The rabbis taught: “Anyone who teaches Torah in public and does not make the words as pleasant to those listening as honey and milk mixed together – it were better that he not teach the words at all” (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 4:11).
The Kotzker once asked, “Where is the Mishkan of God?” He promptly responded: “Wherever He will be let in.” God feels welcome wherever His attributes of kindness, benevolence, forgiveness, and tolerance are part of the daily routine and atmosphere.
If not? “An animal is better than a sage without sensitivity to people’s feelings” (Seder Eliahu Rabbah 6:7).
Producing the Mikdash as Hashem instructed required enormous efforts. The Avot D’Rebi Natan teaches that God instilled His Shechinah upon Israel only when He was assured of their willingness to work hard and invest maximum melachah. How much more effort, devotion, imagination and creativity is required to produce a student just as God expects? Those building the Mikdash benefited from Moshe’s loving guiding hand and spirit, which eased their burden, pressure and anxiety.
Teaching a talmid, we are often left to our own devices, inadequacies, insecurities and prejudices, and with Moshe-less supervision. Yet we know that God does not accept the task “for Me,” unless effort, devotion, and maximum melachah are ever present. To succeed at our task in a way that honors God means we must honor our students. We must respect them where they are, not where we think they should be.
This can be understood from both ancient examples and more modern ones. The recent confrontations with extremists in Israel concerning the separation of men and women calls to mind the wisdom and grace of Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky, of blessed memory, whose son-in-law R’ Yitzchok Kolodetzky recalled the time Rebbetzin Kanievsky returned home from the Lederman shul with a number of women, one of whom was not dressed modestly:
“A man who was at the house began to scream at her and degrade her in front of everyone. The Rabbanit would not tolerate such abusive behavior and retorted, ‘We do not behave like this. Don’t you dare set foot in my house because this is not our way. We influence people with ways that are pleasant, and not by embarrassing them.’ ”
On another occasion, R’ Kolodetsky’s father-in-law Hagaon R’ Chaim Kanievsky tried to make his way outside but a group of women waiting to see the Rebbetzin made it impossible for him to pass. One of the men who had been in the house yelled at the women, ordering them to get out of the way. The Rabbanit immediately told him, “Here we don’t scream, but rather speak to everyone pleasantly.”
Imagine how much more our students might learn if we took Rebbetzin Kanievsky’s loving advice in every instance of our teaching. Just think how much more firmly they would walk in the ways of knowledge and wisdom if we raised up their hearts and souls as well as their minds.
The Aron, considered the permanent abode of Torah knowledge and wisdom, is cited by the Chachamim as existing miraculously, without reliance on a measured and specified site (mekom aron eino min a’mida, veomed b’nes). While it is true that we find students emerging unblemished from schools whose focus is almost solely on quantity of pages and chapters covered with almost no attention placed on love, sensitivity and sympathy – with no concern for feelings and emotions – why should we rely on miracles when it involves our children?
Surely, when the key is lost it is almost impossible to replace and each unopened door leaves a precious student outside.
Don’t just teach students – love them.
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as OU Kosher’s vice president of communications & marketing.