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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

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April 11, 2014

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Jewish World Review Dec. 10, 2008 / 13 Kislev 5769

Watch Out

By Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn

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The groom, a rabbinical student, stood before his new bride and their friends at a celebratory feast and admitted how he was caught "red handed" with another's property. But that was just the beginning | At a recent Sheva Berachos party for a newly married couple held at the Mir Yeshiva (rabbinical college), in Jerusalem, a groom told a story that astounded the guests.

The young man had a stellar reputation as one who always did the right thing; hence his tale of something that happened in his youth was startling. His interpretation of what transpired made the evening memorable.

In his talk, the groom thanked the family that hosted the Sheva Berachos, and spoke glowingly of his parents and his bride's family. He spoke about the significance and responsibility of marriage, sprinkling his words with biblical verses and teachings of the Sages. Finally he said he wished to speak of "a turning point" in his life.

It happened when he was in fifth grade. A classmate, Naftali, came in one day showing everyone an expensive new watch he had just received as a gift. His mother had warned him not to take the watch to school lest it get lost or broken, but he disobeyed. He wanted to show the fancy new watch to his friends and classmates. At recess, with everyone running out to play ball, the boy took off his watch, and left it on his desk, so there would be no risk of scratching or breaking it during recess.

When he returned to class after recess, the watch was gone! He let out a hysterical shriek. How could he come home without the watch? His parents would punish him severely. There was no consoling the boy as he cried, begging his rebbi (spiritual mentor) to help him find the watch.

The rebbi , who had been standing in the hallway for most of recess, was quite sure that no one had entered the classroom since recess began, neither the custodian nor boys from another class. His instincts told him that it was a boy in his own class who had probably taken it on the way out or in from the playground.

The rebbi got everyone's attention and said, "I know that it may have been tempting for someone to take Naftali's watch. We all saw that it was very beautiful and quite expensive. However, we must get the watch back to him. Did anyone here take it by mistake? And if yes, would you like to return it?"

No one stirred as the boys nervously glanced around to see if anyone was admitting anything. The rebbi waited a few moments and said, "I guess I have no choice. I am going to ask all of you to stand up front, facing the wall and I am going to go through your pockets to see if it's there. But I am giving you one more chance to admit that you may have taken it by mistake. Look, it can happen. Someone just wanted to admire the watch so he may have picked it up and then inadvertently put it into his pocket."

Again no one said a thing. The rebbi called up the boys and asked them to stand against the wall and not to turn around even for a moment until he gave them permission. The groom's face turned red as he explained what happened next.

"I was the third boy in line. Once everyone was in place he started going through the pockets of every boy, and he found the watch in mine. I had been hoping against hope that he wouldn't find it, as I planned to return it to Naftali after school. However, now the rebbi had the culprit. I was shaking as I waited for him to shout at me, or express glee that he found it.

"Instead he continued checking every single boy! When he finished searching the last boy, he said, 'You all can go back to your seats. I have the watch.'

"As I walked back to my seat I had to hold myself back from crying. I understood what the rebbi did and how he saved me from being embarrassed. He had continued the search so no one could figure out who had taken the watch. As we sat down he didn't even look my way so no one could possibly have any inkling who the guilty party was. He resumed teaching. I decided then and there that someday I would like to be like him."

When I heard this astounding story I was reminded of the remarkable insight into child rearing by Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner (1904-1980), dean of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn.

The Torah relates that when Moses wished to select warriors who would fight the battle against Amalek, he summoned Joshua and said: "Choose men for us and go out, do battle with Amalek" (Exodus 17:9). The foremost commentator, Rashi, notes that Moses equated Joshua to himself as he said, "Choose men for us."

"From this the Sages deduced," continues Rashi, (citing Avos 4:12), "Let the honor of your student be as dear to you as your own."

One wonders: If indeed this dictum is of vital importance, why teach it here by the war against Amalek? It should have been taught in conjunction with the obligation to teach Torah.

Rabbi Hutner's lesson is illuminating. The Torah states "G-d maintains a war against Amalek, from generation to generation" (Exodus 17:16). The essence of what Amalek wants to accomplish, according to Rabbi Hutner, is to make sure that Torah and its principles are not passed on to the next generation. Driving a wedge between parents and children, or between teachers and students, making the parents or teachers seem outdated and not in vogue: that is the strategy of Amalek. Hence, only when the young generation feels validated and appreciated will it accept the teachings of the previous generation.

Rabbi Hutner interprets the verse homiletically, as: "G-d maintains a war against Amalek [by assuring that Torah is passed on] from generation to generation."


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Hence Moses, at the threshold of the battle with Amalek, wanted to be sure that Joshua, a representative of the next generation, was with him. It is for this reason that specifically here, the Torah teaches about the regard and respect that a teacher should have for a student.

The groom, a rabbinical student in one of the world's most prominent institutions of higher Jewish learning, indeed became a wonderful person because his spiritual mentor protected his dignity and afforded him honor back in the fifth grade. With that gesture, the rebbi laid the foundation for the validation of a student in a new generation so that he eventually would do the same for his children and disciples.

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Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn is a world famous inspirational lecturer and author of, among others, the just released In the Spirit of the Maggid: Inspirational stories that touch the heart and stir the spirit, from where this story was adapted. (Sales of the book help fund JWR.)

© 2008, Mesorah Publications, Ltd.