By Boruch Shubert. In a gathering of particularly compelling interest to parents of young yeshiva-age children, three of the generation’s leading rabbinic figures offered profound analyses and Torah-rooted solutions to the unprecedented challenges of contemporary chinuch habonim at this past Thursday evening’s Plenary Session of the 91st annual convention of Agudath Israel of America in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. The session was appropriately titled, “Chanoch La’naar: Nurturing Our Children, Ensuring Our Future.”
In his introduction, Convention Co-Chairman Avrumi Hirsch noted that the secret to Klal Yisroel’s unique ability to endure as a thriving nation – despite numerous periods of historical persecution – has been its unwavering commitment to the mesorah (chain of tradition) of Torah fidelity as handed down from parents to children throughout the generations. Asserting that this chain is now being threatened by the immoral influences of the wider society, Mr. Hirsch introduced a short video that featured a number of young parents commenting on the extraordinary challenges of raising their children to be gezunte, ehrliche Yidden in the face of unprecedented pressures.
The session’s first main speaker, Rabbi Elya Brudny, Rosh Yeshiva, Mirrer Yeshiva, Brooklyn, explained that modern technology has broken down long-established boundaries of behavior for today’s youth, causing parents to become rightly concerned about the direction their growing families will take. Quoting the pesukim in Tehillim 112 “Ashrei ish yorei es Hashem b’mitzvosov chofeitz me’od. Gibor bo’oretz yihyeh zaro dor yeshorim yevorach”, Rabbi Brudny stated, “If parents themselves have yiras shomayim (fear of heaven) and great desire to perform mitzvos, that will ensure the success of the next generation.”
The Rosh Yeshiva then commented on a dramatic episode within the week’s Torah portion of Parshas Vayishlach to emphasize the crucial role played by parents in this regard. Noting the unusual ability of Chamor to persuade the people of Shechem to take the radical act of performing circumcision on themselves, Rabbi Brudny attributed Chamor’s success to his deep-seated desire to marry Dina – as the posuk states, “ki chofeitz b’vas Yaakov” – which enabled him to get the men of Shechem to go along with even the most seemingly outrageous directives. “If we would have a similar level of unswerving desire to serve Hashem – b’mitzvosov chofeitz me’od –,” the Rosh Yeshiva intoned, “we would not have the issues we are facing with our children today.” In a specific application of this desire, Rabbi Brudny advised parents to utilize the more relaxed periods of Shabbos and family outings to impress upon their youngsters how to behave in a Torah-true manner.
The Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva went on to decry the mistaken belief held by many of us that we simply cannot “do any better” against the onslaught of dangerous outside influences. “Torah gives us the strength to withstand temptations,” he insisted. “Our awareness as parents of the fundamental importance of Torah affects our children’s attitudes.” Rabbi Brudny concluded by calling on parents to permeate their homes with a kesher (bond) with their previous rebbeim.
Rabbi Yaakov Bender, Rosh HaYeshiva, Yeshiva Darchei Torah, set the tone for his address by declaring that parents have to believe they can succeed in properly raising their children in spite of today’s many obstacles. Rabbi Bender cited a Medrash that says that at the time of the world’s creation, Hashem threw the “angel of truth” down to the ground in rejection after it counseled Him not to create the world due to man’s proclivity for falsehood. Quoting the legendary builder of Torah, Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, Rabbi Bender declared, “The greatest sheker (falsehood) is to say that something can’t be done!”
The Rosh HaYeshiva referenced several incidents involving previous gedolei hador who made the longest-lasting impressions on their talmidim by showing them uninhibited warmth and personal compassion. “We just need a little caring and love,” he stressed. Noting that the nesi’im (princes) of the shevatim were criticized by the Torah for not coming forward immediately to offer donations to the mishkan, Rabbi Bender said, “Every parent is a nasi whose actions are being watched by their children. Parents should not be afraid to say ‘no’ to their children – as long as they do it with love.”
The already-captivating session reached its dramatic heights with the final address, delivered by Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, Mashgiach Ruchni, Beth Medrash Govoha. The Mashgiach clarified to the rapt audience that – contrary to the understanding held by many – bechirah (free will) does not mean that “we can do whatever we want,” but it actually means “we can do what we don’t want to do,” i.e. we can control ourselves to refrain from committing an act that defies the will of Hashem. Acknowledging that today’s generation faces unprecedented moral tests, Rabbi Salomon advised parents to clearly describe the power of self-control to their offspring, as well as instill in them a thorough belief in the concept of Olam Haba (the World to Come). In this vein, he commented that parents should view their children as an “investment” in the next world.
The Mashgiach further noted that parents are often stymied in their attempts to restrict their children’s actions, as the child will likely reply, “But all my friends do it.” In response to this objection, Rabbi Salomon stated that many parents will simply acquiesce to the youngster’s demands so that he does not become rebellious and possibly go ‘off the derech.’
“Parents must be firm and deny their children’s excessive desires,” Rabbi Salomon emphasized. “And similarly, we as adults must control ourselves, to ensure our status as role models of chinuch for our children.”
The subject of chinuch ha’bonim was a dominant theme throughout the four-day Agudah convention, most notably with a follow-up session late Thursday night, featuring presentations by Rabbi Shmuel Berkovics, Rav of Khal Yereim in Passaic, and Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, Rav of Agudath Israel of Flatbush; and at the convention’s closing session Sunday morning, featuring presentations by Rabbi Doniel Parnes, Rosh Mesivta Yeshivas Novominsk, and Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstin, Menahel of Ohr Naava.
“Many hundreds of young parents participated in this year’s Agudah convention, perhaps the most we have ever had,” said convention co-chairman Avrumi Hirsch, “and they went home inspired and enriched by the clear message they heard from prominent Torah leaders that they can succeed b’ezras Hashem in the daunting responsibility of chinuch ha’bonim.” [TLS]