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Ki Sisa

"And Moshe would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, far from the camp, and call it Tent of Meeting. So it was that whoever sought Hashem would go out to the Tent of Meeting, which was outside the camp…Hashem would speak to Moshe face to face, as a man would speak with his fellow; then he would return to the camp" (Shemos 7,11).

Rashi brings the words of the Midrash that Hashem told Moshe to return his tent to the camp of the people. Moshe had argued that one who is excommunicated by the Master (Hashem) is likewise excommunicated by the Disciple (Moshe); therefore he moved his tent out of the camp. However, Hashem told him that "I am angry at them. If you are angry at them too, who will reach out to them and bring them closer?"

After the Children of Israel performed the grave sin of worshipping the Golden Calf, Moshe Rabbeinu felt that the proper way to educate them, in that situation, was by being cross with them. However, Hashem told him that it was enough that He was angry at them. What they needed now, He said, was that Moshe should bring them near to him; not alienate them from him.

In the education process, it is sometimes important to be kind and gentle with the student or child we are trying to train, and it is sometimes equally important to be strict and tough. The messages of affection encourage the trainee to do what is right while the messages of reprimand dissuade him from doing wrong.

Reb Yeruchem Levovitz, ztvk"l, the Mashgiach of Mir, writes that the problem all educators face is knowing when to use which. Because which one to use actually depends upon the situation and frame of mind of the pupil; not of the teacher. That is what King Shlomo meant when he wrote (Mishlei 22:6), "Train a child according to his way, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." But since we are not mind readers, it is impossible to know what our students and children are going through right now and how we should treat them at any particular moment. How can we possibly solve that dilemma?

The answer, says Reb Yeruchem, is to pray to the Almighty for Heavenly Assistance in picking the right approach at the right time.

After I got married, I served as Mashgiach (spiritual supervisor) in the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim of Suffern which I had been privileged to establish together with the grandson of the Chofetz Chaim, ztvk"l, Reb Gershon Zaks z"l. There was a student there, we'll call him "Meir," who was extremely problematic. Although he came from a very fine and religious family, he was just not turned on to religion and had absolutely no desire to learn Torah. I tried to be patient with him and gave him encouragement and pep talks from time to time. These would work, and Meir would go to the Beis Hamidrash (study hall) and learn for a while. However, unfortunately, they usually wouldn't last too long and, a short while later, Meir was back in bed.

One day, when I noticed that Meir was missing from the Beis Hamidrash again, I wondered if perhaps what he needed was a bit of a stronger hand. I was not angry at him, G-d forbid, since I understood his predicament, but I thought that he may be taking advantage of my good-naturedness. Since I had never reprimanded him, he knew that he had nothing to be afraid of. I decided that I would summon him to my office and, for the first time, I would chastise him for not keeping the rules and living up to his obligations.

I sent someone to call him and I psyched myself up to be tough with him for a change. My desk was situated before a window with a beautiful view of the forest which was part of the Yeshiva's campus, and so I sat facing the window with my back to the door. When I heard Meir's knock on the door, I responded in a stern tone, "Come in." He entered the room, and I turned around to face him. Somehow, against my will, when I saw him, I broke out into a friendly, warm smile which was the exact opposite of the serious and stern face I had wanted to present. Since the mood I had wanted to create was ruined, I continued to smile and invited him, pleasantly, to take a seat. I then began to give Meir the usual pep talk, as I had given him so many times before, and when he left my office he headed for the Beis Hamidrash.

A moment after Meir left, another boy knocked on the door. I told him to enter and discovered that it was none other than Meir's roommate. Looking very agitated, he asked me how my meeting with Meir had gone and whether or not I had yelled at him. I told him that it had gone quite well and that I had, in fact, treated him very kindly. He sighed with relief and told me that he had tried to get to me before Meir, but was not successful. He had wanted to warn me that when the messenger told Meir that he was wanted by the Mashgiach, Meir remarked that "if he yells at me, I will immediately remove my yarmulke and leave yeshiva for good!"

Startled, I remembered the words of Reb Yeruchem zt"l and I thanked Hashem for guiding me in the proper way and inspiring me how to treat Meir at that particular moment. May He always inspire us all to educate our children and students properly, and then we and they will be truly happy in this world and in the World-to-Come.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel