I will never forget my first day on the job as a rabbi. Shacharis was called for 6:15 in the morning and I walked in one minute late. The digital atomic clock on the wall read 6:16. When I walked into shul, I was in for the shock of my life. I noticed that most of the elderly members of the congregation were already sitting wrapped up in their Tallis and Tefillin, waiting to start davening. I remember thinking to myself, “What is going on? My name is Yoel, and I grew up Chassidish where one minute late is half an hour early.” I quickly put on my Tallis and Tefillin and prayed.
After davening, a ninety-year-old man walked over to me from the back of the shul. He introduced himself as Amram Deutsch and welcomed me to the shul, congratulating me on my new position. He then turned to me and said, “I noticed that you were late this morning. Rabbi, it really hurts me to watch people come late to davening. Please, try to be on time tomorrow.”
I was so ashamed and embarrassed. I resolved right then and there to come a half-hour early the next day. I was determined not to be outdone by a ninety-year-old congregant. But little did I know what Reb Amram was the one who opened the shul every morning at 5 o’clock, and so, by the time I walked in at 5:45, he was already sitting and learning Mishnayos, saying Tehillim and sipping his coffee. I had no chance. It wasn’t until a year later that I finally understood what davening meant to Reb Amram.
It was a Shabbos afternoon and we were discussing his experiences during the Holocaust. “I was fortunate enough to leave Auschwitz,” he said, “and wound up working in a camp called Buna. I will never forget the letters ‘Arbeit Macht Frei.’ I was forced to share a wooden plank with three other inmates to survive the freezing and frigid cold winter nights. We took turns sleeping so we could warm each other with whatever body heat we had left.
One day, my friend said to me, ‘Amram, I am going to share a secret with you but nobody else. No one else will know about it. I am going to hide under the barracks where there is a pair of tefillin. I will go for two minutes, put on the tefillin and say Shema, making believe I was going to the restroom, and then you go for the next two minutes and do the same.”
Reb Amram now tuned to me. “Rabbi, for six months, until we were transferred to Bergen Belsen where we couldn’t take the tefillin along, my friend and I woke up every morning fifteen minutes before roll call, snuck out of the barrack, and crawled underneath to put the tefillin on. We said the Shema and then finished davening on the way to work.
We risked our life every morning with the least amount we could do to thank Hashem for life. It was the greatest gift I had for six months. A few minutes gave me life.”
Today, Reb Amram is ninety-four years old and he still opens the shul at 5 am every morning and still reminds me from time to time that I came a minute or two later. But as I watch him wrap his tefillin around the numbers on his arm, I cannot help but wonder who will teach our children what sacrifice means? Who will teach them how to stay proud of who they are, where they come from and what they stand for? Can a child of today appreciate what it means to be a Jew at all times?
For Reb Amram, he learned and lived that if there is a Ribono Shel Olam, then even if you experience tragedy and lose everything, if you are alive, you must continue with your mission as a Jew. We cannot rest so long as the job of keeping aflame the Jewish spirit for the next generation is in process. Every day, every hour and even every minute counts. With seconds, we can earn eternity and impart eternity unto our community, family and children.
Rabbi Avrum Mordche Malach Chinuch or Training?
We are all familiar with the term chinuch, typically translated as education. But what exactly does it mean? At the very core, what is the aim of being mechanech, or educating, a child?
For Yankel, his weekly income of $10,000 was just fine. But, one day, as he sat down on the porch, looking out at the view, he wondered to himself, “Why should I only make $10,000 a week when I can be making that much a day!” Thinking to himself for a long and hard moment, he came up with the idea which would set such a dream into motion. “I will open up a big circus,” he said to himself, “and get a lion to dazzle the crowd. I will have one thousand seats and charge $10 a seat, and then I will make my dream of $10,000 a day!”
The only question which stumped Yankel was where he was going to find a lion for his circus. He searched around, calling everyone and anyone he thought could give him a lead. Eventually, he was connected with some folks in Africa, who relayed that they could provide him with a lion from the wild. Yankel’s hope of getting a “real, wild lion” was coming to fruition.
