Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Eizik Chodakov, whose yahrzeit is 3 Iyar, served as the Rebbe’s legendary secretary and chief of staff, but was also a master educator. Read some of his educational advice, practical now as ever.
Born to a family of Chabad lineage in 5662 (1902), Harav Chaim Mordechai Aizik Chadakov moved to Riga at a young age, where his studious and refined personality began to develop.
During the First World War, still in his mid-teens, young Mordechai Aizik began his illustrious chinuch career, running an evening program for young refugees, where he taught Mishna and halacha. When at the age of eighteen he was appointed principal of a local school, his reputation attracted many students, and the successful school quickly developed into a network of frum schools under his leadership.
Harnessing his organizational expertise, oratory skills and leadership qualities for frum education throughout the country, during the 5690s (1930s) he became a member of the Latvian government’s board of education, where he served as a representative of the Agudas Yisroel party.
The Frierdiker Rebbe personally appointed Harav Chadakov to join him when he fled war-torn Europe in 5700 (1940), and already on the ship he instructed him to outline a plan for the forthcoming work for American Yiddishkeit. For the next fifty years, he stood by the Frierdiker Rebbe and by the Rebbe’s side in establishing the infrastructure of Lubavitch outreach and chinuch programs, serving as chairman of Agudas Chassidei Chabad, director of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and head of the Rebbe’s secretariat.
Throughout his years as director of the Lubavitch educational system, Harav Chadakov dispensed tens of thousands of instructions and spelled out principles on the nature and method of education. These instructions cover a wide variety of issues including school policies, suitable curricula for boys and girls, standards for teachers and, most importantly, educating each individual student with values and ideals.
The following is a selection of passages from “The Educator’s Handbook” by Kehot Publication Society. The full volume is available online here.
From the Introduction
How clearly, as the following pages will show, did Rabbi Chadakov understand the implications of such common terms as “can’t keep up in school,” “roam the streets,” “have to belong to something”; and with what simple unshakable faith did he point to the teachings of the Torah as the antidote for his condition – Torah, and the proud traditions of the Chassidic movement in the whole-hearted attempt to save those deemed to be beyond repair…
With the framework of modern secular society, Rabbi Chadakov was a defender of the faith and of the soul. He saw, rather he registered with all his senses, the phenomenon that he dubbed “the atmosphere of the street,” and took up arms against it, for he well understood its seductive and pernicious charms.
The media, television in particular, were dominant elements of that atmosphere. He especially feared, because he understood, the influence of television on young minds the barrage of images against which they are defenseless (an observation confirmed, as it happens, by experimental psychology). Thus, the mantra-like repetition, that what we see buries itself deep with the psyche and is able to rise to the surface, virus-like, even after being ‘dormant’ for many years.
MELAMED vs. SHLIACH
Let all the young men committed to the cause of education have no doubts of the fact that the melamed is perhaps more important than the shliach. How so? The better part of a shliach’s time is devoted to fundraising, whereas the sole concern of the melamed is to disseminate Torah among his students! And what could better crown his labors than the fact that in his spare time the melamed is also engaged in mivtzoim (outreach activities of all lands) – this graces his existence with a touch of true perfection, far beyond what the shliach can achieve!
We are living in times of crisis. Our response must be to imbue our students even more deeply with the fear of Heaven and the acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom of G-d, and to do this as a matter of urgency!
I am obliged to point out that, on this score, many schools are not living up to their responsibility, which is borne out by the fact that when I ask principals: – “What are you doing to turn out students who are truly Heaven-fearing? How do you rate your efforts in this area?” – no answer is forthcoming.
We must put on the table for intensive and in-depth discussion everything connected with the fear of Heaven, and learn with the students maamarim devoted to this topic – never forgetting that the study of halacha can, in and of itself, bring us to the fear of Heaven.
We must launch a new campaign on the theme of yiras shamayim, combining rhetorical skills with a sophisticated knowledge of the media in order to give it maximum publicity and to reach all age groups in the attempt. Yiras shamayim must become the burning issue, the hot topic of the day!
EDUCATING FOR GOOD CHARACTER TRAITS
Educational institutions must place a special emphasis on the mitzvos that deal with social relations of all kinds. They must seek to educate the heart of the student-helping him or her to develop the entire range of moral qualities, while avoiding a too narrow emphasis on intellectual achievement. The Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, once thundered at a farbrengen: “What is Chassidus without good middos!”
