Weekly Letter: Chinuch by Example

In the month of Adar Beis – we share a very instructive letter of the Rebbe to a woman who is partnering with her husband in their chinuch activities. In it, the Rebbe gives guidelines and advice about effective education in general as well as the woman’s role in particular, in addition to the lesson we can draw from a leap year. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.

By the Grace of G-d
8th of Adar II, 5733
Brooklyn, N.Y.
Mrs.
Wallingford, Berks.
England
Blessing and Greeting:
I was pleased to receive your letter.
With regard to its contents, specifically the question as to how to make the most of your position, etc., it is plain and self-evident that inasmuch as you are your husband’s helpmate (ezer k’negdo) and since your husband’s central task is in chinuch, it is in this area that your function essentially lies. But while your husband’s work is of course directly concerned with chinuch, your contribution – in addition to the shiurim that you mention – is largely more indirect, namely, by showing a living example of a model Jewish daughter and housewife.
In this respect it is well to bear in mind that when one desires to set an example for a certain standard of Jewish living and conduct for others to emulate, one must set a higher standard for oneself, in order to take into account the rationalization of the observers. For it would be very natural for the observers, in this case the student, to rationalize the exemplar (you) is older than they and comes from a stricter background, hence, for them it will suffice to accept only 50% of that standard.
Moreover, your influence is even more important, since you are married, while the objects of your influence have still a number of years to reach that status. Thus, the example you show must be very much above the minimal standard aimed at, if this is to be achieved.
As for the detailed manner and method in which this influence is to be expressed by example and precept, there are activities which are of a periodic or occasional nature and those which are continuous. For example, such things as periodic shiurim or the conduct on Shabbos, belong in the former category; while the daily conduct, especially in the area of כל כבודה בת מלך פנימה namely, tznius in dress, speech and general conduct, these are areas where the influence by example is a continuous process and therefore of special significance.
A further point which I believe I also wrote to your husband is that the most effective way of influencing young people of our day and age is by getting them personally involved in activities. This can be done in two ways. The best way is to involve the group by rotation, whereby each student, boy or girl, takes a turn to lead the group and to address the group on the desired topic and in the desired spirit. The other, somewhat less direct, but having the advantage of more frequent use, is the method of question and answer periods and general discussion involving the whole group. Here precautionary measures must be take, to preclude the discussion from getting out of hand, by careful advance programming as to what questions should be discussed and by making certain that the answers, at any rate, should be in the desired direction. I have in mind, particularly, the need to avoid getting involved with abstract and abstruse philosophical ideas. Apart from the fact that such discussions are generally unproductive and indeed, cause only more confusion, the contemporary young generation is not much interested in abstractions. Consequently it is preferable to avoid such questions even if only in order to refute them and at any rate, to keep them at a minimum, but immediately steer the discussion in the right direction.
One more point which to my surprise, is apparently at variance with you letter. Experience almost always points to the fact that present day youths are not afraid of challenge. If the challenge is not accepted, it only proves that the matter has not been presented convincingly enough to the young person to want to try it at the cost of privation and effort; otherwise, the young person would gladly accept the challenge even if it involves sacrifices.
I am certain that you can be a great help to your husband in his responsible work. Certainly in regard to the girls, but also in regard to the boys. The cooperative effort of two is greater than the sum total of the individual capacities, as is indicated in the well-known Biblical dictum טובים השנים מן האחד/better the two than the one. Moreover, you can contribute some fresh ideas, especially in view of the fact that your husband may have become accustomed to certain methods or approaches and consequently, somewhat rigid in some details. These no doubt were originally well founded, but some flexibility may now be called for in line with changed circumstances. Thus, he would surely welcome some fresh ideas or suggestions from you, as long as you offer them to him not in any categorical way, but in a manner which enables him to evaluate them objectively.
To conclude apropos to the present month of Adar, which reminds us that we are in the midst of a Leap Year.
You surely know that the reason that we have an extra month added to this year is to make up the deficiency between the Lunar Year and the Solar Year, so that the festivals would occur in their due season. Bu the Leap Year also has a significant lesson in that it emphasizes that a Jew can always make up for past deficiencies and indeed, should do so with an increase as is the case with the Leap Year.
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all above.
With personal regards to your husband and wishing you both a joyous and inspiring Purim,
With blessing,

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