Is there a secret to raising children that love Yiddishkeit? How do you teach your child to be a mentsch? What can I do to ensure my child is a Ben Torah? These are some of the more common questions I receive every week.
Although I would not respond to these questions during a typical week, this week has been anything but typical. We all lost a Tzaddik and a leader in Rav Binyamin Kamenetzky zt”l, affectionally known by many of us as the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l. When I was hired as a Rebbe in the Yeshiva of South Shore over 20 years ago, the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was one of my mentors. Therefore, I would like to answer some of the earlier questions based on my relationship with the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l.
The first question was regarding the secret to raising children that love Yiddishkeit. Well, there is no secret. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l had a method to make sure every child he came in contact with was happy. He smiled. All the time. Not one of those fake smiles – kids can spot those a mile away. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l had a genuine smile that would light up the room.
Approximately 9 years ago, my bechor, Binyamin Zev, was with me in the Yeshiva early in the morning, and he was running down the hallway, as 5-year-olds tend to do. Of course, he ran smack into the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l. I was mortified. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was not. He grasped Binyamin Zev’s hand warmly and said, “I love when Yingerlach are happy!” I remember vividly as Binyamin Zev just stared at him in awe. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l gave him a pat on the cheek and, with a huge smile, continued on his way.
Last summer, I brought my son Moshe to Yeshiva to pick something up. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was there and my son was staring at him. When the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l saw my Moshe looking, he quickly ran over and said to me, “Nuuu! Take a picture!” He then put his arm around Moshe. It was pure love, and everyone felt it.
If we want our children to love Yiddeshkeit, we have to genuinely love being Yidden. We have to be excited about every day. When the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l came to this area, it was spiritually empty and desolate. How did he raise a family that loved being Yidden when they were surrounded by so many challenges?
It seems that the Rosh Yeshiva & Rebbitzin zt”l loved being Yidden. They didn’t just survive day by day. They embraced being Jewish. They passed on that special Kamenetzky smile that melts away other people’s issues. We can do the same. If we show our children genuine love and happiness, they will soak it in. Smile at your kids and show them how much you love being a Yid. It worked for the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l, it’ll work for you.
The next question was, how to teach your child to act like a mentsch. Watching the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l, it seems apparent that there is no way to teach this concept. It seems you have to live it. What’s a mentsch? A mentsch is someone who cares.
A few years back, one of the boys in in the Yeshiva ran into, and broke, the glass panel outside Mrs. Weinberg’s office. Mr. Vaiselberg put tape on it to make sure it wouldn’t get worse, and a replacement panel was ordered. Later that day, The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l came in with his driver, and as he often did, stopped by to say hello.
I was there when he walked in and saw the broken glass. His smile disappeared and was replaced with a concerned look. “What happened”?, he asked. He began to touch the glass. “When will this be fixed?” Mrs. Weinberg told him it was being taken care of. It didn’t help. He walked to the other side and back, visibly worried. It was only when the Menahel, Rabbi Herzberg, came out and reassured him that it was a priority that he settled down.
Don’t get me wrong. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l had nerves of steel. You can’t create a community without being able to deal with seemingly insurmountable issues. However, broken glass can hurt someone. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was a mentsch in the purest sense of the word. He cared too much to just ignore the danger.
When raising children, we need to lead by example. If a Hatzalah ambulance goes by, we need to stop and say a kapitel of Tehillim. Our children will take notice and it will become ingrained in their Neshomos. We need to call up someone who is sick, and let our children see, and hear us, wish them a Refuah Shelaima. Taking our Kinderlach to a nursing home is a wonderful way to do this as well. Show them you care.
When I was twenty years old, I was already a 7th grade Rebbe in the Yeshiva. Since I had no beard, I looked really young – actually I looked like one of the boys. Whenever I went to a Bar Mitzvah, and the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was there, he would walk next to me and introduce me as “A star Rebbe”. I realized right away he was trying to make sure that people didn’t think I was one of the boys. It happened many times. Why did he do this? It’s because the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l cared. I taught a few of his grandchildren, and this special mentschlichkeit was passed down to them as well. If we want our children to be mentschen, we need to show them how it’s done.
The last question was, how to ensure our children are B’nai Torah? Over the last twenty years, the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l would stop by many classrooms to watch the children learning. I personally think it helped recharge his batteries… he would soak in the Torah learning. About eleven years ago, he asked my 4th grade class a question. “Why does Rosh Hashana come before Yom Kippur? Wouldn’t it be better if we first did Teshuva, and only then asked Hashem for a good year? Why would Hashem want to give us a good year if we’re full of Aveiros?”
As is typical with 4th graders, they all raised their hand with various answers. Some were on topic. Some were not. I’m not sure that all the boys even knew why they were raising their hands. Everyone else was, so why not? The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l had no problem with this. If the boy didn’t have a good answer, he would smile and say, “Close”. I was thinking, “Close? The boy made no sense!” The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was unfazed.
After a few more tries, he told the boys, “Rosh Hashana is when we acknowledge and crown Hashem as king! It’s not about asking for a great year, it’s telling Hashem I love you! You’re my king and I need you!” It wasn’t a Dvar Torah – it was the Rosh Yeshiva’s way of living. His excitement was off the charts and the boys loved it. When he left the room, one of the boys said one word. “Wow.”
That’s right. It was “Wow!” The love for Torah was obvious and contagious. We need to get excited about Torah, and that excitement will trickle down. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l loved every second of learning, and it didn’t matter who was learning!
Even when the boys played outside, the Rosh Yeshiva considered it a part of Torah. He would stand outside with his trademark smile and watch for a minute. He didn’t have time to spare, every second was so important. However, watching Yiddishe Kinderlach playing was pure Nachas.
At my son’s Bar Mitzvah last year, he came in to dance. As the band played, he was having the best time. The funniest part is, as people were getting tired, they were leaving the dance floor. In his nineties, the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l outlasted most of them!
This is how you create B’nai Torah. You mold them. You fill them with excitement for Torah, Mitzvos, and, yes, even dancing and ball playing. Everything you do is with Simcha and happiness. I never saw the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l wake up in the morning, but in my mind, he was the epitome of Yisgaber K’Ari. He came into every day as if it was the only day. If we have that mentality, our children will become B’nai Torah as well!
Although the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l is not with us anymore, his lessons and attitude live on. We should be Zoche to raise Ehrlicher B’nai Torah, with Middos Tovos and a love for Yiddishkeit. That’s what the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l would want.
Have a good Shabbos.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.