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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Yeshiva Darchei Noam’

Could This Possibly Be True? Time To Get Frightened

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Since the news broke more than a week ago about the arrest by the FBI of a frum, heimishe man in my hometown of Monsey for allegedly doing unspeakable things repeatedly to a girl/young woman closely related to him over a period of many years and spanning three countries, people have been asking me the same question again and again – “Could this possibly be true?”

To all worried parents and community members asking this question, my unequivocal answer is “yes.”

I do not know any specifics about this particularly ghoulish tale other than what I read in the secular press and by reviewing a hair-raising copy of the federal indictment (which is available online). Thus I cannot comment on the veracity of the charges. Additionally, the accused individual has not yet had his day in court. But I have heard far more than one or two stories like this one in the past from credible people. (For the record, I always ask the victims to go straight to the police and report the abusers.)

So even if this story is not true – and it is beyond naïve to think that federal agents would convene a grand jury and make an arrest like this merely on the say-so of a vindictive family member without substantive forensic proof – the terribly sad fact is that it most certainly could be true.

It is exactly these types of horrible stories that I was referring to in the opening lines of my column in this space a month ago, titled “L’ma’an Hashem: What Will It Take?” Here are the first two sentences of that column: “It is difficult to describe the sickening, gut-wrenching sensation I experience when I get phone calls from parents whose children were abused or from adults who have carried the horrible scars of childhood abuse for decades, often shredding their relationships and ruining their lives. And I am sad to report that those calls are getting more frequent as time goes on.”

If your children are married and out of your home, feel free to join those who blame these stories on “anti-Semitic, secular newspapers,” and “self-hating Jews who love to bash haredim.” Or you can join those who would rather stay clueless and say things like, “Wow, did you hear that story? Please pass the salt.” You can also trust the people who tell you not to worry about this since there are only an infinitesimal number of frum pedophiles.

But if you are a parent still entrusted with the care of your children, please read the non-airbrushed story in the secular newspapers and be frightened. Very, very frightened!

I suggest that you develop a mental image of a deranged frum adult walking around your neighborhood with pruning shears viciously cutting off the index fingers of any children that he can get his hands on. Then imagine seeing hundreds of frum kids walking around with bloody bandages around their hands – while the unhinged fellow with the shears calmly strolls around unimpeded. Are you sufficiently terrified now? Well, that is a tamed-down version of how I see things as far as the abuse/molestation issue is concerned. Because these evil monsters that molest our innocent children and the soulless, immoral people who cover for them are cutting out the very souls of the poor kids whose lives they ruin.

This incident proves what I have written about numerous times in the past – that this is not only a school issue but also a communal one. It is also one that can be dramatically improved with awareness and Torah-appropriate education of parents and children. My friends, all the finger- pointing and blame games won’t save the life of a single child. So let’s please not focus our energies right now on discussing who is responsible for this mess, as it will distract us from what we need to do in order to protect the children that Hashem entrusted to our care.

I am beyond heartbroken that not enough people in our community have the courage to discuss this life-threatening, colossal threat to our children, and that we keep allowing ourselves to get distracted by the meaningless and often silly non-issues raised by self-appointed “askanim.” Instead, we must concentrate on the safety of our children. I am also stunned that our communal anger is perpetually deflected from the predators and those who cover for them, and directed at those who courageously try to improve things.

All I can do is beg parents b’chol lashon shel bakasha to take this issue seriously and start speaking to their children about privacy and personal safety issues. L’ma’an Hashem, parents, please start protecting each and every child of yours as if his or her very life depends on it.
Because it does!

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Project Y.E.S.

On Sunday, October 26, Project Y.E.S. is running its first major fundraising event – a concert in The Jazz at New York City’s Lincoln Center. The concert will feature Avraham Fried and Chazzan Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. Please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail admin@rabbihorowitz.com or call 718-758-3131 x 106 for more information about the concert, to become a sponsor, and to purchase tickets.

Addressing My Child’s Questions On Evolution (Part I)

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

Recently, I bought a book on the planets that begins with a description of a 15 billion-year-old world.

