We Need to be Good Enough for Our Children

Mrs. Chana Kornfeld of Inverrary, FL questions the criteria used to decide where a child belongs in our chinuch system today. “If the child was at risk of being kidnapped by the Cantonists, would we still say he’s not the right fit?”

by Mrs. Chana Kornfeld for Anash.org

Two conversations I had last week left me thinking. One friend vented that her son was told he would not be accepted back to the yeshiva he is currently a student in. The reason? Because he is not academically up to the standard of the yeshiva and would “do better somewhere else.”

Another friend, a teacher, shared that her school expelled a high school student with learning issues because “this is not the right school for her. She isn’t doing anything anyway and she’s having a negative effect on other students.” I’ve heard many such stories of children being thrown out or rejected from Lubavitch schools for not being “good enough” for the institution they desire to join or remain in.

This morning, I came across an article announcing the establishment of a new mesivta with its education described this way: “The robust education is rooted in values bequeathed to us by the Rebbeim- the founders and leaders of Tomchei Tmimim.”

And it hit me.

The Rebbe is not specifically mentioned in the description, and I understood why. To build your educational institution on the principles and values bequeathed to us by our Rebbe is hard. To say you are rooting your school in the values bequeathed to us by the previous Rebbeim requires understanding those principles as the Rebbe developed them. The previous Rebbeim were opening clandestine yeshivas throughout Russia and encouraging their chassidim to quite literally give up their lives for the continuation of Yiddishkeit. There was an existential threat to their physical beings.

Today there is not. We live in nice homes, with big beds and fancy coffee makers and our biggest threat is a shaky economy. And still, the Rebbe demands mesiras nefesh today, even when mesiras nefesh seems not to be needed. The Rebbe took the principles of Chassidus and illuminated them for our generation, the generation of Moshiach.

In the last ma’amer the Rebbe wrote and handed out, V’Ata Tetzaveh, the Rebbe explains what he demands from those who care to be his chassidim. And he promises that if you take his challenge, going against the status quo to reveal your ‘shemen zayis zach’- your purist essence, it will create an unstoppable and powerful light.

What was the Rebbe challenging us with?

The Rebbe challenged us to have mesiras nefesh for ahavas yisrael. To see and interact with the world and every person in it, in a redemptive way. In a unified way. In the way of “ein od milvado.” And “ein od milvado” leaves no trace of our own egos.

We read stories of chassidim of old, who traveled to remote cities in czarist and communist Russia to search out every last Jewish child and teach him Torah. Those chassidim risked their lives, left their families, and overcame insurmountable obstacles to teach one more Jewish neshama the alef bais. They had “mesiras nefesh mamash.” They pushed themselves to their limits.

The Rebbe still demands the “kosis”, the squeezing of ourselves. But today our limits are not starvation, bitter cold Siberia and being lined up in a firing squad. Today mesiras nefesh is giving up what we wanted our yeshiva to look like and embracing the child that HaShem has sent our way. Today mesiras nefesh is working hard, very hard, with a struggling student to ensure he feels successful in Yiddishkeit, even though we would much rather prepare a ‘lomdishe’ shiur for intelligent minds and believe we are above such simple teaching. Today mesiras nefesh is giving up on elitism for authenticity. Today we are called to give our all, not for our goals, but for Hashem’s goal, the goal of a dira bitachtonim– in specifically the places and people we view as “tachton.”

Mesiras Nefesh is not easy. Back in Russia, no one batted an eyelash if you shaved your beard or caved to the pressures and fear of the KGB. Most people did. Only the true chassidim were fearless, brave and selfless.

There are always legitimate excuses we can raise to lead us far from the Rebbe’s mission of being moser nefesh for Ahavas Yisrael. We can say our school is not the right school for this child, but we must ask ourselves honestly, how hard we tried to make this school work for this child? If it was my child, would the school work? (And perhaps there is a situation where we have worked diligently with a child, have come to truly appreciate him and so deeply understand his needs, it propels us to work overtime to find the school that would be an even better fit for him. When that child and his parents are presented with the option of another school from a teacher or administration who have given their all and think the world of the child, the suggestion is appreciated and does not feel like a rejection at all.)

We can say this student would be happier somewhere else. But really, is it our place to decide where another person will be happy? We can say he’s affecting other boys. But the truth is a student only affects other students when you are failing to influence him. In fact, when other students see a teacher or Rosh Yeshiva being moser nefesh to bring a boy in with love, the currents of who affects who change.

