Is It Time to Rethink the Bochur-Family Relationship?

Article by Rabbi Gershon Avtzon: There is a common perception in the chinuch institutions that bochurim should have a distant relationship with their parents and families and I feel that it is time to change the mindset completely.

By Rabbi Gershon Avtzon – rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Lubavitch Cincinnati

We are preparing for the Yom Tov of Purim, a day we celebrate “mishpacha-mishpacha”, thus I feel that it is an appropriate time to discuss the importance of the relationship that today’s bochurim should have with their families. There is a common perception in the chinuch institutions that bochurim should have a distant relationship with their parents and families and I feel that it is time to change the mindset completely.

In truth, this is how Tomchei Temimim was founded. It is well-known that when the Rebbe Rashab founded Tomchei Temimim, there was a rule that a bochur could not go home for a few years. The reason was simple: With all the spirit of enlightenment and “isms” of the time that were sweeping through Russia (socialism, Zionism, etc.), the talmidim needed to be totally immersed in the atmosphere of Tomchei Temimim. This helped them build a strong foundation and strong walls of fortification against the winds of the time. 

I have heard the following story from my father on numerous occasions: There was once a widow that wanted very much that her son should go home and lead the seder for her newly-orphaned younger children. The Frierdike Rebbe stuck firmly to the Yeshiva policy and did not give permission. In desperation, she went to the Rebbe Rashab and cried out: “What is with the mitzvah of kibbud av v’eim”?

The Rebbe Rashab patiently listened to her, but did not yield. He then said the following (needs to be heard with some “l’chaim” and understood in context): “If chassidim would have always been scrupulous with the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V’eim, there would never be chassidim!”. 

The meaning of the statement is simple and profound: All the original chassidim broke from the traditions of their parents to join the family of chassidim. Many of their parents experienced tremendous grief from the decisions of their children, excommunicated their children and even sat Shiva (r”l) for their children- as chassidim were considered to be complete apostates. 

This approach, that the less a bochur connects to his biological family, and just focuses on his personal growth and avodah the better – has been one of the underlying rules of chinuch in many of our yeshivos. In some yeshivos it is said explicitly, while in others it is implied during speeches and farbrengens.

From my understanding of the Rebbe’s approach to chinuch of today, and from personal experience and perspective, it is clear to me that this approach has to be rethought in our chinuch systems today. As I have been involved in chinuch for over 20 years, I have come to understand that – in today’s times, and with the internal struggles, trials and external factors that are influencing our young boys and girls – the talmidim that have a strong family foundation (positive relationship with their parents, siblings, (cousins) and grandparents) are healthier, have more self-confidence and hold on stronger to the values we work hard to impart. 

 As with everything, we must look for guidance from the Rebbe. We should not be coming up with ideas to make a  “change” if it is not based on the Rebbe’s behavior or teachings. Let’s try to understand the Rebbe’s approach to the value of family bonding and connection in our generation:

1 – While in the earlier years, the Rebbe discouraged relatives (even siblings) from (expensive) traveling for weddings and simchas, the Rebbe then said “nishtanu haitim – times have changed” and people can and should travel to family simchas. The same answer was given to the talmidei hashluchim in Australia, who were never given Reshus to leave during their two years of shlichus, that in these matters – as of 5751 –  “times of changed” (See Likkutei Maanos 5751 page 186).

2 – Historically, in Chabad, only men were shluchim. A man would leave his family, sometimes for months and years, to fulfill the missions and directives of their Rebbe. It was our Rebbe who strongly pushed for the “ish u’beiso”, the family model of shlichus. Husbands should not be on extended leave from their wives, and the children should have a strong connection to their mother and father.

3 – The Rebbe’s personal connection with his parents is legendary. The daily visits to Rebbetzen Chana a”h, and the deep feeling for his father – the holy Harav Levi Yitzchak zt”l – should be an inspiration and example for our behavior.

