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Tuesday
Jan092018

UNLOCKING THE POWER OF THE HALF HOUR

Veteran educator and chairman of the Chassidic Education Center, Rabbi Naftali Roth, in a fascinating conversation with Rabbi Shlomo Reinitz of Machon LIBA (lchanech yeladim bderech hamelech) about the comparison of the mitzva of chinuch to the mitzva of tefillin, about the need tothinkabout the chinuch of children, and the million-dollar question: How is it possible to find half an hour every day to think about the chinuch of our children?

Photos by Ezra LandauDirective of the Rebbe Rashab: Just as wearing tefillin every day is a mitzva commanded by the Torah to every individual, regardless of his standing in Torah, whether deeply learned or simple, so too is it an absolute duty for every person to spend a half hour every day thinking about the Torah-education of children, and to do everything in his power – and beyond his power – to inspire children to follow the path along which they are being guided. (HaYom Yom 22 Teves)

In the fast-paced reality of life today, with the dozens of obligations that we have to deal with on any given day, people have a hard time understanding how it is possible to shut everything else down for a half hour each day to think about chinuch. And perhaps what people have a harder time understanding is what exactly am I supposed to do in that half hour? What should I think about, and how will my thinking impact the children?

Addressing these questions and others, R’ Roth called upon his sixty years of experience in the field of education, and conveys some surprising lessons, both for parents and for children.

WHY SPECIFICALLY TEFILLIN?

Before we discuss the main issue, the half hour of thought to be given to chinuch, allow me to first ask the following. There are many other mitzvos that we perform every day. Why did the Rebbe Rashab choose the mitzva of tefillin specifically, to highlight the need to think every day about the chinuch of children?

One of the high points of prayer is the recital of “Shma Yisroel,” which deals with the unity of Hashem and the mitzva to love Him. Specifically, in this chapter, Hashem chose to instruct us about the need to teach children, immediately followed by the commandment to lay tefillin.

The very fact that of all the 613 mitzvos, Hashem chose to mention these two mitzvos in conjunction with the mitzva of loving G-d, and to incorporate them into the chapter of “Shma,” teaches us the tremendous importance that Hashem sees in the mitzva of chinuch.

The first thing that must shake us up a bit, and must penetrate our consciousness, is that the mitzva of chinuch is not something that can be pushed off from one day to the next, but is one of the key issues of all of Judaism.

After we understand the importance of chinuch, we can proceed and attempt to truly understand the connection between the mitzva of chinuch and the mitzva of tefillin.

In one of his sichos, the Rebbe explains that with this comparison, the Rebbe Rashab wanted to emphasize two points: a) the importance of chinuch, comparable to that of tefillin, and b) that the substance of the mitzva of chinuch is similar to that of tefillin.

In terms of importance, our Sages say in Tractate Kiddushin that “the entire Torah is compared to tefillin.” There is no other mitzva that is compared to the entire Torah.

There are a number of mitzvos about which it is said that they are equal to all of the other mitzvos, such as tz’daka and tzitzis. And similar language is used for the mitzvos of residing in Eretz Yisroel, mila, avoda zara, Shabbos, and Torah study.

However, using the term “equal” indicates that we are discussing two separate items that are, as it were, of equal measure. In contrast, regarding tefillin it says “compared,” which is to say two identical things.

After we understand the rank of the mitzva of tefillin, it is obvious that with his comparison to chinuch, the Rebbe Rashab is establishing the obligation of chinuch as preeminent in the order of priorities that a Jew must have.

SYNTHESIS OF MIND AND HEART

The second thing that the Rebbe tells us that the Rebbe Rashab wanted to emphasize with this equivalence, is that the substance of the mitzva of chinuch is similar to that of tefillin:

The mitzva of tefillin, which we lay both on the hand and on the head, symbolizes the synthesis between the service of the heart and the service of the mind. This too is one of the most basic rules of chinuch; in order to succeed in chinuch, it is essential to synthesize the mind and the heart!

