By Rabbi Dov Brezak
Principal and Director, Talmud Torah Ezrat Torah,
Becoming Aware of the Difficulty
A fringe benefit of becoming aware of a child's feelings is that we become more aware of the degree of difficulty the child is experiencing. This will help us adjust our methods accordingly. It may also open our eyes to why methods used until now may not have been successful.
Rav Yechiel Yaakobson, renowned mechanech (educator) and lecturer in Eretz Yisrael, tells the following story to illustrate this point.
A father wanted to know what he could do about his son who refused to daven (pray).
"Until now," the father said, "I tried to get him to daven by applying constant force and pressure. But it hasn't worked."
The father was told to change his approach, and so he began a campaign of praise and encouragement. Yet this too did not work. In fact, from the moment the father eased up on his son, the boy began taking advantage and stopped coming to davening altogether. This was strange, considering the son's obvious enjoyment of his father's new approach, especially the encouragement being given him.
The confused father came for guidance once again.
A careful examination of the situation revealed that the father was not aware to the extent of his son's difficulties in this area.
The father and son sat in one of the back rows of the shul. The area contained a considerable number of children who made fun of anyone who davened with kavana (concentration) and who would tease him about trying to make himself look like a tzaddik. As if that wasn't enough, the conduct of some of the adults in the vicinity did not necessarily provide the best example for a child wishing to improve his davening.
It was explained to the boy's father that it is unfair to expect a young boy to withstand such difficult tests. It is beyond his capacity at that age. Adding to the stress, from the boy's point of view, was the mockery of his peers. The more his father demanded and insisted that he daven well, the more the boys made fun of him. This was explained to the father.
Although it was difficult for him to change his usual place of davening, the father decided to make the switch. He moved up to the front of the shul. He also spoke the rav of the shul, and together they planned the following scene.
Shabbos night, after davening, the rav announced that there would be a special kiddush for children only. It goes without saying that the children were very excited.
Toward the end of the kiddush, the rav stood up to speak. "I'm sure you are curious as to why we made a kiddush especially for you," he said. "The reason is because I wanted to tell you a story."
The rav told the group of children a story about some children who were allowed into the king's treasure house. Once inside, they were told they could stuff into their bags as many diamonds as they wanted to for the short period of time they would be permitted to stay.
Only one of the boys took advantage of the opportunity. He gathered and gathered, not wasting a moment. The others were lazy and not that interested. They spent most of the time making fun of the child who went diligently about his task.
In vivid detail, the rav described the ridicule of the lazy boys, the feelings of the serious boy, and the tremendous effort necessary for the good boy to ignore the others and continue collecting the precious stones.
The rav then described to his group of avid listeners what happened when the time was up. He described the deep pain of the other boys when they realized what they had lost, and the tremendous good fortune attained by the serious boy only because he ignored their jests and ridicule.
"Not only was he able to collect a large quantity of diamonds," the rav told the boys, "he also received the portions collected by the other boys. For when the king heard how they had ridiculed the good boy, he took away the little they had collected and gave it to the one boy.
After finishing the story, the rav stood up, placed his hand on the boy's shoulder and said, "It is very unfortunate that such wonderful children are losing out on the great wealth that Hakadosh Baruch Hu (G-d) gives them a chance to receive. Every word of tefilla (prayer) is a diamond. Isn't it a pity to lose out?
"At the same time," the rav continued, "I want to tell you that I am jealous of this boy. Yes, I am jealous of him! Even though others made fun of him, he continued to daven with as he should, with concentration and seriousness."
He then shook the boy's hand.
The boy burst out crying.
Half a year later, the father wrote a letter in which he said, "I feel so emotional about this that I can't bring myself to come and thank you personally. I don't recognize my son! I never thought it possible that a child would love davening so much!"
With sincere wishes for your success and siyatta diShemaya, Rabbi Dov Brezak
Rabbi Brezak can be reached, year-round, by fax at (718) 338-2533, or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Brezak's newly released second tape series, "Chinuch Concepts 2" can be ordered through Irgun Shiurei Torah at (718) 851-8651.