Thursday, May 21, 2015


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

לז''ן רחל בת יונה, וחיה בת דוד  ע'ה


“These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe on the day G-d spoke with Moshe at Mount Sinai. These are the names of the sons of Aharon…”
On this verse Rashi comments, “It mentions only the sons of Aharon yet they are called ‘offspring of Moshe’, because he taught them Torah. It teaches us that whoever teaches his friend’s son Torah, Scripture views him as if he had fathered him[1].”
                   The aforementioned quote is one of the most well-known and oft-quoted in the world of chinuch (education). The idea that devoted teachers of Torah take on a certain dimension of fatherhood vis-à-vis their students is extremely fundamental and profound.
The commentators offer many beautiful ideas to elucidate this concept[2]. I quote it as an introduction that segues into the following thoughts.
          The following are my personal notes from the address given by Harav Aharon Feldman shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, at the Torah Umesorah Convention, Shabbos Kodesh Behar-Bechukosai 5769, prior to Kabbolas Shabbos. I have sought to retain the flavor of the Rosh Yeshiva’s delivery and so it is written in first-person dialect.
We have come here to improve ourselves and become better mechanchim (educators). In order to do so we need to understand what we are working on. What are our guiding principles? What character traits must we develop within ourselves in order to have a greater effect on our students?
The well-known gemara[3] states - " אם דומה הרב למלאך ה' צבאות יבקש תורה מפיהו ואם לאו אל יבקש תורה מפיהו". – One should only study Torah from a teacher who is analogous to an angel of G-d.
The simple understanding of this injunction is that a student must view his teacher as being on a very lofty level and have a sense of awe and admiration for him so that he will be able and willing to accept his teachings.
The Hafla’ah in his introduction offers an alternative explanation. He explains that an angel has no self-interest when performing its duties. Its objective and intent is solely to fulfill the Will of its Creator. In a similar vein, a teacher of Torah must view teaching as his mission, without ulterior motives.
A Rebbe once commented that he loves teaching because through the give-and-take of the lessons with his students novel ideas and interpretations always emerge. There is a great deal of truth in that statement, as our Sages state, “And from my students (I have learned) more than all of them (i.e. my teachers or peers).” However, that is a side benefit; the essential focus of chinuch must only be in order to educate students and help them grow.
It is for this reason that the Torah states, “ושננתם לבניך- And you shall teach them (the words of the Torah) to your sons”, and not, “לתלמידיך – to your students”. Chazal explain, "בניך"-אלו תלמידיך – “Your sons” refers to your students.” The reason why the verse refers to students as sons is to impress upon every teacher that their approach to education must be in the same vein as a father raises his son. A father does not educate his son out of self-interest, but out of an altruistic desire that his son become a good Jew and a productive member of Klal Yisroel. So too a teacher must educate his/her students without self-interest or ulterior motives.

Rabbi Yitzchok Ruderman zt’l related that on one occasion the Altar of Slobodka, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l, was teaching Torah to a group of students. This was at the beginning of bain hazmanim (“vacation”) and just then the Altar’s son, Rabbi Lazer Yudel, arrived home from the Mirrer Yeshiva where he was studying. The Altar continued his lecture and did not immediately stop to greet his son. Afterwards his Rebbitzin was upset. She asked the Altar why he couldn’t interrupt his teaching for a moment to at least greet his son who had been away for a prolonged period. The Altar replied, “And these (students) are not also my sons?!”

How does a teacher reach such a level that he truly views his students as sons?
The Tosefta[4] discusses why of all the tribes, the Jewish monarchy descended from Yehuda? Tosefta proceeds to offer a few reasons, and subsequently refutes the first three, until it concludes with the fourth reason.
The four reasons offered are: Because he was willing to admit and fess up to his involvement with his daughter-in-law Tamar, because he saved Yosef from being killed when he suggested to his brothers that they sell Yosef as a slave, because of his willingness to become a slave in Binyamin’s stead when Binyamin was accused of espionage by the Egyptian viceroy (Yosef), and because he sanctified the Name of G-d[5].
It is apparent from the Tosefta that there are four requisite traits that a monarch must possess.[6]A monarch must be able to admit to the truth even when it is humiliating to do so, he must care and worry for the welfare of others, he must possess a deep sense of inner humility, and he must live his life in a manner that brings constant sanctification and glory to the Name of G-d.
All four of these traits involve a sense of  - התבטלותself-abnegation and self-renunciation. Being able to admit to wrongdoing requires mental/psychological abnegation; helping others requires a measure of self-abnegation in order to focus on the other person’s needs; humility requires abnegation and domination over one’s negative characteristics; and sanctifying G-d’s Name requires abnegation over all of one’s personal interests and desires.
A rebbe/teacher who aspires to become “K’malach Hashem – like an angel of G-d” must develop within himself these qualities. He must be ready to accept responsibility and admit to his mistakes, he must care deeply for the welfare and growth of his students, he must be humble (i.e. he can’t be too demanding of his own honor), and he must be willing to make sacrifices for the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos. 