Can I read that book to my children and discuss with them the fact that there are people (even smart people) in the world who believe this, yet help them understand our belief that the Torah – which is the emes – teaches us that the world is 5,768 years old?

I want my children to know that there are people who incorrectly believe this, and I also would like them to hear this from me – and not from someone who doesn’t have proper hashkafos. At the same time, I understand that the theory of evolution is not accepted in the Torah world.

I hope I am not putting you in an uncomfortable position with this question.

Sara

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Sara: 

As parents, we all know the feeling of being asked jaw-dropping, excellent questions from our children. And we rarely get the opportunity to avoid answering them. So I guess that once I agreed to do this give-and-take parenting column, I should play by the same rules and not take a pass on challenging, excellent questions from parents on raising children in these trying times. So you need not apologize for posing your question.

Upon analysis there are, in fact, two very important issues that you raise. First, how we as adults must process and better understand issues where essential matters of our bedrock emunah are challenged by scientific findings. It is my strong feeling that many of the issues that we deal with in raising children are, in fact, issues that we as adults are struggling with.

Additionally there is the question of how, or whether, to impart this information to our children. Is it better to avoid discussing these challenging topics and hope that our children will be among the many who are not giving much thought to these matters? Or is it wiser to be proactive and prepare them for the time when they may need to deal with them at a more vulnerable time in their lives – when we may not be there to guide them?

Regarding the first matter: Our own understanding of things, namely the fact that there are objects in our world that appear to be more than 5,766 years old, is not, in and of itself, a contradiction to our emunah. Hashem created a world that was mature and developed. The trees had rings and the stones appeared to be timeworn. In fact, the Midrash states (Bereshis Rabbah 8:14) that Adam was created not as an infant, but rather as an adult with the developed body of a 20-year-old. Thus only two years after the world was created, Adam would have appeared to be 22 years old when it was only two years after he was created. So, too, a tree may have appeared to be hundreds of years old during the second year of creation. The same line of reasoning would apply to stones, canyons, etc.

An important note: When I first took a job teaching general studies in a yeshiva nearly 20 years ago, I asked an esteemed Monsey rav (who was a close talmid of HaGaon Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky, zt”l) if the above was hashkafically in line with our thinking and appropriate to share with adolescent talmidim. He told me that Reb Yaakov had explained this matter to him in exactly the same manner, and encouraged him to share this Torah perspective with his talmidim. His reasoning: This would increase the chances that they would not become spiritually disoriented later in life when they encounter this information from secular sources.

Therefore, the ages of the stones are not necessarily a fundamental conflict with our emunah. Many components of the theory of evolution, on the other hand, most certainly are incompatible with Torah tradition.

Next: Sharing this information with your children.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Project Y.E.S. To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s d’var Torah sefer, Growing With the Parsha, his popular parenting tapes and CDs – including his 4-CD set “What Matters Most” – and his recently released parenting book, Living and Parenting (ArtScroll), please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail udi528@aol.com, call 845-426-2243, or visit your local Judaica store.

Getting The Big Picture

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Rabbi Horowitz’s recently released parenting book, Living and Parenting (ArtScroll), can be obtained by visiting www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mailing udi528@aol.com, calling 845-352-7100 x 133, or visiting your local Judaica store.

* * * * * * * * * *

As Bnei Yisroel passed through the land of Ya’azer and Gilad in the “Ever HaYarden” (land East of the Jordan River) they noticed that the land was very fertile and quite suitable for grazing animals.

The two shevatim (tribes) of Reuven and Gad, who had large flocks of cattle, spoke to Moshe and expressed their desire to settle in Ever HaYarden – even though it was not part of Eretz Yisroel proper.

Having led his people through the desert for 40 years with the hope of reaching the holy soil of Eretz Yisroel, Moshe was understandably disappointed that two shevatim relinquished their portion in the Promised Land in exchange for a parcel in Ever HaYarden.

Harsh Words

Moshe expressed himself rather sharply to the leaders of Reuven and Gad. He asked them why they would weaken the spirit of their brothers by not accompanying them to Eretz Yisroel and going to battle alongside the members of the other Tribes.

