Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed

How to Educate in Times of Corona

As parents, the present situation of lockdown and children remaining home should heighten our awareness that the primary responsibility for educating and caring for our children depends on us * Even if there are difficulties during this period, one should continue to believe in the abilities and goodness of children, for emunah (faith) is a necessary condition for education * Education given at home has a far greater impact than any educational institution, and parents need to internalize this * The mitzvah of emunah guides us to believe that everything that happens is for the good, and this is how the present situation should be seen

I will summarize a few questions I received from a number of parents: “The situation of the youth is extremely bad! The lockdowns puts them into a pressure cooker that is about to explode. In many homes there’s a lot of tension – children, and especially teenagers, are not willing to help, and think parents need to serve them. Without the framework of educational institutions, the boys and girls refuse to get up in the morning, do not pray or study. True, they have learning by Zoom, but it is difficult for them to concentrate. Our concern is that the educational damages that will be caused as a result of the closure of the yeshivot, ulpanot, and synagogues will be immeasurably more severe than the health damages liable to be caused by Corona. Maybe we need to find a way around the procedures, and organize learning and activities for the youth?”

Before Answering

Before answering, I must refute the slander that arises from these questions. The reality is different from what the questioners describe. True, the lockdown situation creates problems, difficulties and pressures, but the positive aspects revealed specifically during these times, can also be seen. In the absence of frameworks, the responsibility passes on to the youth. Many of them are able to intensify their Torah study and prayer, while many others who do not, are strengthened by the fact that they engage in Torah and prayer devoid of a framework, and with more identification. Indeed, there are youth who find it difficult to engage in Torah, to keep all the mitzvot, and to act with derech eretz (good manners), but even in normal times they find it difficult, and apparently, in difficult situations the problems are more conspicuous and intensify. And who knows, perhaps specifically the highlighting of the difficulties will allow for dialogue and a solution.

At any rate, parents who tarnish reality and see their children in a negative light are parents who have given up on educating them, and apparently, will suffer from them many disappointments in the future, since despair causes a person to remove responsibility from himself and impose it on institutions and on the state, and the more one blames others, the more negligent he will be in educating his children. And even if he rebukes them from morning till night, won’t stop to think about how it’s really appropriate to educate.

Emunah (Faith) Requires Seeing That Everything is For the Good

The mitzvah of emunah requires that every event that happens to an individual, and all the more so, to the public, to be viewed as an opportunity for tikkun (correction). Even when a person experiences suffering, he must believe that it is from God for his good, as the Torah says: ” Therefore, know in your heart (be fully cognizant) that the Lord your God disciplines and instructs you just as a man disciplines and instructs his son” (Deuteronomy 8:5), just like the great gifts God gave to Israel – Torah, The Land of Israel, and the Hereafter – are given and acquired through trials and tribulations (Talmud Berachot 5a). This is because trials and tribulations purify a person, and open him to new understandings that advance him. We have the choice whether to understand what is needed to be rectified by way of a small number trials and tribulations, or, God forbid, whether we need unbearable ones, to the point where reluctantly, without any other option, we choose to go the only remaining way, as happened to us in recent generations, where some Jews merited making Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael after experiencing only a few trials and tribulations, while others made Aliyah only after horrendous sufferings, with no other country willing to accept them.

The Return of Parents to their Central Place in Education

In other words, it is not enough to believe that the trials and tribulations are for the good, rather, to learn from them how to move forward, and to emerge from the troubles, to a better state and success. It seems to me we need to learn from lockdown that parents are responsible for educating their children. They have the right and the duty to do so. As I wrote in my previous column, in recent generations the education system has undergone a kind of globalization process. From a situation where parents were solely responsible for their children’s education, with the extended family and community helping them, we have moved to a situation where teachers, institutions, schools, Talmudei Torah, yeshivas and ulpanot are primarily responsible for education.

This process has indeed contributed to the expansion of the scope of study, since rabbis and teachers are able to teach at a higher level than most parents. However, this created a disadvantage in the deeper field of education, which is education towards emunah and a life full of moral content. While at a young age in yeshiva and ulpana enthusiasm and identification with Torah can sometimes be aroused, they consist of an external side prone to evaporate after marriage. And if it does not evaporate, sometimes there is reason for concern that actually, it is an alien fire of fanaticism, masking an emptiness of emunah. In contrast, the deep foundations of emunah and values ​​that parents instill in their children do not evaporate. On the contrary, as the years go by, they become deeper and more meaningful. Thus, we find elderly men and women who, as the years go by, find ever more meaning in what their parents instilled in them when they were young. Because there is nothing like the education that parents provide to their children, which combines Torah, values ​​and personal example, along with providing care, food and clothing, and everything needed for a good life.

