and your own actions can distance you from them.

How do we understand this? On his deathbed, the son pleads that his father put a good word in for him with his friends, the rabbanim and great men of the generation. The father says, no. Why? Because your own actions will bring you close. Is this love? Is this how a father speaks to his son, in his final moments no less?

Akavya, however, wasn’t looking for them to eulogize him as a great, warm father. Rather, he thought of his son! He gave him the best gift he could give his son: deep faith in himself and the clear knowledge that he has the abilities to carry out his life mission on his own.

At the farbrengen on Shabbos parashas Behaaloscha 5751, the Rebbe said the following amazing thing: “The true and complete impact on another is when he becomes a ‘flame that rises of its own accord,’ so that even when the mashpia and the rav go away, he himself remains an illuminating candle in [matters of] ‘ner mitzva v’Torah ohr’ as well as in permitted things, since this has become his very being, nature and habit, in a way that he can stand on his own feet and not need his teacher.”

In other words, there are two approaches in chinuch. One is when the parents stand near the child and “hold the match.” As long as they are there and holding the match, the child burns with a spiritual flame. But if they can no longer hold the match, the child can fall.

Another approach involves educating the child to identify with the values, yiras shomayim, good middos of our holy Torah. Not that the child is good because he sees his parents standing and watching him and he needs to be good for them, but the child realizes that these things are important to him, and are needed by him, and he depends on them, and then the child will go on the right path of his own volition, even when his parents are not at his side.

I know a young man in Crown Heights who, when he was a bachur, was not devoted to his learning. The mashgiach gave him many fines and punishments which caused him to hate learning. At night he would go around with Shmira and at a certain point he wanted to leave yeshiva.

He had yechidus and the Rebbe asked him what he was doing in life. The bachur candidly said he hates learning and that he was up all night with Shmira and slept by day.

The Rebbe told him: It’s a good thing that you are on guard at night, continue doing that, but I suggest one thing – during the day, go into the zal and learn for five minutes, no more and no less. In these five minutes, learn something in the Written Torah and something in the Oral Torah. In the Written Torah I suggest the weekly parsha and in the Oral Torah I suggest whatever your heart desires. And add to this from time to time.

This man told me he felt he could handle five minutes. He went to the zal and began learning Chumash with Rashi. Five minutes passed and he barely finished one pasuk with Rashi. It happened to be an interesting Rashi but the Rebbe told him no more … He had to leave the zal. But he was very interested in knowing what Rashi concluded there. As for the Oral Torah, time did not allow for that.

The next day, he went back to learn for another five minutes and he finished the Rashi. For the Oral Torah he took out a Tanya and learned two lines and he had to stop, because it was five minutes.

A few days passed and he was chafing from learning for just five minutes. He wanted to learn for more than the five minutes designated to him. The Rebbe had encouraged him to add more to his Torah study.

Today, many years later, he has a burning love for Torah. Whenever I meet him he repeats a mishna, an idea from the parasha, a vort, etc.

***

This is the goal of chinuch, to uncover the independent self of the child until he realizes the deep significance of his life. That his thoughts, speech and actions can transform the world; that his daily activities are of profound significance to the very essence of G-d Himself, to the totality of the Jewish people and most importantly, his neshama.

In order for the child to have that independence and the right outlook, we need to provide him with the glasses so that he can look at the world with the Torah’s outlook. This way, even those things which the talmid never heard from his teacher or parents will be seen with the right outlook, as the Rebbe says, “It becomes his very being, nature and habit, in a way that he can stand on his own feet and not need his teacher, i.e. a ‘flame that goes up of its own accord.’”

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