What Will Our Children Remember? (Hint: It's Not School)
Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner was amongst the most prolific and creative geniuses of the 19th century. Aside from being the Radziner Rebbe, he was also autodidactic in biology, chemistry and Italian. All of these studies were in pursuit of rediscovering and reintroducing Techeiles – the royal blue dye that once colored the tzitis of our ancestors.
Once he had made his discovery, however, he faced steep opposition from all of the Gedolim in Europe, which necessitated his publishing of seforim and articles on the topic. But knowing that nothing is more powerful than face-to-face conversations, the Rebbe took to the road, traveling from community to community to garner support for his techeiles. Each Rabbi and Rebbe engaged him in lengthy debate and discussion. Some of whom he successfully convinced, others remained skeptical.
Among those he approached was The Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach, who, upon simply seeing the dyed wool, turned him down and denied his approval.
The Radziner was taken aback, and attempted to engage in learned debate, but the Belzer Rebbe refused.
“Let me explain my refusal,” Rav Yehoshua said. “If you wish to argue with me using your Talmudic skills and erudition, you will surely defeat me because we both know that your intellectual prowess in Torah is certainly superior to mine! However, I will tell you a story why I simply cannot agree with you.”
“Once, when I was a child, my father, the Tzaddik, the Great Sar Sholom of Belz, woke me early at dawn and asked me to come outside with him. In the haze of that early morning, he pointed upward to the heavens and said, “Do you see the color of the sky right now?””
“Yes”, I replied. “Good” my father said. “This,” he pointed, “is the color of techeiles.”
The Belzer Rebbe turned to the Radzier: “Reb Henoch, I have no doubt that you have extensive proofs to your Techeiles, but unfortunately, the color you show me here does not match the color my father showed me. Which means, of course, that this is not Techeiles, and I cannot approve of it.”
How do we raise children with a sense of clarity and resilience? How can we teach our children as the Sar Shalom did “This is Torah”?
Recently, I've heard from a number of deflated and dismayed parents, arguing that in the craziness of our generation, it's not even possible to raise committed kids. I firmly disagree, and moreover, I think it is simple enough that we could all achieve it, and this summer is a perfect time to start.
Our curriculum begins with the Siddur:
Every morning, before a Jew says Shema Yisrael, before we acknowledge and proclaim the unity of Hashem, we make two brachos. The first is יוצר אור ובורא חושך – Hashem who forms light and creates darkness. The second is אהבה רבה אהבתנו – Hashem, You love us with the greatest Love. Why do we need two brachos before saying Shema?
The Baal Shem Tov explains: When we reflect on the beauty, brilliance and majesty of the natural word, we are using our intellect to appreciate Hashem. This is immensely valuable, but ultimately refutable. All it takes someone smarter or more knowledgeable, and an entire lifetime of understanding Hashem can be lost in a semester with a charismatic atheist professor (רמחנא לצלן).
In these moment, the second bracha – Hashem who loves us becomes paramount. No intellectual rebuttal can convince me out of an emotional relationship.
If so, then why do we need the first bracha at all? Why not focus exclusively on the emotional component? The Baal Shem Tov continues: There will come a time in everyone's life that we don't feel Hashem's love. In these tougher times, we need to appreciate that He still runs the world.
Education both of these understandings is essential to our religious mindset and well-being.
But it's not all about discussion and texts. These ideas; intellectual appreciation and emotional connection must filter into actions.
There is a big lie that we all tell about education: We like to pretend that every class, every shiur, every drop of information is essential to our learning and growth. The truth is, we all know that it's not. Because if we're honest, as adults, very few of us can recall specific lessons from our years and years of schooling. Indeed, it is never the “lessons” that make an impact at all – it's the experiences. Intellectual exposure alone has little chance of permeating our being. Information doesn't naturally soak into our bones.
The part of school that makes the greatest impact on our growth is the total experience. The thoughts, feelings, words and actions that together coalesce into an experience.
I've been thinking about this a lot with regards to my students and with regards to my own children. Nothing would give me more nachas than for my students and children to master vast amounts of disciplines and texts. I would love for them to be proficient in all areas of Torah, the sciences and the arts. But mastery cannot be taught, it must be pursued; and the only reason that anyone would willingly pursue mastery is if they believe it to be valuable.
Effectively, this understanding distills all of chinuch to one singular enterprise: A multi-year, multi-faceted demonstration of the values we cannot live without. Sure, there are important skills to acquire, important facts to memorize, but in its truest sense, Yiddishkeit, Talmud Torah and learning in general, are all experiential.
This is the opportunity that presents itself to us this summer: Look for simple, practical ways to make Torah relevant in your kids lives. These need not be contrived, they need not take much planning, and they certainly don't need to cost a lot of money.
For those looking for ideas; think about the most crucial values to our Yiddishkeit. Take your children along to do Bikkur Cholim in a local hospital, or call up a nursing home and ask when you could come bring a smile to lonely face. If you're traveling, choose a Sefer or a limmud, and challenge your kids and family members to see how many different places you could learn Torah over the summer. Or as Mori V'Rabbi Rav Blachman recommends: Buy a telescope and marvel at the Hashem's creations together.
All it takes a moment of thought, a proactive minute, to give our kids that experience of “I know the color of Techeiles; my parents showed it to me.” Those are the moments and memories that define our childhood, that inspire our families and futures.
Hashem should help us to raise ourselves and our families to deeper relationships, greater clarity and more passionate Avodas Hashem in everything that we do.