Moshe reminded them of the terrible damage done by the demoralizing report of the meraglim (spies). He wondered why these two shevatim would risk incurring the wrath of Hashem by demonstrating their willingness to forgo the privileged of entering Eretz Yisroel – a zechus denied to Moshe himself.

An Additional Rebuke

Moshe also gave them tochachah for their lack of proper priorities. When speaking to Moshe, they stated that they had every intention of supporting the war efforts of the remainder of Klal Yisroel. “We will build pens for our flocks of cattle and cities for our children (Bamidbar 32:16).

Moshe admonished them for placing their possessions before their children. He implied that their priorities were misplaced, perhaps as a result of their intense focus on the needs of their flocks.

The people of Reuven and Gad accepted Moshe’s rebuke, and recalibrated their priorities. In fact, the next time they discussed their arrangements with Moshe (Bamidbar 32:26), they listed their children and wives before their cattle.

An Interesting Observation

The Ohr HaChaim notes that the leaders of the shevatim expressed their acceptance of Moshe’s rebuke using two different terms. They said that they would do ” as Moshe instructed us” (Bamidbar 32:25). Two pesukim later, they said that they would join Bnei Yisroel in battle, ” as my master has spoken.”

The Ohr HaChaim offers a lengthy explanation as to the reason for the two distinct terms that the people of Reuven and Gad used (see Ohr HaChaim, Bamidbar 32:25 for the full text).

A Deeper Level

I would like to suggest an additional thought as to the usage of these two terms.

Advice and guidance can be adhered to on two very different levels. The first is to follow what we were instructed to the letter of the law. A much deeper commitment is to truly get the “big picture” of what we are being told. When that happens, we don’t merely do what we are told. We internalize the lessons and change our view of things as a result of the wisdom we attained by listening to the constructive criticism that we were given.

The Bnei Reuven and Gad realized that their moral compass became skewed as a result of their newly acquired wealth. They were struck by the fact that they inadvertently mentioned their possessions before their children. Once they internalized the criticism of Moshe, they informed him that they were willing to improve and change the course of their lives.

“We will do what you instructed us,” they told Moshe. Much more importantly, they accepted the full meaning and import of their rebbi’s words – and the course of their lives.

Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Project Y.E.S.

To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s Dvar Torah Sefer, Growing With the Parsha or his popular parenting tapes and CD’s – including his 4-CD set “What Matters Most” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, email udi528@aol.com, or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

Responding To Your Children’s Questions About The Spitzer Episode

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

About eight years ago, I was out walking when our son Shlomie, then 16 years old, called me on my cell phone. He asked me if I heard the news. “What news?” I asked.

“Tatty,” he blurted out, “[New York City Mayor Rudy] Giuliani committed adultery!” “And” I said/asked, not knowing what he wanted from me or how he wanted me to respond. “How could he do this, Ta? I know [President Bill] Clinton did things like this, but Giuliani? He seems like such an honest, decent man,” Shlomie said, with confusion and hurt in his voice.

After a few moments of silence I told him that this is really not fit for a phone conversation, so I invited him to discuss this with me in person upon his arrival from yeshiva later that evening.

That unforgettable “Kodak moment” came to mind as the tawdry details of Governor Eliot Spitzer’s stunning downfall recently unfolded throughout the media. More than a few people contacted me, asking how they should respond to their teenager’s questions/ comments about this matter. Thus, the writing of this column.

Now back to Shlomie: Home from yeshiva, we went for a walk at which time I allowed him to express his disappointment with Giuliani and his bewilderment at how people do these kinds of things. When he wound down, I told him that everything that happens in our lives contains lessons to be learned – and this was no exception.

I told him that my take was that human frailty is such that the only way to prevent one from losing his or her moral compass in a moment of weakness was by establishing boundaries. I then gave him several concrete examples of boundaries that I set in my personal life. I asked him, “Shlomie, think back over the years growing up in our home. Did you ever see an unaccompanied woman come to our home to meet with me (and seek my advice) after dark or when there weren’t lots of people walking around our home?” and “Why do you think that the door to my study is almost completely made of glass?”

