In a letter sent to Rabbi Shaya Itkin, MyShliach MBP Director, the parents of two boys, one who has serious learning disabilities, and the other born with exceptional cognitive abilities, write how a dream for a drone accomplished what had seemed impossible.
As its fourth Mishnayos and Tanya Baal Peh season comes to a close, MyShliach MBP director, Rabbi Shaya Itkin, shares an impactful letter he received. It speaks volumes of the incredible potential that lies hidden within each child, and sheds light on how the adults around him can facilitate its revelation.
Dear Rabbi Itkin,
As you know, two of our sons participated in the past three seasons of your wonderful MBP program. You may have seen the numbers that were entered into their accounts each time they were tested, or come across their names as you processed prize selections. But beyond the numbers and information you saw on your screen lies the story of two real live children, each with his own gifts and challenges, and the journey they took over the last year and a half.
Our son Dovid was nine years old when we first registered him for the MBP program. Dovid has serious learning disabilities, and was barely reading and writing on a second grade level. Learning baal peh was a dream he had tried so many times to achieve, but he would usually get mixed up when working with even three or four words. The most he had ever managed to memorize was about two lines.
Even so, he joined many learning contests over the years, struggling each time (despite our help) as he’d review over and over again. The results were usually very poor. He’d watch as family and friends kept on earning prizes and recognition, while he never succeeded in making the grade. My husband and I tried explaining to him that Hashem gives each person different talents, and that he should focus on his areas of strength (BH he can draw on a professional level), but he’d insist on trying at every opportunity.
Then we found out about MyShliach’s MBP. Dovid was overjoyed to know that he could earn points simply from the amount of time he spent learning. In the beginning, he spent about two hours a day listening to the Tanya recordings by Elor Velner (one or two lines over and over again until he caught on). Then we realized that only the first 15 minutes of learning were counted toward the points. By that time, Dovid had gotten so “into it” that he continued listening and learning for much longer periods of time per day, and wasn’t willing to miss out even one day. On days when he came home very late from a simcha or other event, sometimes even after midnight, he still insisted on Tanya time before going to bed.
Then Dovid decided to start getting tested, too. After all, each line would earn him additional points. We tried to convince him out of it, but he really wanted to do it. Without his knowledge, I requested that the testers be a bit lenient about perfection, and test less lines at a time, and we started the testing. As we had expected, Dovid found the testing to be very challenging. But he had seen a real drone on the prize list and decided that he had to go for it.
We were sure there was no way he could do it, but he had his eye on the prize and a burning desire to succeed. At every spare moment, he would run after me to learn with him and test him. By now our entire family was learning Tanya by heart because Dovid insisted on keeping the Tanya songs open all day, every day (he played them from the computer in our dining room).
The Rebbe taught us all about the infinite, supernatural power hidden within every person, waiting to be revealed. Well, that’s exactly what we saw emerge. With endless review, Dovid was slowly but surely managing to learn one more line and then one more.
The “drone dream” kept him going. We tried to convince him to try for a cheaper prize, but nothing else interested him. The end of the season was nearing and the amount of points he still needed in order to be able to purchase the drone seemed far beyond his reach.
Dovid asked the Rebbe for a bracha. Shortly thereafter, we were informed that siblings were permitted to share points and work toward a prize together. This is where Zalman’s story comes in.
Our 11-year-old son Zalman was BH born with exceptional cognitive abilities. Boys his age will typically study one or two or maybe three lines baal peh at a time. Zalman’s special bracha enables him to learn a page or more by heart at a time, usually without mistakes. Realizing this, Zalman has long lost interest in memorizing. When enrolled in any baal peh contest, he usually waits until the last minute, and then manages to accomplish in one or two days what others work on for a very long time. In the past, we have tried to convince Zalman to take advantage of his Divine gift and learn sedarim of Mishnayos or the entire Sefer Hatanya by heart. Despite our offers of prizes and incentives, he simply hasn’t been interested.
When Dovid found out that siblings were permitted to share points, he convinced Zalman to help him earn the missing points needed to acquire the drone. Baruch Hashem, to our family’s great joy, they succeeded. The long-anticipated drone arrived at our door shortly thereafter and was celebrated with due pomp.