The Mitzvah from the Torah that Parents Should Educate

Consequently, from the outset, the Torah commanded that it is the parents who should educate their children in Torah, mitzvot, and good deeds, as said in the Torah: “You must tell him, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand… to bring us to the land He promised our fathers, and give it to us. God commanded us to keep all these rules, so that we would remain in awe of God for all time, so that we would survive, even as we are today” (Deuteronomy 6: 21-25). And the mitzvah to teach children Torah is imposed as a chova (halachic obligation) on the parents, as written: “Teach them to your children and speak of them when you are at home, when traveling on the road, when you lie down and when you get up”(Deuteronomy 6:7). And even when parents send their children to study in schools, yeshivas and ulpanot, the mitzvah and chova remains with the parents, and the teachers and rabbis are the parents’ shlichim (emissaries) and do not replace them as far as responsibility for the mitzvah of education is concerned. Therefore, parents have the mitzvah and chova to give their children the mental strength and desire to learn Torah, send them to school happily, encourage them to learn, monitor their progress, keep in touch with the teachers, and learn with their children as much as they can.

In addition, the foundation of education is in personal example. That is to say, the mitzvah of education obliges parents to set a positive example for their children, because when children see that their parents adhere to Torah and mitzvot happily, they want to follow in their path. To strengthen this, it is a mitzvah for parents to talk to their children about emunah and the values ​​that guide their lives, to share with them their experiences and choices they faced, and to instill in them emunah in Hashem and their special destiny, so that when they grow up, they can choose the road suitable for them to realize their talents, and improve the world.

The duty of parents to educate their children in Torah is also reflected in the fact that it is their chova to pay for the education of their children (because usually under the Compulsory Education Law not all that is needed is taught). Consequently, one should not pay for the education of their children from maaser kesafim (tithes from profits), because one is not permitted to perform a mitzvah in which he is obligated, with money from maaser kesafim.

One is Obligated to Bless God for Bad Things

Just as the situation of full and partial lockdowns presents us with opportunities to strengthen the place of parents in the education of their children, it also opens up opportunities for each individual to develop, become more refined, and improve. Each one of us is faced with the choice of whether to weaken as a result of the lack of institutions and frameworks we have had in the past, or to choose good and grow.

In order that we may always progress, our Sages said: “It is incumbent on a man to bless [God] for the evil in the same way as for the good, as it says, ‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, etc. ‘With all your heart’ means with your two impulses, the evil impulse as well as the good impulse; ‘with all your soul’ means, even if He takes your soul [life]; ‘with all your might’ means with all your money. Another explanation of ‘with all your might’ [me’odecha] is, whatever treatment He metes out to you, thank Him” (Berachot 44a). To this end, our Sages enacted that when something catastrophic happens to a person, he should recite the blessing “Dayan HaEmet“. Recognizing that everything is from God, and despite the sorrow, everything is for the better, we can discern the opportunity that the trial and tribulation presents before us, and grow from it.

Rabbi Akiva

Rabbi Akiva said: “A person should always accustom himself to say ‘‘whatever the All-Merciful does is for the good’ (Berachot 60b). And this is how Rabbi Akiva himself acted, as exemplified in the following incident. Rabbi Akiva was once traveling along the road and he came to a certain town and looked for lodgings, but everywhere was refused. He said ‘Whatever the All-Merciful does is for the good’, and he went and spent the night in the open field. He had with him a rooster, a donkey, and a lamp. A gust of wind came and blew out the lamp, a weasel came and ate the rooster, and a lion came and preyed on the donkey. Although he remained in the dark exposed to the danger of evil beasts, without a donkey continuing to ride on it further down his path, he said: ‘whatever the All-Merciful does is for the good’. That same night some brigands came and took all the inhabitants of the town captive. He said to his students accompanying him: Did I not always say to you, ‘whatever the All-Merciful does is for the good?” Had it not been for the troubles I went through that day, I would have been taken captive and sold into slavery.”

Rabbi Akiva continued to adhere to his faith all his life, and even at the time of shmad (apostasy) when he was caught, incarcerated, and sentenced to a cruel death, but nevertheless, found something good in it. Our Sages said: ““When they brought Rabbi Akiva out to be executed, the time to recite the Shema arrived. The Romans proceeded to comb his flesh with iron combs, and despite this, Rabbi Akiva accepted upon himself the yoke of Heaven by reciting the Shema. His disciples said to him, ‘Our master, even to such a degree?’ (Behold, one is exempt from reciting the Shema under such excruciating circumstances. Why, then, are you exerting yourself so greatly to read it?) He replied, ‘My whole life I was troubled by the verse ‘with all your soul’, which implies that one must love God even if He takes away your soul. I said to myself, “When will I have the opportunity to fulfill it?” And now that the moment has arrived, shall I neglect to fulfill it?!’ He proceeded to draw out the word echad (One) [in the verse, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one], until his soul left him while saying, ‘echad.’ A heavenly voice came forth and proclaimed, ‘Fortunate are you, Rabbi Akiva, for your soul left you with the word “echad”. The guardian angels said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: This is Torah, and this is its reward? A heavenly voice came forth and proclaimed: “Fortunate are you Rabbi Akiva, for you are ready for life in the World to Come’” (Berachot 61b).

Ostensibly, the Romans killed him, but thanks to the torments he experienced and his mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice), his life and teachings intensified, and have lasted for generations. In all the torment he, and the Jewish nation, went through, he did not sink into sadness, rather, saw everything for the good, and thanks to his emunah that grew out of the crises, his teaching are pure and clear, full of true light, imbued with love and life, and therefore is considered the greatest of all the Taanim.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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