In every educational situation, whether it be a child who speaks disrespectfully to his parents, or a child who comes late to class or disturbs the class, the chinuch oriented response must be a balance of mind and heart.

If we only use the mind, we can end up treating the child with cruelty. If we only use the heart, we are likely to overlook things that we should not, and to miss out on a learning opportunity. We need to incorporate both elements.

For example, if a child speaks with chutzpa, we can stop and ask him what did he mean to say? Maybe he had no real intention to show disrespect.

There is a famous illustration of this point that tells of the teacher who came to class very late. When he entered the room, one of the better boys in the class stood up, and in a terrific display of “chutzpa,” pointed with one hand to the watch on his other hand, as if to chastise the teacher for his tardiness. Fortunately, the teacher employed both presence of mind and a great deal of heart, and decided to wait until after the class to address the issue. He called over the child privately and asked him what he meant when he pointed to his watch, to which the child responded excitedly, “Yesterday my parents bought me a new watch and I wanted to show it to you!”

How much damage might have been caused if the teacher had responded impulsively and punished the student for his impudence.

If we use only mind or only heart in our approach to chinuch, either we end up being cruel or we spoil the child. We need to synthesize the two. It is this message that the Rebbe Rashab intended with his equating the mitzva of chinuch with the mitzva of tefillin.

THINKING IS A MUST

The instruction of the Rebbe, to devote a half hour of thought regarding chinuch each day, seems to emphasize thinking. Would it not be worthwhile to spend that time communicating directly to the children? Isn’t it a waste of quality time just thinking?

Over the years that I had the privilege to be involved in chinuch, I have seen just how amazing was the foresight of the Rebbe Rashab, in emphasizing the need for thinking. The advantage of thinking is that there is no drive to imitate others and no sense of fearfulness of others, since nobody else knows what he is thinking except for the Creator of the world. That is when a person can be really honest with himself, and can employ real consideration of the issues, with the sole focus on the chinuch of the child and what is best for him or her.

In the high-pressure reality of life nowadays, how is it possible to devote a half hour every day to thinking?

Many parents ask me this question, and I give the same answer to every one of them: Listen well. In actual fact, you already devote a lot more than a half hour each day to the chinuch of your children. You are being mechanech all the time… the problem is that you don’t stop and think! And when you don’t think things through, you are influenced by ulterior motives and personal bias; you get angry, you feel hurt, and become incapable of relating to the child and communicating in his language. However, when you sit by yourself and just think, suddenly you are capable of drawing different conclusions.

Let’s say that someone makes some critical point to me. The spontaneous reaction would be to brush him off in the best case, or to return fire in the worst case. If we want to be really gracious, we might say, “You are right, but…”

However, if we sit down and think about it (not about how it made us feel), it is possible that we might conclude that what this person just said was absolutely correct. In order to even have a chance of reaching that conclusion, we must take time out to think.

Despite the stresses of life, we must stop every day for half an hour and review thoughtfully: what happened today with my children? What was fine and what wasn’t fine? When you think, you don’t need to apologize to anyone, you don’t need to justify yourself. Then, you can even go and say you’re sorry to your child and tell him, yesterday I yelled at you or yesterday I was angry with you, but after thinking it over, I arrived at different conclusions.

I will give you an example that happened with me. A child held a cup of water and before he would drink it without a bracha, I wanted to get his attention and I said, Baruch! The child reacted with a shrug as though to say, I’m not interested.

What should my reaction be? Without thinking, I might have responded sharply, but boruch Hashem someone asked the child, “How come, when Rabbi Roth told you ‘baruch,’ you shrugged?” The boy innocently answered, “Because my name isn’t Baruch; it’s Motty.”

In seminars for teachers, they are taught to speak in the child’s language, to listen to the child’s language, in order to understand what the child means. Among adults, we speak the same language, but when talking to children, sometimes it’s two different worlds.

I once taught a class of girls and I told them the story about the watch (mentioned above). Before I told them what the child meant, I asked the girls how they thought the teacher should react. I emphasized that this was a well-behaved child who was suddenly acting impudently.