Transporting the lion from the jungle of Africa to America was no easy feat, but it was successful. As soon as Yankel was informed that his lion was ready, he sped over to take his first look. And there it was. A huge lion, roaring up a storm. “I’ll call you Leiby,” Yankel thought to himself. After transferring the lion once more to Yankel’s estate, finally, it was time to get to work.
Every day, Yankel brought out to his new lion friend, Leiby, two pails of meat and tossed them over to him, standing a hundred feet away. Daily, Leiby roared and Yankel fed him. It was a process of building some sort of friendship between Yankel and Leiby, which would obviously take time, but hopefully strongly develop.
One day, Leiby realized that even if he wouldn’t roar, the meat would be coming his way anyway. And so, he stopped his daily roars and continued getting fed. This new routine continued for some time, with Yankel becoming more and more comfortable and getting closer and closer to Leiby’s cage every day he would feed him.
And then, at last, the long-awaited day arrived. Yankel opened the cage and fed Leiby not only two pails of meet, but three deer as well, praying that he didn’t become the fourth. Yankel trembled as he opened the cage, but as he soon learned, there was no need to be fearful. Leiby, almost like a cat, slowly approached Yankel and lay on the floor, licking Yankel’s feet. Yankel could not believe it. He had become the master of Leiby, the lion.
For the next few weeks, Yankel and Leiby became the best of friends. Leiby followed Yankel around as he carried out his daily chores and hobbies. It was beautiful to see. But now, the real work would begin.
The first task for Leiby to master was jumping through a hoop. Eventually, Yankel wished for Leiby to be able to jump through a hoop on fire, but first simply jumping through would need to be learned. Yankel held the hoop high and motioned to Leiby. “Jump!” he screamed. But Leiby simply sat there, looking over at Yankel as if he was crazy. Leiby had no idea what he was supposed to do. Yankel tried showing Leiby what he was meant to do, but Leiby stood still unfazed. For days, Yankel did his best to get Leiby to jump, but it was all to no avail.
Until Yankel came up with a new idea. Positioning the hoop across from Leiby, Yankel moved behind Leiby and gave him a nice whack, which did it exactly as he hoped. Up went Leiby and through the hoop. Immediately, Yankel rewarded Leiby with five deer. For the next few days, Yankel went through with the same process until, to his sheer delight, it worked perfectly. Slowly but surely, Leiby learned how to proficiently and seamlessly jump through the hoop.
For the next few months, right on cue, Leiby would jump through the hoop. Now Leiby was ready for the real trick which would make the circus the biggest show in town. Lighting the hoop on fire, Yankel motioned to Leiby to make the jump as he had done so many times before. But all Leiby did was look at Yankel with a blank stare. Leiby’s eyes clearly sent Yankel the message, “There is no way I am going to do that!” “Leiby, go! Leiby, go!” Yankel yelled. But Leiby moved not one inch.
Yankel, with little other resort, reverted to his old trick and gave Leiby a little motivating hit. Leiby figured that at this point, he was not likely to survive. What difference did it make then if it would be through stoning, burning, the sword or choking? That was all Leiby needed. Up he went, through the fiery hoop. Yankel handsomely rewarded Leiby with more meat than he had ever seen.
From that day on, everyone was happy. Yankel was happy with Leiby’s performance and Leiby was happy to receive his nicely apportioned pieces of meat. And just as Yankel had dreamed for so long, he put his circus together with a packed crowd, with the special feature being Leiby the lion jumping a fiery hoop. And how much did Yankel make a night? $10,000. He smiled and laughed all the way to the bank.
Now let’s ask a question. Is this chinuch? Let’s look at another example first. Moishy, from Boro Park, New York.
One day Moishy comes home from school and heads upstairs to his room. “Moishy?” calls his mother, “it’s time for supper!” Moishy, though, continues with his business, clearly not interested in eating at the moment. “Moishy,” his mother says, “it’s your favorite supper.” Moishy, acquiescing, slowly makes his way downstairs. Opening up the pot, Moishy takes a big whiff of the food and takes a look. “Yuck!” he exclaims. Moishy’s mother is appalled. After all that hard work in preparing supper and making something that Moishy specifically enjoys, this is what she hears in return.
