In honor of Yud Shvat, a brief selection from the Frierdiker Rebbe’s notes from his young years are being published, describing his difficulty with Hebrew grammar and his father’s amazing way of helping him understand. The following memoir is from the Mindel Archives.
In the year 5649 the Torah Or Siddur was printed. My father called me to his room and told me that I should daven from this siddur and he would test me on the reading and the meaning of the words. And he was not satisfied, especially in matters of grammar, such as syllables mil’il and mil’ra (where the emphasis/accent is on the first syllable (mil’il) or subsequent syllables (mil’ra), as well as a soft accent (dagesh).
Father hired for me R’ Yitzchak Gershon to teach me twice a week the meaning of the words and the grammar. And so it was that during the two weeks, I succeeded in learning the meaning of the words, but with the grammar I did not succeed. Whatever I learned in the evening flew away as if it never existed – especially the concept of the accents/emphasis mil’il and mil’ra and the soft accent (dagesh).
Once, R’ Yitzchak Gershon was teaching me grammar and he was pleased but I knew in my heart that the concept will have a fleeting stay in my memory and will soon disappear. I entered my father’s room and I poured out my heart and shed many tears. I was prepared to accept reprimand from him, but father took a different approach to the matter, and he started to explain:
Mil’il and mil’ra – these are heaven and earth; mil’il is Torah and mitzvos, the positive mitzvos and the negative mitzvos. Mil’ra – is the permissible (not a must). Mil’il needs to be emphasized, with strength. Every point of emphasis (dagesh) makes that letter double, and when it is doubled, it is stronger. Mil’ra– needs to be soft, weak – because, even though these are things that are permitted, the fact that they are not obligatory, they need to be with less of an emphasis, weaker – and even then, only those things that are necessary and no more.
This then is the explanation! When a child hears such words from his father, the educational value of such words is rooted for generations.