I explained to him that I decided long ago to set these boundaries – and others – in order to lessen the likelihood of being placed in a precarious position. (It was quite interesting that despite growing up in our home, Shlomie was unaware of the aforementioned two ‘boundaries’ I had set in my life, since we had never discussed them previously.) We talked about the dictum of our chazal (sages) of “ain apitropis l’arayos,” loosely translated to mean that no one can assume that he/she is immune to temptation. We also spoke about our chazal, in their wisdom, having established boundaries for us such as yichud (the prohibition against secluding oneself with a non-family member of the opposite gender) – in order to help us live within the Torah’s mandates.

Further, I emphasized the deep commitment and love that his mother and I share with each other and with our children, and how disruptive dishonesty can be to relationships. We talked about how trust is built and expanded over a period of time with loved ones, and how important it is to always be truthful with the people we care about. (Here are two quotes I find meaningful: “The first lie is always the hardest” and “There is no such thing as a single lie.” The latter means that when one is not truthful, he/she will inevitably need to lie many more times to “cover” for the original one.”)

I advise parents to not get flustered if and when your child raises this topic. Take it as a supreme compliment that he/she is comfortable discussing these matters with you. Keep in mind that you cannot guide your children if they don’t seek your advice.

Don’t make sweeping generalizations like “Frum people don’t do these things” or “Gentiles or non-frum people do.” That might carry the day now but, sadly, no community is without its bad apples. Your message to your child will be demolished and your credibility diminished when he/she discovers that we are not completely immune to poor and immoral behavior, and that there are deeply moral people outside our community.

Talk about our community’s family values, commitment to marriage and low divorce rate, and the Torah’s eternal lessons to help us maintain our spiritual and moral compass in the most trying of circumstances.

Talk about trust. It is an invaluable lesson for your teen to learn – now in his or her relationship with you and later in life when establishing his or her own family.

Do listen, for the real discussions take place when you stop lecturing and start listening. Create an environment where your child is comfortable asking you anything.

Always keep in mind that a repressed question is an unaddressed – and unresolved – one.

And Good luck!

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S.

To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s Dvar Torah Sefer, “Growing With the Parsha” or his popular parenting tapes and CD’s – including his 2-CD set on “Raising your Adolescent Children” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail udi528@aol.com, or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

Drinking On Purim

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

As the parents of three teenage boys, we are frightened each Purim that our kids will drink heavily and, chas v’shalom, get violently ill – or worse, get hurt in a car crash.

What are your thoughts on the Purim drinking “scene,” and what can we do as parents when our kids tell us to, “Chill out, everyone is doing it (drinking)?”

Respectfully,

Dovid and Chanie

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Dear Dovid and Chanie:

I commend you for being hands-on parents and wanting to become more educated on this subject. I have found over the years that the cognitive dissonance in our community is such a powerful force that many or most parents are blissfully unaware about the level of drinking and smoking among our teenagers. What is far more dangerous is that our street-smart teenagers are very well aware of that fact.

For over a decade, The Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse (C.A.S.A. – www.casacolumbia.org) has conducted dozens of studies on the dangers of teen smoking and drinking, and what techniques are most effective in preventing these scourges. Here are two of the most powerful findings of their voluminous research:

1) “A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so.”

2) “Teens who smoke cigarettes are 12 times likelier to use marijuana and more than 19 times likelier to use cocaine.”

With statistics like these, it is unfortunate that we have not done more to stop the rising tide of teen drinking and smoking. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, shlita, one of the most visionary and courageous people of our time, has been speaking about this subject for decades. He pleads with educators and parents to put an end to this plague adversely affecting our kids.

Thankfully, people are starting to take notice. Over the past few years, there has been a trend toward alcohol-free Purim parties, less adults offering children drinks, and an overall awareness regarding the dangers of teen drinking. But we still have a very long way to go.

When I mention drinking, I am not discussing having a glass of wine or even a small drink of whiskey. From my vantage point, there are two acceptable schools of thought regarding (older) teens and alcohol. One is to completely ban its use, while others claim that adults can show teenagers who are above the legal drinking age that drinking in moderation is OK by modeling appropriate behavior. I believe that either of those approaches is reasonable. But allowing kids – especially minors – to smoke and/or get flat-out drunk on Purim is simply unwise.

