Category Archives: chinuch

My 40 minutes as a 6th grade substitute

Graphic from here

Every year, as part of our day school’s “give/get” program, I volunteer as the “room mother” for my son’s class.  The last time I blogged about this was when he was in 2nd grade.  My duty was really just to watch the class eat lunch and hang out in the room while their Rebbe enjoyed the faculty Chanukah party at school.  Last year, I said something that totally embarassed my son.  This year I had the intention of keeping myself under the radar.

As it turned out, that morning I drove “minyan carpool”, so I was in the school for shacharis.  I observed something for 2 minutes that made me very sad.  During davening one of the boys thought it would be cute to take a siddur from another boy who was davening.  What surprised me was that these boys are actually really good friends.  I kept waiting for the siddur to be returned, but it didn’t happen, so I went and retrieved it myself.  I am not that friendly with the family of the boy to took the siddur, so I wasn’t too hip to saying something to him about what he did.  I did mention to the boy who was left without a siddur that behavior like that isn’t the way that Hashem wants us to treat our fellow Jews and if someone does something like that again to him then he really should say something.  I am very close with him, so he totally understood what I was saying.  Knowing that I would have time in the classroom that afternoon with both boys (and the rest of my son’s class), I started thinking about how I could get the message across that taking a siddur from someone is totally uncool.

As I walked into the class, I realized that I had to tell over Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s story of “The Holy Hunchback”.  If you are not familiar with it, go here and then continue reading.  I had played it for my son the week before and I knew that this was the vehicle to, hopefully, get my message delivered.  I let the kids have their lunch and schmooze among themselves and then offered them a story.

Even though my son hoped I would sing it, Carlebach style, I simply said it over, slowly repeating the catchprase, “Children, precious children, just remember the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor“.  Then I said that by doing a favor to someone, we’re doing what Hashem does.  He did us the biggest favor by creating the Torah, creating the world, and creating us.  I mentioned that we don’t have to be street cleaner to do people favors.  By simply smiling at someone, saying hi, or asking how someone is doing, you following Hashem’s example.

Then I said to them that by making fun of someone or being mean you are doing the opposite of  “the greatest thing in the world”.  I told them, locking eyes for half a second with one boy, that even something that they think is harmless, like taking a siddur from a friend who is davening, is, like, far from the greatest thing they could do in the world… it’s not a favor to you, your friend, or Hashem.

I ended my 40 minutes, as their next teacher came in, thanking them for their time and reminding them that “the greastest thing in the world is to do someone else a favor”.

Reb Moshe and the broken tape recorder

Royalty free graphic from here

I recently listened to a shiur by Rav Weinberger that was given to a group of women in Waterbury, CT.  I think the content, messages, and stories (the “jukim” story, the “Lost Horse”, and the “I know the Shephard” story) are similar to a shiur from 2008 posted by Dixie Yid.  The shiur, titled “Chinuch & Chanukah: Chinuch with a Heart” actually starts about 50 seconds into the recording and is available here.  The shiur revolves around the difference between “teaching” and “giving over” Torah. 

Rav Weinberger tells mentions an important article on chinuch that was published in Hakirah, The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought by Dr. Aharon Hersh Fried.  The article, titled, Is There a Disconnect between Torah Learning and Torah Living?  And If So, How Can We Connect Them? A Focus on Middos is available for reading or downloading here.

What follows in my transcription of Rav Weinberger telling over a story that was included in the above mentioned article.  Any mistakes in writing down Rav Weinberger’s words are mine.

Some years ago, in Rav Reuven Feinstein’s yeshiva, there were two boys who had an argument.  What happened?  Let’s call them Reuven and Shimon.  Revuen lent his tape recorder to Shimon and Shimon dropped the tape record and it broke.  And they were arguing.  Revuen said, “I lent you the tape recorder and you broke it.  You have to get me a new one.”

Shimon says, “It wasn’t my fault, it was an accident.”

And they were arguing and decided that they would go to the Rosh Yeshiva, which is a good thing.  They went to Reb Reuven Feinstein, they went to the Rosh Yeshiva to ask him what’s the halacha then.  This is what happened.  Rav Reuven Feinstein was absolutly astonished by the question.  Not with nachas, he was astonished.  He said, “You’re learning all year since September, your learning the gemara.  Everyday you have charts on the blackboard.   You’re learning the gemara “Bava Metzia” that teaches that when someone borrows something he’s responsible when it breaks.  If you borrow something you’re responsible.”  Rav Reuven was so distrubed by this.  He couldn’t understand how’s it possible that the boy, how could he not know that? That’s all they’re learning and they’re getting 100s on their tests. שואל חייב באונסין , it’s a gemara.  It’s all over the gemara.  If you borrow, you’re chai’ev (responsible).