By this time, Dovid had become a real MBP masmid and was learning away, more than we had ever dreamed possible. I don’t know if it was the effect of the holy letters that had penetrated his neshamah, or the fact that he had finally tasted the success of yogata umatzasa taamin, but the mind of this child, who had such serious learning disabilities, seemed to have been opened. Dovid was managing to learn baal peh like other children his age. While perhaps at a lesser pace and quantity than his peers, the greatness of his strides exceeded them by leaps and bounds.
That’s not all. In fourth grade, while his classmates were already learning Gemara, Dovid still wasn’t grasping the Mishnayos he was learning with privately hired tutors. Last year, in fifth grade, he suddenly began to connect with and comprehend the Mishnayos. This year, he has baruch Hashem begun to learn Gemara and is advancing beautifully. We all feel that this great miracle has come about through his efforts to master the Mishnayos and Tanya baal peh. You cannot imagine our overflowing feelings of appreciation to the Aibershter, the Rebbe, and your wonderful MBP program!
Having already acquired the drone, this season we tried to convince Dovid and Zalman to work toward purchasing the seforim that were being offered in the MBP prize store. Again, Zalman wasn’t too interested, and Dovid felt they were too expensive. Baruch Hashem, he was still motivated to learn, this time completely lishmah, as he wasn’t interested in the prizes that were available.
About two weeks before Yud Shevat this year, one of our older sons, Mendel, who is in yeshiva out of town, told us that he is working very hard and using his every spare moment to learn. His yeshiva was running a mivtza and would be raffling off a few sets of the entire Likkutei Sichos to those who qualified. Mendel asked his brothers to daven for him to win the raffle, because he claimed he usually doesn’t have mazal with raffles and really wanted the prize. In the end, Mendel did not win the raffle.
Shortly thereafter, Dovid and Zalman noticed the set of Likkutei Sichos being offered in the MBP prize store. They were determined to buy it for Mendel. When we saw the price, my husband and I tried to convince them out of it. We didn’t want them to be disappointed that they hadn’t succeeded. But they were really set on meeting their goal.
From that day forward began a real marathon of learning. All day, every day. The end of the season was quickly approaching and they were still missing too many points. That Wednesday, the boys began to worry as to how they would manage. Baruch Hashem, we soon found out that all learning and testing done on the following day, Thursday, would be worth double points.
The boys took off time from school and other activities and just spent the entire day learning. From early morning to late at night, they worked as a team. Zalman memorized and Dovid patiently reviewed with him and tested him. As night fell they saw they still had a way to go, so, unbeknownst to us, they stayed up the entire night studying and testing, studying and testing. The prize store would be closing right before Shabbos, so they worked at it right until licht bentchen time. My husband and I tested them and recorded their accomplishments, but as Shabbos entered, they had still not earned enough to purchase the Likkutei Sichos. Over Shabbos, we worked on being besimchah, and strengthening our belief in hashgachah pratis.
On motzoei Shabbos, the boys were overjoyed when I opened my email and discovered that MyShliach had granted a bonus extension until midnight that night, Eastern Time. Living overseas, that gave us until early Sunday morning. The boys again stayed up all night learning. We tested them at 4:30 a.m. and, to our great joy, Baruch Hashem they crossed the finish line! They purchased the Likkutei Sichos and sent Mendel a text informing him of the exciting surprise gift that awaited him. Even now, a few days later, Mendel still cannot believe this has actually happened.
As you have just discovered, this relatively simple, basic-sounding program is anything but that. While you may have thought you were just throwing in an extra little something to help keep our kids productively occupied, your Mishnayos baal peh program has literally been life-changing for both Dovid and Zalman, as well as for us as their parents. We extend our heartfelt appreciation to you and your fellow staff at Merkos 302, and all those who take part in producing, organizing, and supporting this most wondrous project for yaldei hashluchim around the world. May Hashem repay you all manifold, and may we all merit to give the Rebbe true Chassidishe nachas.
With tremendous gratitude and blessings for Moshiach now,
Dovid and Zalman’s mother