I write the above so that there can be some inner reflection on the part of today’s educators and parents: 

Mechanchim (in any capacity): Realize how important it is to be very encouraging of a boy’s bonding with his parents and grandparents. Allow, and even encourage, the talmidim to participate in simchas and family reunions (especially in shnas Hakhel). If a father, or grandfather, wants to take his son out for a few days to spend quality time, don’t make it too difficult. This is a case of “bittula zehu kiyuma” – it will build the bochur.

I have heard many stories (first hand) of talmidim that were emotionally crushed and drained when they asked to get reshus for a family simcha and were denied. In some instances, they were the only one of their relatives not allowed to attend a certain family gathering. It permanently ruined their trust that the hanhala truly had their best interest in mind. As educators, we must remember: “They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”.

We must truly believe, and act accordingly, that our parent-body are our partners in the chinuch of their children. If they feel that this particular simcha is important for their child to attend, their opinion should be taken seriously. There are of course certain exceptions, as certain parents “abuse the system”, but it should be viewed as the exception and not the rule. It is obvious that not every request must be granted, but the parents should not feel that their opinion was disregarded out-of-hand or disrespected

Parents of Talmidim: You must truly believe that you are partners with the yeshiva in the chinuch of their children, by working with the hanhala when it comes to receiving permission to attend simchas etc. When speaking of the yeshiva, and the hanhala, with your children – always speak positively as you would about your true partner.

Here is the most important point: You show that you are true partners with the yeshivos by striving to run your homes with the standards that their children are being educated in the mosdos. There is nothing more confusing to a child, and detrimental to his chinuch, when he sees a dual standard by his two biggest support systems i.e. his parents and his yeshiva.

 Parents should also make an effort to carve out time to give personal time to each child, to nurture that personal relationship. Many of your children come from large families, Baruch Hashem, and they need to feel that they have a personal connection with their parents. A small private trip or outing, can have a lasting positive effect. 

In the spirit of  the famous saying of the Rebbe about Yud-Daled Kislev, I would like to finish by saying that the day you register your child in a mosad should be felt (by the mosad and parent) as: “The day that connected me to you, and you to me, and together we will bring the Geula!”

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below, or by sending me a personal email at: [email protected]

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  1. The Rebbe spoke about the importance of a bochur spending time with his family (in general and specifically Friday night), on yud shvat 5734. May we merit the ultimate unification of us with our Rebbe right now!

  2. A. The fact that a parent child relationship is vital is patently obvious. Saying something obvious detracts from the authors intent, because it gives an impression that the matter is not self-evident.
    B. What would the author opine with regards to dorming versus staying at home where the homes are very spiritually lacking and pose a risk for a talmid/ah? E.g. should a young bochur be encouraged to stay in a dormitory when there is unfiltered internet at home? I don’t know the answer. There are good arguments on both sides. I had to decide this question and I advised the hanhala to allow the boys to remain at home. I wonder whether I was correct.

  3. we must assume that nothing in the tomchei temimim chinuch changes, unless clearly specified by the rebbe.

    the sources rabbi avtzon brought are very weak. the change in policy for flights was clearly due to the change in pricing and practicality of travel. having a full family go on shlichus, and the rebbes personal kibbud ov v’eim are both simply not connected to the discussion.

    therefore, the merit of having a bochur fully immersed in yeshiva has not been dimminished.

    on the contrary, anyone in touch with todays homes knows that most bochrims homes are much more risky than the “ism’s” of yesteryear.

  4. i believe that both points are true, and one doesn’t take away from the other, its important that a bochur has a healthy relationship with his family and on the other hand its important for the bochurs growth in yeshiva especially in his yunger years to be in a ruach and sorounded by a makif of torah, yiras shomayim and avodas hashem, which how ever good his home is, it does not come in place to a a ruach of yeshiva.
    its not black or white and in every situation you have to see whats more beneficial for the bochur.

  5. The author didn’t provide solid basis for his argument.

    The fact that a husband should be with his wife and (young) children has no bearing on how a bochur in yeshiva should behave.

    Yes the Rebbe visited his mother daily. The Rebbe wasn’t a yeshiva bochur.

  6. It is a clear halacha in hilchos talmud torah that learning supersedes kibud av. I don’t know why a proof needs to be brought for this

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