Between Pesach and Shavuos we count days, and during that count we have focus of working out inner characteristics toward becoming a vessel to accept Torah. “Derech Eretz Kadmah L’Torah” we are taught. In order to have a cup’a’tea, one must first have a cup to hold the tea. Without a vessel to hold the liquid, you can’t pour yourself that warming drink. In order to receive Torah, you have to fashion yourself into a receptacle where Torah can be captured. No small wonder, then, that during these weeks, every Shabbos we learn Pirkei Avos – Ethics of the Fathers which reflects on how to fashion ourselves into more “mentschlich” people.
This week in the Sefira realm we are working on the Midda/Sefira of Tiferes. Tiferes is all about balance, of knowing when to use Chesed [free giving/kindness] and when to use Gevurah [strict judgment/service]. Our forefather who embodied this Middah, character trait, of Tiferes was Yaakov.
King David in Tehillim [18:26-27] writes, “Ihm Chassid Tis’chasud…V’ihm Eekaysh Tispatul” – With a righteous person, act with righteousness…and with the wicked, act deviously”. It means that G-d responds to man in like manner in which man acts. It could also mean instructions to us, that when someone acts in an upright manner in dealing with us, we are to respond in kind. However, if someone is twisted and crooked, we don’t respond with straight-up naivety. We match wits with wits. Meet people on their own terms.
Think Yaakov, who knew the balance perfectly. When Lavan tried hoodwinking Yaakov out of his wages, Yaakov didn’t respond with victim mentality. Rather, Yaakov devised a way to ensure he got his full wages out of Lavan.
An old Chassidic tale. A rabbi and his Chassidim were setting off to travel to a distant town. They settled on a deal with a wagon driver; for a set sum he would convey them there. They started out all peaceful. However, as they traversed a dense forest, the coachman held his horses and told the guys he wasn’t budging until they paid double what they had bargained for. They tried to appeal to his sense of fairness, but he wouldn’t budge. Said the rabbi, “Let me deal with the guy.” The rabbi climbed out of the wagon and had a private huddle with the coachman who nodded, climbed back on and began driving again. The Chassidim wondered what wonderful lesson in fair dealings in business the rabbi must have taught. They asked, and he chuckled and said, “Fairness?! He doesn’t understand that language. I told him, we are more men than lone you. Either you get up on your wagon and begin driving again, or we will beat you up and leave you behind here in the forest. That language he understood and off we are again.”
So where am I leading up to (ah, you know me already, me with my agendas)? Well, Tiferes is balance and we need that balance when reaching out to the next generation. Reb Yaakov Kaminestky, it is rumored, said that at a certain age it would be healthy for a kid to say I want to be a fireman. If the child is saying he wants to be a Tzaddik at three years of age, chances are he is being robbed of his childhood by clueless parents. When we start teaching a kid at three, we don’t give them great philosophy lessons about knowledge. We put honey on their learning book and let them taste concrete sweetness. At three, the kid understands sweet food, not philosophy discussions.
One of the clueless Bais Yaakovs threw out a girl (their loss, she is a giant these days, way more advanced in her Judaism than their graduates) because one of their idiotic Rebbetzins told a class of teenagers that Chol Hamoed Sukkos was for sitting in the Sukka and contemplating G-d’s closeness to us. Huh?! To teens, she said that. And that teen, who subsequently was expelled, raised her hand and said, “well, by my grandmother’s house we sit and watch Nshei plays on DVDs.” DVDs – forbidden word. And how dare she challenge the lofty concept of sitting and reflecting on Sukkos. That teacher and that school are as crooked as any zigzag road to hell. For that is no way to teach teenagers. There is no Tiferes, balance, in that lesson. (Incidentally, I know the teachers and the principal in that school both watch movies on the sly, but that is for a different post, the hypocrisy).
There is a new phenomenon that is a problem. Kids keeping what they refer to as “half-Shabbos”. They do all required of Shabbos, but also text. Some kid and a Rebbitzin were having it out about her breaking Shabbos in this manner. The educator was telling the kid that she was a desecrator of the holy Shabbos. And I asked, “Did anyone tell her to take out a few games to pass time?” Give her something appropriate to do for her age on Shabbos afternoon and she might not be bored to tears and on the text-addiction-mode. Balance – when you are teaching and bringing up kids, you have to make sure you are balancing things appropriate to their level. If anyone wants the half-shabbos problem to go away, set up “shabbos afternoon rooms”, a lounge with nash, games, a speaker and a library of books appropriate for teens. I can assure you the problem would go away.
The Talmud tells us of the sage who bought his son a set of dishes to break, for at a certain age that is fun for a kid. We are told that Shabbos afternoon there was no formal learning back then, so that fathers could get down on all fours and play horsie with their kids. Rabbi Avrohom Newhouse, of blessed memory, an educator par excellence, was wont to say, “for their mishigas you have to have patience.” You must pitch to a kid at their level. That is balance. That is Tiferes, a beauty of harmony.
Go ahead, have fun with your children at their level. Teach your students things and practices that make sense for them at their level. Don’t pitch higher than the bat can swing.