There is an incredible story that took place in Yerushalayim about thirty-five years ago, that demonstrates the concept of a rebbe being “K’malach Hashem”:
There was a young man who had learned and taught in various yeshivos and developed into a master educator. He had only informal training but he was a natural educator with an uncanny ability to teach and understand students. He founded a cheder (school) in Yerushalayim in which he incorporated the best techniques and approaches of the ‘old system’, and added many innovations that he learned from successful teachers in other institutions. He trained a cadre of teachers according to all of his ideas and methods and he ran the school in the most optimal manner possible. The school quickly gained a reputation as a reputable and wonderful institution.
There was a teacher in the school who had undergone all of the training and had proven to be an outstanding teacher. The Principal promoted that teacher to become his Vice Principal. The Vice Principal was very jealous of his supervisor and he began a terrible campaign to malign the Principal and to advocate against him. He blamed every problem and issue that surfaced on the Principal’s poor leadership skills and incompetence.
The Vice Principal kept working to garner more backing, until one morning the Principal walked into his office to find the Vice Principal sitting in his chair in his office. Ten years of ceaseless blood, toil, and sweat was now being usurped by someone he himself had trained and built up. Incredibly, the Principal turned around and went home! 
I was a parent in the school and, along with a group of other parents, was very upset by the egregious injustice that had been committed. We convened and decided that we were going to protest. We knew that we could rally enough support to push the Vice Principal out. Prior to doing so we went to the Principal to tell him about our intentions and of our unyielding support for him. He immediately asked us to cease and desist. He explained, “My job is to be mechanech children in Torah and Yiras Shamayim (Fear of Heaven). If there is a situation of disharmony and dispute amongst the staff of the school that objective will be impossible to accomplish. Children exposed to virulent disagreement will be damaged for the rest of their lives because of the distrust fostered amongst the staff.” When we asked him about his job he replied, “It is better to be a taxi driver than to distort young minds.”
That Principal was a master educator who understood that there is nothing more damaging for a child’s education than to be exposed to dispute. It is the polar opposite of “K’malach Hashem”.
That Principal never came back to the school. Only we, the few parents who wanted to help him, even knew the true story about what had occurred. He founded another school, and today is around eighty years old and still spreading and teaching Torah in Yerushalayim.
The Vice Principal on the other hand, was thrown out of the school around ten years later because of misappropriated funds. Seven years later he died at a relatively young age. [I presume he did teshuva.]
This incredible story demonstrates how a mechanech was able to embody the four essential traits necessary for an educator – complete self-abnegation on all levels, and all for the sake of the education and growth of his disciples. 

Educational techniques, classroom management, and all the other various procedures and methods are all helpful and important, but they are not the defining and essential factors for chinuch. Having letters before and after one’s name is very impressive, but all the techniques in the world are only tools, and with tools alone one doesn’t become an effective teacher.
It is analogous to an individual who has a stethoscope. If he has the skills and knowledge necessary to practice medicine, the stethoscope can help him do his job. However it is only a tool and the stethoscope alone will not make him a doctor.
They don’t teach how to become K’malach Hashem in University; in fact they teach the opposite!
May we all merit reaching these great levels, and through them to הרמת קרן התורה throughout the world!

[1] Sanhedrin 19b
[2] Malbim writes that the sons of Aharon are attributed to Moshe because Moshe prayed on their behalf. In fact it was in the merit of Moshe’s prayers that Elazar and Isamar, the latter two sons of Aharon, did not die as did their older brothers, Nadav and Avihu. This is itself a powerful lesson: It is incumbent on all teachers to pray for Divine assistance and particularly for the growth of their students.  
[3] Chagiga 16b
[4] Berachos 4:16
[5] This was when the Jews were stationed at the foot of the Sea of the Reeds with the Egyptians in fierce pursuit. It was the tribe of Yehuda who plunged into the sea first
[6] Although the Tosefta refutes the first three reasons, from the fact that they were offered as potential reasons it is clear that they are integral character traits that every king must possess.


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