There is a general misconception that what belongs to the sphere of human relations is one thing, and what belongs to the sphere of “the fear of Heaven” – yiras shamayim – another. When we look into the Shulchan Aruch, however, we see that the former is a fundamental concern of Judaism, and that every Jew has an obligation to acquire good middos, no different, in essence, from the obligation to imitate the attributes of the Creator.
IMPARTING GOOD MIDDOS
The teacher must look upon everything that he or she teaches the child, the parshas hashavuah, for example, and of course the stories of our Sages, as a model for daily conduct and a spur to the acquisition of good character traits. A lesson devoted to the practical details of halacha is the ideal medium for this.
It is a good idea to set aside part of the lesson-either at the beginning or the end-for free and informal conversation with the students and, by bringing out into the open, (sympathetically and discreetly), some problem that has recently emerged, to help the students tackle it in an adult manner. The problem should be addressed, not in a spirit of reproach, but in a way that leaves the student whose actions the discussion pertains to, in no uncertainty as to its relevance to his own “case.”
We have to teach the children, as soon as they are old enough to understand, that they must always heed the opinions and the feelings of the other person; then, even in their old age, this habit will not desert them.
For example, when a child who is in dispute, or has a quarrel, with his friend, comes to plead his case before the teacher, the latter must listen with all seriousness, (for to the child this is a very serious matter in the same manner that, when an halachic inquiry is presented to him, the adjudicating rabbi will take in all the details and delve into the matter most carefully. From such an example the child will understand the necessity of giving due weight to the other person’s opinion, so that in adult life such a principle will not be the least alien to his thinking.
Furthermore, when the child sees that he has the teacher’s attention and is being treated like a grown-up, he will be that much more amenable to the teacher’s counsel, allowing himself to be reconciled with his friend and acquiring in the process a fondness for the ways of peace-making.
If our educational institutions were to devote more time to instruction in the art of conflict resolution, we might see a good deal less conflict among adults, than that which we unfortunately do see today.
CIVILITY AND ETIQUETTE
When we turn our attention to the related subjects of etiquette and the cultivation of social graces, we find that ignorance, and the uncouthness that results, is the rule. Even schools that should know better make little or no provision for the study of the relevant halachos.
We educators must not neglect to give the children a proper grounding in these concepts: to show respect to the elderly, for example, through performing the mitzvah of “(You shall) rise before the elderly,” (Kedoshim, 19:32), on bus and train especially, but wherever the opportunity presents itself. This is by no means a trivial point. As the Rambam emphasizes, (Hikhot De’os, 5:1), we recognize the wise by everything they do: not only by their actions, but by the way they speak, the way they eat and the way they drink-in a word, by their manners. All this is a fundamental principle in education.
Orchos Chaim of the Rosh and the sefer Archei Yisrael both provide us with practical definitions of civility and decorous behavior.
It is vital to restore this subject to its rightful place in the curriculum, and thence to the minds and hearts of the students. Admittedly, there is a temptation to downplay it because it only has to do with “externals,” but – externals act upon the inner person and upon all that a person does, and, beyond this, help to shape and refine our moral being.
If we will only attend to this, the character and temperament of our students will be transformed before our eyes, bringing with it a kiddush Hashem, causing the world to sit up and take notice, and exclaim “See, how noble are their ways when we compare them to. . . .”
REFINEMENT IN SPEECH
The students need to understand that there is much more to the idea of acceptable speech than the mere avoidance of the forbidden-as profanity, gutter language, and the like. In effect, they must aim to cultivate a certain style, a style of speech without abrasiveness, discreet, tactful and refined, (even though refinement of speech is no guarantee of refinement of soul).
Chassidus explains that although the care that we take to moderate our speech is an aspect of our social relations, hence of the “external world,” it (this care) nonetheless has a direct effect upon our inner lives, for the simple reason that the garment – in this case, the garment of speech – “acts upon the wearer.”
Here too, we can learn from the conduct of the Rebbe, who took great care whenever he spoke to avoid the slightest suspicion of impropriety.