One of the girls said that since, until now, we knew the child to be well behaved, the teacher should realize that surely the child did not mean to be impudent, and his comment about the lateness was said in all innocence. If he thought it was chutzpa, he definitely would not have said it to the teacher. The teacher ought to view it positively and tell the boy: Thank you for pointing that out.

I was amazed by her response. She thought before she answered and I complimented her and said she would make a good teacher. Then I went on to say that even according to the understanding of most teachers that the child was impudent, the mind has to rule the heart and investigate further. Sometimes we discover that the picture is entirely different.

What’s important to remember is, when we respond spontaneously, from the heart, the child is not given a chance to explain himself. When we control ourselves and ask the child for an explanation, we give him the chance to explain things from his perspective. Sometimes, his picture is 180 degrees different than our picture, and it’s true.

THERE IS PLENTY OF TIME FOR IMPORTANT THINGS

Practically speaking, in our busy lives, when can we make this half an hour available?

First of all, we need to understand and feel that it’s important. We have time to eat, because it’s important. We have time to daven, because it’s important. When this half an hour will become important, the time will be found for it.

Time must be allotted for it, like we have a shiur in Chassidus and Gemara. I have no magical tip for someone who claims there is no time. The one thing I can say is, when you understand the importance, you will have the time!

You can mark off half an hour in your day planner, which you use to think about chinuch of children, whatever block of time works best for you, and check it off every day that you do it. I think that’s a practical suggestion. I’ve suggested it before and people have thanked me. It instilled the importance of half an hour for chinuch.

Someone who tries again and again and is unsuccessful can start with five minutes. It’s easy to find five minutes of free time, such as the five minutes when you walk to shul, etc.

If a parent cannot dedicate even a few minutes to chinuch, at least he shouldn’t blame his children afterward …

DO WE KNOW OUR CHILDREN?

What should we think about during this time?

Generally speaking, it’s best to devote evening hours to this, after the children have gone to sleep, when the house is quiet and you can think. It’s not necessary to use a stopwatch. One day it could be a little less than half an hour and another day, a little more. The main thing is that we’ve stopped the rush of life and thought about the chinuch of children.

If everything is proceeding normally and there are no particular problems, ask yourself: Did I ask how he was? Did he say hello when he came home? Did I look for an opportunity to say something nice to him?

You can have a list that you review every day: Did he eat on time and leave the house with a smile? Did he return with a smile? Behave nicely? Daven? Did we compliment him? Every family can have its list. And then go through the list while thinking of each child, making sure that none of them were invisible to the parents that day.

COMPLIMENTING ON A DAILY BASIS

A father was once asked whether he compliments his son. He said, yes, I once complimented him when he was in the first grade, and that was enough for eight years. It’s a joke, but many parents think it’s enough to compliment once a week or once a month. That’s wrong. A child needs compliments on a daily basis, like we need food.

It’s not hard to find something good to comment on. Even to pat him and say: I love you. That’s also good. A child needs this! Between you and me, compliments are important for adults too; they are certainly important for children.

Some claim that you don’t need to compliment for every single thing, just those things that the child does voluntarily. When he does something he’s supposed to do, why compliment him? This claim is incorrect and the Torah itself also compliments us when we do what we’re supposed to do. In the Aseres HaDibros it says, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you have length of days.” Although respecting parents is a mitzva, we still get rewarded for it. When a child does something right, he deserves something, at least a good word. Sometimes, the good word is more important to the child than a prize.

IT’S ABOUT WHAT WE DO, NOT ABOUT WHAT TO DO TO THE CHILD

If, during the course of the day, one of the children was chutzpadik at home or in school, or he came home with a critical note from school, how should that be dealt with during the half hour of thinking about chinuch?

Generally, when there is a problem, the first thought parents have is: What should we do to this child who was chutzpadik/hit someone/lied?

One of the important rules in thinking about chinuch is, at least during this half an hour, don’t focus on how to punish the child, or what to do to him, but on what you can do so this does not happen again.