So, he was so upset, Rav Reuven went to his father.  He went to Reb Moshe, Zecher Tzaddik V’Kodesh L’Vracha.  He went to Reb Moshe and he asked, “How can it be that the boys did not know that?”

So, Reb Moshe said, “Because what they’ve seen in their lives has no relationship to what they’re learning in yeshiva.  It’s completely irrelevant.  They do not see their parents living the lives that they learn in the seforim, nor do they see it so clearly in the yeshiva.”  That’s what Reb Moshe said.

They would never dream of making a connection between what they learned all year and how to practically live.  It might have been taught, but it wasn’t given over.

The way Yiddishkeit is transmitted

Graphic from here

“Yiddishkeit is only transmitted one way, through simcha. It’s not transmitted through intimidation.”

The quote, isn’t mine (but I wish it was).  It was said by Dr. Rabbi Jerry Lob, a clinical psychologist in Chicago.  These two sentences are actually from a lecture he gave a number of years ago for Priority-1 titled “The Making of a Mentch”.  The mp3 is available for streaming or downloading here.  I look at these everyday when I come into work.  My children would probably be better off if I posted them on the back door to read become I come home.

All too often the core values we want to impart, the middos we wish to highlight, and minhagim we wish to give over, and the Toarh we attempt to teach isn’t always transmitted through simcha.     This really should be a refrigerator magnet and sold as a fundraiser for a school or yeshiva (another good idea of mine that someone will profit from).

Think about it.  If teachers would read this before starting their teaching day, our chinuch system might be a little different.  If I read this before sitting down for a Shabbos meal, trying to get a child to start their limudei Kodesh homework, or telling my own kids kids to clean their rooms our home would be different.  I don’t think that showing simcha is the end all cure for all the ills within society, but it has got to be a better option than intimidation.

For more reading about happiness, I will refer you to an article about the Chazon Ish’s view of happiness that can be found here.

Help… I need middos

Well, really, what I’m looking for are successful Middos programs that have been run in day schools.
I’ve heard of Project D.E.R.E.C.H.,but I don’t have any contact information about the actual program.
If you know of any programs out there please let me know.  Our school did have a Middos Awareness
Program (M.A.P) that focused on a specifc middah per month, but it needs revamping.
I’m attempting to work on a project for the day school our children attend and any resourse info would be great.

Neil Harris

Blame it on the bus

We (meaning my wife and a couple we’re close with) have running joke that when our kids exhibit behavior or say something that is totally beyond appropriate or not in line with the way of a young mensch/maidel-Yisrael, we say that they must have “learned it on the bus”. (Note: We have busing in the afternoons from school to home for our kids, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Agudath Israel of Illinois. This is truly a bracha in many ways.)

Yesterday my 5th grader told my wife that the bus driver and, even, several 8th grade boys have been “swearing” on the bus and that he and a friend were going to speak to the principal about it. I asked him exactly what words and he told me. One started with S and one with F (and it wasn’t Simcha and Freilich, although if we lived in an extremely anti-chassidishe world, it would be really funny if those words were considered “swear words”).

So, I asked him if he had known about those words before yesterday. He had, but he had never actually heard them said. This opened the door to a short conversation about Nivul Peh and the responsibility to use the mouth that Hashem gave us for serving Hashem with our words. I suppose that I should be happy he lasted this long without really hearing those kind of words.

I know there are times when I’ve gotten injured or angry about something and before I know it I’ve uttered a word that I normally wouldn’t think of using. People slip (commit an aveira, distance themselves from Hashem’s Kedusha, call it what you wish) and hopeful try to better themselves. What bothers me is that I happen to know a handful of people who I think of as good Yidden, but who will casually throw in an occasional Simcha or Freilich when they feel like it. Now, it may be a habit leftover from their past, it may be that they feel it’s acceptable to do so based on the culture (since those words are allowed in PG-13 movies, songs, tv), or their way of expressing themselves within a religion that seems to have laws about everything, or because English isn’t viewed as loshon haKodesh. I’m sure they have their reasons.

What bothers me is that it’s being done on the bus. Some parents would say that if I don’t like what my kids are being exposed to on the bus, then speak to the Agudath about getting a money back from what I initially paid for bus service and just pick up my son from school myself. That’s one way to deal with it. My son and his friend are attempting to see if the administration of the school can try to do something, first. Again, what bothers me is that it’s being done on the bus. On the bus with an adult who is busy driving the bus (which is his job). On the bus that has a group of 4th-8th grade boys hanging out on their way home from school. On the bus without any “adult” watching their behavior. Without anyone to be accountable to.

