Chinuch: Today’s Greatest Challenge
In the Kinus issue of the Compass Magazine, a publication of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, Rabbi Shmuel Lew talks about Effective Chinuch.
Written by Rabbi Avi Shlomo
In a yechidus with the Rebbe in תשל”ג, I asked the Rebbe how to have the required strength and patience to be an effective parent. The Rebbe said that one way was to contemplate the fact that the Torah tells us that every Jew is Hashem’s child. Just as they are your children, they are the children of Hashem. I derived from this that the foundation of a good relationship with someone is the way that we look at that person. By training ourselves to think of our children as Hashem’s children, we come to respect what they represent, to see ourselves as having been entrusted and empowered to train them, to discipline them, to look after them, and to help them achieve what G-d wants from them.
I believe that part of looking at our children as Hashem’s children entails looking at oneself as Hashem’s child. Improving one’s self-esteem and self-respect facilitates and enhances all relationships, especially with one’s own children.
Keys for Parents
A woman who had studied in our school was now enrolling her own daughter with us. She asked me if I could give her a guarantee that her teenage daughter would not have problems with Yiddishkeit or appropriate behavior. I could have replied that, knowing her, and knowing her daughter’s development so far, this was a highly unlikely scenario. But instead, I told the truth: “Nobody can give anyone “guarantees” about the challenges they might face. However, if you cultivate your relationship with your daughter, I will, indeed, give you a guarantee that if any such issues arise, you will have the key to be able to guide her and help her to find her way.”
It is essential that parents have an open line of positive communication with their children. This was always necessary and is even more so today. For shluchim, there is often the added angle that the relationship with parents can go a long way to compensate and make it easier for the child to contend with the environment. In business there is a saying, “If we don’t look after our customers, somebody else will.”
As parents, the most precious tool we have is the relationship that we foster with our children. It is well worth every effort.
Second, and just as essential, is that parents be living examples of what they expect from their children. This means in thinking, feeling, and acting. In fact, in order to succeed, you must do more than you would like them to do. Children look up to their parents and expect more from their parents than they do from themselves. Sending mixed messages to our young can confuse them make it more difficult for them to overcome the temptations that they will one day have.
The Rebbe mentioned these two points in the Yud Alef Nisan farbrengen תשמ”ב.
Today’s Challenges and Solutions
The technological revolution, especially in the last few years, presents us with a great challenge. Today, everyone has immediate access to the prevailing culture, and not necessarily the most refined aspects. Just a few short years ago, this was not available at the touch of a finger.
Our children, relative to earlier generations, can be compared to Yosef in relation to his brothers. They were shepherds, choosing a sheltered, spiritual, and tranquil lifestyle, uncorrupted by the complexities of the world. Yosef, on the other hand, was incredibly exposed. From the early age of seventeen, he was in Egypt, first in the house of Potifar, and then in prison. Egyptian culture boasted scientific and engineering feats that have not been copied or even fully understood until this very day. Yosef was surrounded by this ambiance, together with the ancient Egyptian moral depravity. His brothers could not comprehend how someone could be so worldly, so fully involved at the top of that society and its issues, yet remain totally connected to Hashem. Chassidus explains that this was why his brothers did not recognize him.
Today, we are all virtually in that position.
The Rebbe taught us that every challenge is an opportunity for greater growth, and the Rebbe showed us how to transform problems into strengths. Just as the challenges are so great today, the spiritual achievements within the reach of today’s youth are tremendous.
The Rebbe once said in a sicha on Sukkos that today, the vast majority of Jews live in densely populated cities, as opposed to the time when Jews lived in small towns and shtetlech, and consequently, we are inevitably more exposed to temptations and nisyonos.
However, we have the strength of being attached to the Yosef of our generation, and like Yosef, we can resist the temptations and transform the world.
If the Rebbe said this twenty five years ago, how much more is this true today, and especially due to the hi-tech innovations of the most recent years.
Trying to prevent our children from gaining access to the outside world is not enough. Even if we succeed, with Hashem’s help, in protecting them from these temptations directly, their influence has infiltrated the world. The atmosphere and the environment still pervade and can reach our children through their peers or even a walk down the street.
True, we need to set rules and standards, sur mei’ra, especially for our younger children, and even for our older children. But the truly successful method of chinuch is ultimately ensuring that the child is internally motivated, that the child stays the course because of his own desire, even without parental control. In every case, today the rules are infinitely harder to enforce when there is a lack of internal motivation.
We have to make sure that the Yiddishkeit we are transmitting to our children inspires and attracts them. They should be sincere and confident about what is right, good, and holy. They should strive to become like Yosef, serving Hashem out of love and positive feelings, inspiring and changing their environment, rather than imitating it.
What is crucial is asei tov. This is what chinuch is all about, the joy of Yiddishkeit, and of shlichus.
Emphasize the positive.
Instead of always rebuking the negative, focus on the positive things your children do or say.
Children are ultrasensitive to things that their parents do with reluctance or heaviness, whether it’s going to a shiur or a farbrengen, etc. G-d forbid, no one knows the effect that this negative impression could have. Children are resilient and often can eventually rise above this, too, but why make it hard for them?
This doesn’t mean that you have to always be smiling, but it does mean that the general message you convey is that you are happy knowing what is expected of you at any given moment, even if it is difficult.
Be a role model.
If this is what you really want, this becomes what your children really want.
Take pride in maintaining your standards.
Because you are living a different lifestyle than your surroundings, which is especially relevant for shluchim in isolated areas, the pride, geon Yaakov, has to permeate the atmosphere of the home.
When the child responds to chinuch under these circumstances, the result is a deeper Yiddishkeit than was ever possible a hundred years ago in the shtetl. Now, the child is choosing to embrace Torah and mitzvos despite all the opportunities that the world offers, accessing a deeper part of the neshama. This is a much more sophisticated spiritual depth.
If this is true for everyone, it is especially true for shluchim who are even more exposed than anybody else and have fewer separations from the outside environment. However, the truth is that the atmosphere of the world today pervades everywhere, even in the most sheltered communities and mosdos.
Choosing between Shlichus and Family
Shlichus must never compromise family.
Parents need to set a time slot in their schedule when they spend time alone with their children, either doing something that they both enjoy, or even doing nothing. If the designated time cannot be kept, it should be rescheduled. The Rebbe was the busiest person in the world, and yet, he made time to sit with the Rebbetzin and talk every single day. The same goes for family time and spending time with our children.
In addition, shlichus applies to the entire family, and our children should be made to feel that they play an integral part. Their feeling should be, “We are on shlichus together,” “We have an important event this week,” “We have these goals for our community.” Not, “My parents have a very important job,” or, “Tatty has a big dinner this week.” Very often, you can involve even your young children, whether stuffing envelopes and setting the tables, or coming along on shopping trips for an event. When they feel part of it, it will become part of them.
One must never compromise on chassidshkeit for the sake of shlichus.
When we begin to be mekarev someone, we are asking them to buy into a new lifestyle, and they immediately look to see the whole spectrum of chassidic life. If this person were becoming frum in a chassidishe community, they would see the Rebbe, the chassidim, the talmidim, the mazkir, the chozer, the oved, and the maskil.
You must realize that that, to your community, you are now everything. You represent the Rebbe; you are Rabbi Chodakov, Rabbi Yoel Kahan, Reb Mendel Futerfas, the rosh yeshiva, the oved, the maskil, and the yeshiva bochur, all in one! You need to maintain your integrity as a chassidishe Yid; you represent to your mekuravim every chossid that ever lived (even though you wear a suit instead of a kapota)!
Without having to say a word, this will also have a profound, lifelong effect on your children.
This is simply being honest in your job as a shliach, and through this, you must be more effective and respected, not vice versa. That is our unique selling point and is most likely to attract and influence people.
An Oxford student who started becoming more frum after a term in America was asked what inspired him to make the change. He replied that he had spent Shabbos at the home of a shliach on a campus in Boston, and he noticed how, notwithstanding the fact that there were more than seventy students at the meal, the shliach took a few minutes to go over the parsha with each child individually. That is what really affected him.
He saw integrity. He saw the bond between the couple and between the generations. He saw values being transmitted. This was a Judaism that spoke to him, a Judaism that was worth sacrificing for.
The shliach will have the greatest effect by not compromising on his family or his chassidishkeit. Regarding shluchim and shluchos, the thing that people find most appealing and deserving of respect is that they maintain a standard of behavior that does not bend. That is why people feel that they can confide their deepest concerns with a shliach, because he is not “one of the boys.” He is different; he is a chossid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
And, as mentioned, this will communicate itself to your children, as well.
Even a shliach whose shlichus is particularly constraining can find ways to compensate and ensure that his shlichus is never, chas v’sholom, accomplished at the expense of his family.
Reb Yosef Wineberg, zol gezunt zein, would travel to South Africa for months at a time and leave behind a young growing family. However, when he was home, he would help out much more than the average husband, even helping his wife with the cooking! And boruch Hashem, he raised a beautiful chassidishe family.
Shluchim’s Unique Opportunities
A teacher from England once came to the Rebbe, and the Rebbe told her that the royalty of the English system was conducive to communicating the concept of discipline and kabalas ohl. To Americans, the Rebbe said that the American openness and free spirit could be used to enhance chinuch. To the French, the Rebbe advised to use France’s revolutionary spirit to promote tshuva.
We can say the same about shlichus: Raising kids on shlichus presents a unique opportunity.
Shluchim can create their own environment and, therefore, foster a special innocence and purity within their children. This purity is far stronger than what children will eventually find when they leave home. Paradoxically, when surrounded by people who are not necessarily frum in any way, the shliach can ensure that his children are even more chassidish than they would be in a larger frum community.
This is possible when the environment is created by a close and intimate family unit working joyfully together to fulfill their shlichus.
May we all merit to raise Yiddishe, chassidishe children.