And the most oft used excuse: there are so many other schools! But that is like shaving your beard. It’s less risky, safer and the ultimate failure. What you are really saying is not that the child is not “good enough” for the school, but that the school is not willing to go the extra mile to become “good enough” for this child. If the child was at risk of being kidnapped by the Cantonists, would the school still say he’s not the right fit? That is the question the Rebbe asks us.

To rise above ‘reasonable expectations’, we must rise above ourselves by reaching into the deepest parts of ourselves. The part that recognizes the truths that the Rebbe has illuminated us with.

Did we look at this child like a diamond that has been entrusted in our care? Did we feel humbled, privileged, and honored to be given the opportunity to educate him? Did we open our heart and mind wide and deep to do right by him?

The Rebbe’s last message to us was clear. When we dig deep, the greatest results follow and if they don’t, we haven’t dug deep enough.

Discussion
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    1. I witnessed in yeshivah a bochur which should have been sent out and was not, as a result pulled most of his innocent class into the streets and involved them in taking drugs etc.

      1. Then the hanhala most probably was not doing their job properly. They shouldnt be accepting everyone and then saying now watch what happens. Their job is to inspire everyone. Including the bachur who you think should be thrown out. So that their influence is the strong and leading one. Inspire the boys in yeshiva to inspire others rather then to be following the excitement of the drugs. Obviously the yeshiva left that responsibility to someone else and so yeah, unfortunately kids were the victims. If a yeshiva can’t inspire the boys on the path of our rebbeim they got in to the wrong business.

  1. The true heirs to the mesiras negesh chassidim of old, are the selfless menahalim of mosdos, who are ready to stand up for our kids chinuch, to uphold standards; to take in all this incoming negativity and forge on.

    Lubavitch will continue to grow and thrive, as real leaders make difficult and unpopular decisions.

    #Salute our menahalim.

    1. It’s come to the point where dealing with this constant negativity and criticism from the community is the greatest mesiras nefesh of all. Not for the faint of heart.

      1. It’s hard to make a school in general and one that caters to one size fits all. You are free to make it.

    2. You can look at it as an attack or as an inspiration to do even better which should always be accepted or at least taken into consideration 😊

      1. Does anyone take constant lectures from their spouse, parents or friends on how they must do so much better, as inspiration?

        I think not.

        Hanhollos agonize over these questions of accepting students and allowing them to stay, weighing against the risk to the other students. They often err on the side of the individual to the detriment of the others.

        They can and do consult with each other and those they trust for guidance. They do not need the never ending criticism and judgment of parents.

        Imagine the reverse – hanhallos posting articles on everything parents are doing wrong in the Chinuch of their children…

    3. Wondering how old your kids are and where they stand in the system. There are really good kids being turned away from our schools because they aren’t “the reputation we want.” When your children, who want to be chassidishe good children, are turned away from yeshiva after yeshiva, i wonder what you’ll say then.
      There’s a reason these articles need to be written and parents and hanhala members should look at this and internalize the message rather then throw it out because “it’s negative.” If we can look inside and grow from it it isn’t negative. It’s quite positive.

  2. To suggest that the rebbe veered from the previous rabeyim, and doesn’t want kids with a bad influence to move on, is audacity. Unless you bring a source, you need to apologize.

    1. I think she is saying that our Rebbe believes and instructs to accept everyone, whereas some menahalim believe that their Yeshiva follows in the footsteps on the previous Rebbeim who were very selective, in our generation we need to work with every bochur though it takes mesiras nefesh this is what is demanded of our generation

  3. Great article. It seems there is a “Rejection Crisis” in frum high schools, which is not limited to Chabad by any means.

    Schools should not reject students unless there is clear evidence they would negatively influence other students.

    Schools always have excuses, but the fact is, their obligation is to serve the Jewish community, not their own narrow short-term interests.

    If it seems there is not room for the student, or the student’s needs can’t be accommodated, then find some way to make room or accommodate them. When there is a will, there is a way.

    There are many families going through unspeakable anguish getting rejected from numerous schools. A prominent rov even told me “Everyone goes through this.” Mass rejection has become the norm, rachmana litzlan. Some end up having to home school and even some decide to go to public school, chas v’sholom.

  4. Years ago the rebbe asked the shluchim in Montreal to open a second school. The first would be kodesh and for the Chabad community. The second would accommodate the larger Jewish community and offer chol.

    The answer is making sure
    1. There is a type of school for every child
    2. For schools to take responsibility to work together to determine which school(s) would be the right fit and make sure the option is available.

    Like this weeks parsha. The job of the Shluchim was to determine how to conquer not if they could.

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