Stressing the Basics

Planning the location of a wedding can be challenging at times, especially if the two sides live in towns far from each other. Sometimes, a compromise location is decided upon. In earlier days, when such weddings were often held at an inn where basic food could easily be purchased, only the special festive delicacies were brought along. On occasion, however, the compromise meant holding the wedding at a location where nothing was available at all. In that case, everything — even including such basics as bread rolls — had to be brought from afar.

The Chofetz Chaim uses this parable to illustrate a very relevant lesson in chinuch.

In previous times, when Jews lived for generations in the same villages and towns, children learned much through “osmosis,” by observing their parents and pious Jews all around them. It wasn’t necessary to educate children about the basics of Jewish life. Rather, parents and educators focused on polishing and improving the avodas Hashem of their children.

Time passed and circumstances changed dramatically. In the days of the Chofetz Chaim, it became necessary to teach children about the most basic mitzvos and explain to them the great rewards they will reap as a result of performing them, as well as the great danger inherent in transgressing what the Torah prohibits.

While much has changed in regard to the types of challenges and temptations facing our young today, the lesson taught by the Chofetz Chaim is very much applicable today. Concepts that were, for generations, taken for granted, nowadays need constant chizuk and reinforcement. The simple laborer from prewar Europe may have been unlearned, and sometimes barely even knew how to daven. But he often was a veritable fount of emunah and bitachon.

Leading mechanchim have stated that far greater emphasis is needed, both in schools and at home, on basic hashkafic concepts such as emunah peshutah and bitachon.

Some 40 years ago, a chassid brought his young son, who was about to become a bar mitzvah, to the Kopycznitzer Rebbe, Harav Moshe Mordechai, zy”a. The Rebbe didn’t speak about any of the topics customarily discussed during a pre-bar mitzvah conversation, such as becoming responsible for keeping all the mitzvos or the holiness of tefillin. Rather, the Rebbe sat down with the young boy and studied with him the translation and meaning of each of the 13 Ani Maamin’s written by the Rambam.

The Tzelemer Rav, shlita, has instituted in his yeshivah and camp that the Ani Maamin’s be recited in unison immediately after the conclusion of Aleinu at Shacharis, and the Rav has urged other mosdos to do the same.

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In the second parashah of Krias Shema, which appears in this week’s sedrah, we are commanded to teach Torah to our children. Though the obligation is on parents, nowadays, much of chinuch is entrusted to yeshivos and schools, which act as their representatives.

Hagaon Harav Avraham Pam, zt”l, would stress that in order for a talmid to be successful, it is crucial that he has proper respect for his rebbi. Without a relationship based on profound respect, little chinuch will be accomplished.

Parents play a crucial role in establishing this relationship. It is vital for them to refrain from making comments that in any way insinuate disrespect or disapproval of a rebbi. Even a single negative comment can harm the student’s ability to come to yeshivah with the proper respect.

Harav Pam would illustrate this point with a story about the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Kaiser Franz Josef, who used to travel around his country incognito so that he could observe his subjects without their knowledge. One day he entered a classroom where he stood in the back, dressed in peasant clothing. After the class was dismissed, the teacher approached Franz Josef and, with the utmost respect, said, “Your Highness, I am overwhelmed by the honor you bestowed on me by visiting my humble schoolroom.”

Shocked that he had been recognized, the emperor asked the teacher why he hadn’t alerted the class to this once-in-a-lifetime event. The teacher replied, “Your Highness, I very much would have wanted my students to experience being in the presence of royalty. The reason I didn’t introduce Your Highness, however, is that I didn’t want them to personally meet someone whom they must honor more than me, because in order for my students to absorb everything I teach, they must feel that I am the epitome of authority.”

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A pivotal element in chinuch is accepting and respecting authority, both our elders and our teachers. This, too, is a basic part of Yiddishkeit that once was taken for granted. When adults serve as ideal role models by living lives that revolve around subjugating themselves to daas Torah, then they inculcate this concept into the younger generation.

The concepts of emunah in Hashem and emunas chachamim are closely related. It is the Torah of the Ribbono shel Olam to which we seek to subjugate ourselves, and it is the closeness that the chachamim have to Hashem that we respect.

May we all merit to set the right example for others — both young and old — to emulate.