As it so happened, Moishy’s father was home that day and heard Moishy loud and clear express his disgust for the food that his mother worked tirelessly to prepare. “Moishy,” his father calls out, “come over here!” “No!” says Moishy. But such behavior will not be tolerated. “Moishy” softly repeats his father, “come here!” Moishy finally makes his way over, after realizing that it is only in his best interest to do so.
“Moishy, you do not talk that way to your mother.” Moishy quietly listens. A few hours later, Moishy’s father calls him over again. “Moishy, listened carefully. My mother and I love you very much. Here is what we would like to do. If you can watch what you say for the next month and speak nicely, we will buy you a present at the end of it. But if not, then there will be consequences.”
A few weeks later, Moishy has a new lingo. He talks respectfully to his parents and seems to be a wonderful boy. “Is it possible that I can play at the table for a few minutes?” he asks nicely. “Yes, Moishy,” replies his father. “Thank you for asking nicely.”
Now let’s ask the question again. Is what Moishy received called chinuch?
The answer is that Leiby and Moishy are receiving different types of instruction.
In the case of Leiby the lion, when he was finally trained and jumped through the hoop, was he no longer a wild animal or was he still a wild animal? Everyone would agree that he is still a wild animal. He jumps through the hoop only because he learned that it is good for him. It is either jump or get hit. Leiby does what is good for him and does not do what is not good for him. Were you to walk this lion down the street, would he attack the people around him? Quite likely yes, as he was not taught that mauling people is wrong. Leiby has thus been trained to jump through fiery hoops.
In the case of Moishy, he is being educated how to become a nice person. His parents are trying to mold him into a person of refined and respected character. The incentives motivate Moishy, but such character development is aimed at eradicating any unrefined speech and behavior and ingraining a new attitude and approach. That is chinuch.
This thus leads to the difference between training and chinuch. Training is about suppressing the innate and inner nature of someone. A lion remains a wild animal even while it jumps through a hoop. The wildness did not vanish, but was suppressed. It is still though very much present, albeit momentarily dormant.
Chinuch, in contrast, is not about suppressing the innate nature of someone, but removing and eliminating whatever may be there and replacing it with something better improved. This is often why it comes as a surprise when you look at a teenager and wonder where the sweet little boy or girl went? What happened, you wonder to yourself?
The answer is that such teenage behavior was there all along, but was being suppressed. The treats and presents no longer faze the teenager, and there is therefore nothing remaining which holds back such unrefined behavior from coming forth and being expressed.
Chinuch thus best starts at the youngest of ages, for it develops a positive and good trajectory for the child to develop and grow in ways which are pleasing and praiseworthy. Chinuch is a way of life and attitude to living. It is about molding, shaping and guiding a child towards a bright and successful future.
A Short Message From Rabbi Yosef Palacci
Some time ago, my mother-in-law asked my wife if she wanted to go out to lunch. My wife was busy at the moment, so asked if she could take a raincheck, which my mother-in-law was fine with. My mother-in-law decided to phone a friend who was planning on playing a Mahjong game, though said that she was actually not to go because there was another lady there who she didn’t like. She would therefore be able to go out for lunch with my mother-in-law.
They arrived a restaurant for lunch, and to my mother-in-law’s friend’s surprise, who did she see? The exact woman she was trying to get away from at the Mahjong game. This other lady had also cancelled that day and went to have lunch at the same exact spot as my mother-in-law’s friend.
All she could do was panic. What would she do and say? She quickly decided that she would ask as nonchalant as she could and pretend that she did not see her. But, as matters turned out, for one reason or another, she needed to pass the lady. And what happened? “How are you doing?” the other lady asked. And with that, slowly but surely, a conversation ensued between two people who wished to stay as far apart as they could from each other, but were brought together.
When my wife later crossed paths with her mother’s friend and mentioned that she had heard how they had gone out to lunch together, the friend said, “It was really funny. I was supposed to take my daughter out to lunch then, but she couldn’t make it, so I took up your mother’s offer and went with her instead.”
Just imagine. Two women who wished not to talk or see other and specifically made plans to be away from each other, came together. And why? When Hashem sees that His children are not on good terms with each other, He does whatever possible to reinstate love and peace. The most hurtful thing is when Hashem’s children are in dissonance, while the greatest and most beautiful thing is when there is harmony and kindness between them.