Many kids, even from the best, frum, homes don’t feel that accountability all the time. That feeling that is stated as the first thing in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, the concept of “Shevisi Hashem l’negdi tamid – I have placed Hashem constantly before me”, is something that goes beyond home, shul, and school. This, in my own opinion, is half of the problem. The other half, and maybe the root of the problem, is that some kids (and adults, like this writer) forget that the greatest Yetzer Hora is to forget that they themselves are the son or daughter of the King.
Call it a lack of B’tzlem Elokeim.
Call it being in the dark about Gadlus HaAdom.
Call it not understanding the goal of shelaymus.
Call it a result of not knowing that D’veykus with Hashem is a good thing.

How do we act when we think that no one is looking? The bus just happens to be the lab where the experiment takes place. The drive to work is also the lab. Being in your office is the lab. Going shopping is the lab. We control the results of the experiment.

For sources on Nivul Peh, see R Morechai Torczner’s HaMakor site.
For resources about why not to curse, see the Bleep! site.


So the school year has come to a close for my three kids.  All in all, they each had a pretty good year.  During the last few weeks of school several things happened that reminded me of how great my kids really are (k’ninah hora).  

Our youngest daughter, who will be 4 in the fall, has become the bracha queen.  She proudly and clearly makes brachos on her food/drinks.

Our daugher, who is officially a third grader now asked at the end of the school year for pink siddur.  Not only does she daven with it every morning before camp, but whenever she hears that someone is sick she recites Tehillim.

Our son, who is now in fifth grade, just finished a great year with his rebbe, who allegedly, was the inspiration for the Journeys song “The Ninth Man“.  The last week of school his class has a siyum and his rebbe took time bowling and them to a dining hall managed by one of the caterers in town.  His rebbe gives out “zechus tickets” for learning, reciting Mishnayos, showing proper middos, learning over Shabbos, etc to the kids  and they collect them for raffle prizes.  My son was the second to last person to get picked, with only two prizes left.  He told me that he could tell which prize the other boy wanted, so he took it upon himself to chose the prize the other boy didn’t want (it was the game MASTERMIND), so that the last kid would end up with something he liked.  I was floored and very proud of him.

I give up

Photo from flickr
Every month or so I am completely speechless when it somes to my children’s chinuch. I find myself left without words, not because my children’s education as been ruined by “the system”, but because I’m astounded by how fortunate they are to be learning so many important things that are not always found in a textbook.

A few weeks ago my daughter in second grade told me after shul on Shabbos that she was “mevater (gave up) her lollypop to her older brother”. I was speechless. Not because she gave up a lollypop (althought that was impressive), but because she rocked the term “mevater”.  It isn’t a word that gets used a lot in conversation.  In fact, I think I’ve only used the term maybe 3 times in my entire adult life.  I’m not against the concept of being mevater, however despite the book, Let’s Learn Middos 4: Being Mevater (which we don’t own), I don’t often think of it as a middah.  Maybe I should.

For a child (or this blogger) it’s important to understand that “giving up” something can be a good thing.  Selflessness, chessed, and understanding what we need vs. what we want are part of growing up.  For me, it might also be prudent to be mevater certain inhibitions and notions I have about my own abilities.  Can one be mevater the things that hold one back from their Avodas Hashem?  Probably, but you have to know yourself and what why you are not doing what you should be doing.  Of course, a true student of Reb Nachman of Breslov will comment that one should “never give up hope”, but you could give up what’s blocking you from hope.

For a second grader to understand that all isn’t lost when you give up some candy is an important lesson and one that her Morah has successfully taught.   I know the lesson was a success because everyone in my family is on the “mevatar-bandwagon”.

Mixed up mussar

Driving my kids to school is usually pretty a constant diet of deciding what music should be played or what “book on cd” to listen to.  This morning, however, I attempted to show them that life lessons can be found everywhere.

Yesterday  on the drive we saw a concrete mixer truck and it was full.  How did I know it was full?  Because the drum was turning around and around and around.
I asked the kids why the drum was turning and my uberson said that, “If the cement stops turning then it gets hard.”

My uberdaughter then said that, “If it gets hard then it is useless.”

I told them that each of us are like the cement and the cement mixer.  If we are not constantly in motion trying to be better Jews doing Mitzvos like helping our friends and serving Hashem then our neshamos will get stuck like hard cement and it will be difficult to build ourselves up and be better people.

Did the get it?  Sort of.  My 4th grade son told over the moshul to his Rebbe and got a “zechus ticket”.  My 2nd grade daughter told her younger sister that if she didn’t share then her neshama would get stuck like cement.