From the standpoint of both halachah and minhag (Jewish law and accepted practice, respectively), there is absolutely no basis for smoking of any kind as it relates to Purim. Case closed!

Drinking, on the other hand, does have a substantive source in halachah. Our chazal (sages) note that on Purim, one is “obligated to reach a state where one cannot discern (ad d’lo yoda) between [the wicked] Haman and [the blessed] Mordechai. Additionally, there are established minhagim in many kehilos for people – even distinguished talmidei chachamim – to drink heavily on Purim. So how can one arrive at the conclusion that one should not engage in heavy drinking on Purim? The answer is that our chazal clearly indicate that one can fulfill the requirement of ad d’lo yoda by drinking in moderation and then napping – because when one is sleeping, he cannot discern between Haman and Mordechai.

In light of the current challenging times and the dramatic increase over the past 10-15 years of the number of our teens who are drinking regularly, it may be appropriate for even those with the minhag to drink heavily on Purim to strongly consider asking their rav whether it is wise to continue this practice.

It is extraordinarily difficult to try getting your teens to buck peer pressure, and there is a stage in their lives when you cannot make these choices for them. And that is why it is encouraging that so many yeshivos have gone to alcohol-free Purim gatherings. But as parents, research clearly indicates that the two factors that help children make good choices and resist the seduction of these dangerous vices are parents who “get it” – those who are knowledgeable about the dangers that their children face – and parents who consistently speak to their children about avoiding these substances.

In a Jewish Press column I ran last year on Purim drinking, I mentioned a study on teen drug and alcohol use that was commissioned by school district superintendents and elected officials in affluent suburban areas of New York City. They were alarmed by the growing incidence of substance abuse in their communities, and puzzled by the fact that during the same time period drug use was dropping dramatically in the inner city.

Research revealed that the inner-city parents and schools were succeeding in reversing the trend of rising drug use because they were far more realistic in their assessment of the facts on the ground than were the more affluent suburbanites. Inner-city schools had “healthy living” curricula in the very early grades and hard-hitting substance abuse prevention programs beginning as early as the middle school grades. Parents regularly spoke to their children (as early as ages five and six) about the dangers of smoking, drinking and drug use. Affluent suburbanites, on the other hand, were oblivious to the realities of drug use among the kids in their own communities. In fact, most suburban teens interviewed for the study felt that their parents were “clueless” as to the number of kids who were “using” and the hard-core nature of the substances that were being used. Inner-city kids, meanwhile, reported that they felt their parents “really get it.”

Ironically, the fact that we, baruch Hashem, shelter our children from the secular world may add an element of risk to them taking up smoking and drinking. Why? Because we, as parents, may have the mindset of the suburban parents noted above that think their kids are immune to these dangers. Further, our children do not hear all the public health commercials and school awareness campaigns alerting children to the dangers of smoking and drinking. I am certainly not advocating that we overexpose our children to the secular world so that they hear “smoking-is-not-cool” or “this-is-your-brain-on-drugs” advertisements. But we need to be aware of the fact that our kids are not hearing this important information. And it is our job to share these messages with them – early and often.

For years, I have been writing columns in this newspaper bemoaning the fact that we are paying a steep price for reducing or entirely discouraging recreational/sports activities for normal, healthy teenagers who badly need exercise. One of the things driving me batty is when parents and/or educators excuse away drinking and smoking by explaining that, “The boys have a brutal schedule and need to blow a little steam.”

My response usually is, “Hello! Did you ever hear of a basketball?”

Best wishes for a safe, enjoyable and meaningful Purim.

© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the director of Project Y.E.S. To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s d’var Torah sefer, Growing With theParsha, or his popular parenting tapes and CDs – including his 2-CD set on “Raising your Adolescent Children” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail udi528@aol.com, or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

Princes Indeed

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

“V’Hanesiim Heiviu es Avnei HaShoham v’es Avnei HaMiluim – And the Princes [of the Jews] brought the Shoham Stones and the Miluim Stones” (Shemos 35:27). The Torah relates how the Nessiim, the leaders of each tribe, donated the precious stones that were worn by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) in his priestly garments, the Ephod and the Choshen.