When you focus on punishing the child, 1) you are not really educating, and 2) sometimes, you give a punishment that is out disproportionate to the “crime,” and the results can be destructive.

In the half hour of thought about chinuch, we need to think about how to be mechanech the child. How to ensure that the next time he has to deal with that situation, he will react differently. When you think this way, it is possible to arrive at educational solutions that will change the child’s behavior for the long term.

For example, when a child shouts a lot, we decide to speak more quietly and gently at home. The next day, if the child comes screaming to us, I will respond in a whisper. Or I will tell him, quietly and calmly: I’d be happy to talk to you when we are both speaking softly. When the child sees we are doing what we tell him to do, he will also switch to speaking calmly and respectfully.

Many problems begin when, instead of thinking about chinuch, we ask advisors and psychologists what to do to the child. If we would think about genuine chinuch, we would ask, what should we do so that the child does not repeat that. This is a fundamental difference, because when a child disturbs a class and the teacher punishes him by ordering him to write 100 times, “I cannot disturb the class,” what did that do to the child? The child fumes and disturbs again or fumes and screams. This punishment also causes him to be deceitful because he can’t write so much, and he will ask his friends to write for him. The results are only negative.

The strongest proof that the end result is negative is the line we hear in every home: I already told you 1000 times … Why do you continue? If you said it 1000 times and it didn’t help, maybe it pays to try something else.

In the moment that we change our thought process, and begin to think about what we can do to help, everything changes.

Generally speaking, a child who screams acts that way because in his home the people scream. He learned from his home environment that when you scream you get results. Therefore, the real chinuch and the real change will happen when we change.

You discovered that the child is lying? Instead of thinking about how to punish him, think about why is it that he is lying. If you think properly, you will come to the conclusion that he lied because he is afraid. He knows that if he will tell the truth, he will be punished. After we understand where the child is coming from, we can be mechanech him by calling him over and telling him that whoever tells the truth, even when he did something bad, the first thing is that he will get a reward for telling the truth. As far as the thing that he did wrong, there will be no punishment, but rather we will think together about how to correct it.

Educating and training a child to tell the truth is one of the fundamental elements of the chinuch of children. Whoever is successful in creating an environment where the children are not afraid to tell the truth, even when it is not so pleasant for them, has real potential in succeeding in their chinuch in other areas as well.

BEYOND YOUR ABILITIES

After we have sat for half an hour and thought about the chinuch of children, the Rebbe adds the additional demand to “do everything in his power, and beyond his power.” How can a person do what is beyond his power?

There are those who say that it means to daven to Hashem for success in the chinuch of children. That is a lovely concept, since our abilities are limited, we turn to Hashem who is infinite and ask for divine assistance.

However, it seems to me that the answer is a far simpler one. When a person needs to lift a heavy table, but it is too heavy for him to lift by himself, what does he do? He turns to others and asks for help. That is how he handles a job that is beyond his powers.

The same applies to chinuch. When you think about chinuch issues and come to the conclusion that something is beyond your ability to resolve, do not throw up your hands or give up. Look around you and think, who can help me? That individual does not necessarily have to be someone smarter than you. In simple cases, it can even be a friend who can see things from an outside perspective, and as such, can offer good advice. Sometimes, when there is a serious problem, requiring professional intervention, then you need to involve a professional. This awareness, that we need to turn to others for help, is doing beyond our powers.

I will conclude with a practical and doable tip, which will bring the whole issue down to ground level. As parents, give yourselves a test as to whether you really know where your child is at. Take a pen and paper, and try to characterize your child, in material terms and spiritual terms. If you succeed in characterizing the child down to the smallest details, you are apparently the type of parent who thinks every day about the chinuch of children. If you get stuck after a few lines, it is time to wake up and start thinking about your children, for at least half an hour a day!

I am confident that when we fulfill the directive of the Rebbe Rashab, we will see good results and see our children going in the way that we guide them, and at the time of Geula will be able to pass before the Rebbe and say: See the products that we raised up!

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