BOORISHNESS IN SPEECH
The sefer Orchos Chaim provides models of the civilized behavior and simple good manners that should be the norm in daily life. For example: “Do not talk like a boor,” that is: “one should speak in measured tones, without drawing attention to oneself, and not with a loud voice, like an uncouth person.” When a child reared along these lines reaches manhood, he will have the good sense not to “bawl out” his own children, (something which can harm them psychologically and therefore affect their ability to learn), nor shake the rafters with his outbursts, in this way protecting the delicate bloom of domestic peace.
“ISKAFYA” – SELF MASTERY
Teach the student to leave a little of the candy-bar unconsumed, that is, salve to develop in him or her the state of mind capable of such a “feat”: the brain dominating the candy, and not vice versa – the candy dominating the brain.
ORDERLINESS AND SYSTEM
We should expect of our students strict standards of orderliness, a virtue that will rain down blessings on them. To this end, the student must be given a clear picture of the important role that orderliness plays in every facet of his or her life-keeping his private space tidy; being punctual and constantly aware of the passing of time, enabling it to be utilized in the best possible way; tidiness of dress; an intelligent study-schedule, logical thinking, and so on.
“Order and system” are fundamental principals in Chassidus, as we learn from Hayom Yom, (7 Tammuz): that the Baal Shem Tov was orderly and systematic. The Maggid insisted upon order, and the Alter Rebbe taught the chassidim to be orderly. Indeed, the very bearing of a person testifies to the fact that he is orderly in all that he does, or to the exact opposite, as the case may be.
ARDOR AND FEELING
There was a time when chasidim were noted for their depth of feeling; indeed, these were among the elemental qualities of Chassidus. Today, however, things are performed by rote-without fire, without heart. For example: simcha – not just to dance with one’s feet, but to experience joy in the depths of the heart. Giving tzedakah – not just the physical act of giving, but giving with a radiant countenance, from feelings of purest compassion.
The Rebbe has called for a heightened awareness of Moshiach and the ultimate redemption-“We Want Moshiach Now!” The children should be asked if they ever stop to think about the meaning of this call; and if they answer in the affirmative-what has been the result, how has their thinking made a difference in the real world?
If there is truly a desire for Moshiach – the desire must express itself in practical terms, and everyone must ask themselves the question: what am I doing to hasten his coming?
In like vein, the students must be asked to give thought to what the coming of Moshiach will mean for them. The Rambam explains (Hilchos Melachim, 12:4) that the whole purpose of the coming of Moshiach is to enable us to learn Torah, free of all encumbrances. Hence, the question arises – nowadays, when we do have leisure and the obstacles to our Torah-learning have all but disappeared – do we seize the hour and actually learn more Torah?
SAFEGUARDING OUR INVESTMENT
Who can be indifferent to the fate of his handiwork? And who would not turn pale at the thought that all that he has worked and striven for could be ruined in a day? Take, then, a student with whom his teacher has shared his knowledge, investing in the process all his energy and skill. And consider how, at the end of the school day, when he is no longer under supervision, the baneful atmosphere of the street can wreak havoc with all that has been so laboriously achieved in the classroom.
Even a single moment spent beyond its pale can do a great deal of harm – as in the case of one who goes from a warm room into the cold air and risks catching a chill, or even a fever; as in the case of a soldier, crouching in his fox-hole with the bullets whistling overhead-who need only show his face to have his life snuffed out.
To what conclusion does this bring us? Obviously, the student must be kept busy every hour of the day, every day of the week, and particularly on Shabbos!
A LIVING EXAMPLE
Parents must never lose sight of the fact that-from a child’s earliest age-their own behavior, even in the world beyond the home, is a major determinant in the foundation of its character and to a much greater extent than they might think possible. A crucial part of the child’s education depends upon the sights and sounds to which it is exposed at home, in the milieu created by its parents.
A boy, who regards his father as the living embodiment of certain qualities, will want to be like him, will respect him and will conduct himself towards him in the proper way.
Incidentally, a great deal of this depends upon the mother, for the child’s education is, more than not, left to her discretion.
When the father makes the wisest use of his time, participates in shiurim and studies actively; davens regularly three times a day with a minyan; does not talk during davening; and so on – his example is absorbed by the child and becomes the blueprint for his own behavior.
It is futile to expect a child to have set times for Torah study when this is not the custom in his own home, (and a father simply cannot demand of his son something that he finds too bothersome to do himself). In the child’s mind Torah learning will be lumped together with other kinds of schoolwork, and he will look forward to the day when he is “exempt” from it all – just like his father.