Rashi, quoting the Midrash, notes the contrast between the gifts of these stones and the korbanos (sacrifices) that the Nessiim brought at the inauguration of the Mizbeach (Altar). The Torah relates how the Nessiim were the first to contribute sacrifices on the Mizbeach (Bamidbar 7:1), while in this week’s parshah, their donations of the valuable stones were made only after all the materials for the mishkan were contributed.

Rashi says that when Moshe invited Bnei Yisroel to begin donating items for the building of the Mishkan, the Nessiim assumed an extremely supportive role. They informed Moshe that they would like to allow all individuals to donate to the Mishkan and they would then provide all the remaining materials needed for its completion. As it turned out, however, the people were extremely inspired, and brought everything necessary for construction of the Mishkan in a few short days. Since the Nessiim delayed in actually giving their contribution, all that was left for them to provide were the precious stones.

Growing From Errors

Rashi comments that the word Nessiim in this one place (Shemos 35:27) is spelled without the letter “Yud” that it usually has, due to the lethargic manner in which the Nessiim brought their donations. (In many instances in the Torah, a missing letter in the narrative of a person’s actions indicates a flaw of sorts in the person or persons being described.) To their credit, Rashi points out, the Nessiim learned the lesson of this incident, and were the first to donate korbanos at the inauguration of the Mizbeach.

At first glance, however, it would seem that the Nessiim acted properly. They offered their complete, unwavering support to Moshe and then stepped back and allowed the others to participate. Imagine the following scenario. A synagogue president mounts the pulpit one Shabbos morning and announces that the shul will be undertaking a campaign to construct a new synagogue for the community. A wealthy man pulls him aside later that day and privately instructs him to begin building immediately. He assures the president that he will personally provide any missing funds needed to complete the project. The president would be stunned – and overjoyed!

The Nessiim seemed to reply to Moshe’s request for donations in a similar fashion. What was “missing” in their response? Why was the letter “Yud” missing from their title? Finally, how was their donation of the stones an appropriate action for them to take at this time?

The Kli Yakar explains that the Nessiim were guilty of underestimating the sincerity of Klal Yisroel by thinking that they would not contribute generously to the call of Moshe. A true leader must believe in his people. The Nessiim should have stepped forward at that historic moment, offered the first donation, and inspired the other people by their personal example.

The Kli Yakar explains that that touch of superiority in the attitude of the Nessiim resulted in the departure of the letter “Yud” of Hashem’s name from the title of Nessiim. (The Gemaramentions on several occasions that Hashem’s presence is found in the company of humility.)

The Nessiim internalized the lessons they learned from the experience of their delayed contribution. They were the first to offer korbanos the moment the Mizbeach was inaugurated. (The Chofetz Chaimpoints out that in Parshas Naso, the Torahrepeats again and again the exact gift that each Nasi brought to the Mishkan, even though each and every sacrifice was exactly the same as the others. He explains that the Torah is teaching us the great value of working together, selflessly, for the honor of Hashem.)

Looking up to the Kohen Gadol

I would like to propose that the Nessiim offered the precious stones worn by the Kohen Gadol as recognition of the lessons that they learned from this incident. They sought to direct their attention and the focus of future generation of Jews to the Kohen Gadol – the spiritual leader of Hashem’s people. Simple folk and kings alike would turn to the stones on his Choshen Mishpat for direction and advice. By donating these stones, they validated the primacy of Hashem’s word in our daily lives, and the need to actively seek the guidance of Torah leaders on matters of importance.

How ironic and fitting it is that the stones that were donated as a result of the initial actions of the Nessiim bear the names of the Shevatim (tribes) but no mention of the donors of these incredibly expensive gifts. The individual names of the Nessiim are, however, read each year in Parshas Naso; as we remember their inspired and selfless acts of generosity.

The Nessiim teach us timeless lessons through their recorded actions – to lead when the opportunity for a mitzvah is at hand, to reflect when an [even well-intentioned] error is made, to correct our course at the earliest opportunity, and to turn to Torah leaders for direction in our lives.

Princes, indeed.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S.

To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s Dvar Torah Sefer, “Growing With the Parsha” or his popular parenting tapes and CD’s – including his 2-CD set on “Raising your Adolescent Children” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail udi528@aol.com, or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

Should We Keep Our At-Risk Child At Home?

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We have six children ranging in age from a married daughter of 22 to a son of eight. Baruch Hashem, things are well with us regarding shalom bayis, parnassah and other areas of our lives.

Our 17-year-old son is a very at-risk teenager. We have been supporting him with testing, tutors, etc. throughout his school years, but nothing seems to have worked. He’s been in several schools since 9th grade, but dropped out and is currently working full time. We have an excellent relationship with him, as he is respectful and does not violate Shabbos/kashrus in front of our family members. But he is, at this point in his life, completely non-observant.

Our dilemma regards his four siblings still in our home. We are terribly worried that they will pick up his habits and lifestyle. Here are our questions:

1) Should we ask him to leave our home, as many of our friends suggest? (We don’t think this is a good idea.)

2) How can we allow him to remain in our home while turning his back on all we hold dear?

3) What do we tell our other children? They all know, to some degree and depending on their age, what is really going on.

We are so torn over this situation. Adding to the confusion is all the diverse and conflicting advice we are being given by others. We are hearing, “be firm, be flexible, give him an ultimatum, always keep the lines of communication open,” etc.

We would be most grateful for your advice. Thank you very much.

Names Withheld

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

The first thing that struck me about your letter was the part about your confusion over getting conflicting advice from many different people. I hear that from so many parents who are in your excruciating situation. I hope this column helps you sort things out and not add to the swirl of information.

Based on your letter, I have a strong hunch that you are doing exactly what you should be doing since you describe your relationship with your son as excellent. Trust me, if your relationship survived his rocky school experience and crisis of faith, you should be giving guidance to parents yourselves.

While there is little I can do to completely allay your fears about your other children picking up your son’s rebellious behaviors, I can tell you that in my 25 years of dealing with at-risk kids and their families, I have found it extremely rare that a child went off the derech because he or she followed a sibling who strayed from Yiddishkeit. What often skews the data and leads people to believe that off the derech is “contagious” are situations where there are significant flaws in the family dynamics that are left unaddressed and uncorrected despite the fact that a child exhibited signs of rebellion.

Now for some answers to your questions:

1) I am usually reluctant to give advice to people I do not know, but there does not seem to be any reason for you to even consider asking him to leave your home. I would respond differently if you mentioned that he was self-destructing (i.e. substance abuse) or undermining your authority or the quality of life at home, or if you felt there was a clear and present danger of another child going off the derech. But none of these seem to apply, so I don’t think sending him away is open for discussion in your situation.

For parents who have one or more of those three conditions present regarding a rebellious child, I usually recommend that they first go for counseling to try and improve things, and to gain a clearer understanding of the issues at hand. Then, armed with that information, they should visit their rav for guidance regarding sending a child away from home. I do not think parents should make that dinei nefashos (life-or-death) decision without both components – medical and rabbinic advice.

2) Several years ago, one of our leading gedolim told me that a father in your situation should inform his child that he ought not feel disenfranchised from Hashem’s Torah and its eternal lessons just because he does not fully understand it all at the young age of 17. This is because growing close to Hashem and comprehending His Torah is a lifelong mission. You, as parents, can be most helpful in reframing your son’s “no” to a “not yet.”

3) What should you tell your children? Tell them simply that you love them all unconditionally – always and forever. And that means giving each of them what they need when they need it. Period!

Explain to them that, above all, at this juncture in his life your 17-year-old needs understanding and acceptance – and as difficult as this is, you are committed to provide this to him. This is the most honest and beautiful thing you can tell them; that they would get the same measure of unconditional love, time and acceptance from you if they had a crisis of any sort in their lives. Tell them that they, too, should love their brother unconditionally and not withdraw their emotional support for him due to his eroding faith in Hashem.

I cannot predict the future, but I can assure you that the best chance you have that your son will find his way back to Hashem is to follow the darchei noam approach I suggested. The bedrock of your unconditional love will hopefully provide the platform upon which your son can gently and slowly build upon – and return to Torah and mitzvos.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S. To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s D’var Torah sefer, Growing With the Parsha, or his popular parenting tapes and CDs – including his 2-CD set on “Raising your Adolescent Children” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail udi528@aol.com, or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

Changing Schools (Conclusion)

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Our 12-year-old son is not doing well in his 7th grade local yeshiva class.

We are considering moving him to another local yeshiva in mid-year, as things are rapidly deteriorating. We are not asking for specific advice, as you do not know him or us. But can you share with us what questions to ask and answers to give when making this difficult decision?

Names Withheld

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Here are some final suggestions:

Come prepared:

I would suggest you come prepared for your first interview with the potential new school, armed with all relevant documentation that the Head of School may request. Bring at least one year of Hebrew and General Studies report cards, and any educational testing reports that may have been done over the past few years. Coming prepared is a sign of respect for the Head of School. You will present yourselves as thoughtful, hands-on parents; in short, people an educator would love to partner with.

Be honest with the prospective school:

It is often tempting to suppress information that will impact negatively on your son from the prospective school’s view. Bad move! The Head of School will, in all likelihood, find out what you were trying to hide, and this will put a significant damper on your application. Even if you slip this by and get your son accepted by withholding critical information, you are getting your new partnership started on the proverbial wrong foot. Please keep in mind that getting your child accepted to the new school is not as important as getting him into a school that will work with you. With this in mind, duping the Head of School is not a recipe for future synergistic cooperation. On the other hand, being candid with him or her will set the stage for a relationship based on trust and mutual respect.

Be gracious:

When discussing your son’s current setting with the prospective school head, please make sure that you are gracious and respectful. You may think that a school head would enjoy hearing negative information about a competing school, but trust me when I say that there are few things that will derail your application as quickly as when parents speak poorly about their current school. After all, a reasonable school head will assume that sooner or later you will speak disparagingly about their school, as well. (I know this sounds elementary, but you would be surprised to hear how many people put their worst foot forward in this fashion in school or job interviews.) The best thing you can say is something like, “His current school is good, but the chemistry was just not right.”

To tell or not to tell:

It is tough to decide when to inform the current Head of School that you are considering or actually making a school change. A balanced approach might be to keep things confidential while you are doing your due diligence, but be prepared to inform your current Head of School once things go beyond the initial interview with the “new” school.

The head of the “new” school will invariably ask to speak to faculty members at your child’s current school. And once that happens, it will become public knowledge. It is much better for you to break the news to the school head yourself. If at all possible, I recommend that you do so in person.

Timing is everything:

You mentioned that as things are deteriorating, you would like to make the move mid-year. I encourage you to carefully consider if this is something you must do in mid-year. Generally speaking, it is more difficult for a child to make the adjustment to a new school in mid-year, as all of his or her classmates are settled into the rebbe’s/teacher’s routines. Additionally, friendships tend to be more established at this time.

In your particular case, with your son in 7th grade, a better case could be made for a mid-year move, as many schools are understandably reluctant to accept a transfer student for an incoming 8th grade graduating class. (The same applies for high school seniors.)

Prepare your child for the move:

If and when your application is accepted and you decide to make the move, you would be well served to consider the interpersonal aspect of a school change. Socialization is such an important component of a child’s school experience that you should do whatever possible to ease the transition. One way to do this would be to get a list of his future classmates and invite one or two to your home for Shabbos or a Sunday afternoon.

And don’t forget to daven to Hashem for hatzlachah!

Best wishes for a successful resolution of this matter.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S.

To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s D’var Torah sefer, Growing With the Parsha, or his popular parenting tapes and CDs – including his 2-CD set on “Raising your Adolescent Children” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail udi528@aol.com or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/changing-schools-conclusion/2008/01/30/

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