Don’t Let Him Fall

“Reb Zechariya,” asked the Rosh Yeshiva at the weekly staff meeting, “what’s new
with Rafael?” Has he learned to speak with a clean tongue?”

“I actually intended to
bring up the problem of Rafael’s speech in our meeting today. It seems to be
getting worse, not better,” retorted Reb Zechariya.

“Let’s take a step back
into time” suggested the Rosh Yeshiva. “The first time Rafael uttered an
unacceptable word, how did you react?”

“To tell you the truth,
I was so taken aback that such a nice boy from a wonderful home could use such
unacceptable speech, that I didn’t react at all. I simply ignored him and
continued the lesson as though I didn’t hear a thing. I seem to recollect that
his classmates as well were quite surprised at his choice of language” answered
Reb Zechariya.

“Reb Zechariya,”
continued the Rosh Yeshiva, “when was the next episode where Rafael used
indecent language?”

“It was Rosh Chodesh,
when we decided to play a staff vs. students basketball game. When Rafael just
missed a three-pointer, he couldn’t restrain himself and sent another choice
word flying across the court!”

“What did you do then?”
asked the Rosh Yeshiva.

“I was about to yell at
him, when I had second thoughts that it wasn’t right to break up such an
enjoyable game because of one boy’s slip of the tounge,” anwered Reb Zechariya.

“However,
a couple of days ago, Rafael went one step too far and had the audacity to write
a disgusting word on the board during the mid-morning break.”

“How did
you respond,” asked the Rosh Yeshiva, looking for some type of firm response on
the part of the Rebbe.

“I
immediately erased the word and told one of the boys to send Rafael in to speak
to me. However, Rafael didn’t show until the next class, and by that time I
already had my mind on the lesson and couldn’t deal with Rafael’s problem,”
answered Reb Zechariya.

“Just
yesterday,” he continued, “Rafael, right in the middle of gemorah class, let out
a word—not to be repeated here—when his friend reached across his desk to take
his pen back and accidentally spilled his cola all over Rafael. I told Rafael to
wait outside and finished the lesson the best I could, considering the damage
Rafael had done to the class. After the class, I called Rafael over to the side
and scolded him, however I’m not sure my words of reproof had much of an effect
on him.”

“Reb
Zechariya,” began the Rosh Yeshiva, “let me tell you a vort from this week’s
parshah. The pesukim dealing with ribis (usury) begin: “"וכי ימוך אחיך ומטה ידו עמך והחזקת בו…
– “And
when your brother wains poor and his hand begins to fall, with you, uphold him…”
(Vayikra 25:35). Why do we need to be told that his hand begins to fall? If he
is losing money at a rapid pace it is enough to say that he is becoming poor!

“Rashi
answers our dilemna with the Toras Cohanim, which explains that the phrase

"ומטה ידו"
teaches that if one catches another before he falls, he can easily help his
friend regain his balance. However, once his friend falls, even five people will
not be able to help him up.”

“In my
opinion,” continued the Rosh Yeshiva, “the Torah’s warning applies here as well.
The first time you heard Rafael speak in an unacceptable manner — when you saw
him falling – you should have stopped him right there and then. If you had until
that point instilled due respect for youself in the eyes of your students,
Rafael would not have dared to utter an indecent word in front of you. However,
once you let it go, and then repeatedly ignored the severity of his language,
you unknowingly taught him that bad language was not taboo and could be
tolerated from time to time. Your attempt to admonish him was too little and too
late. Rafael had already fallen to the point where even five rebbes could not
pick him up.”

“The truth
is, you didn’t even have to wait until you heard his first indecent word. If you
were sensitive enough, you probably would have heard him saying borderline
jokes, or using words or phrases which hinted at indecent thoughs and speech.
However, whereas thoughts we cannot control, their verbalization we can! And
that’s a lot!”

“Rosh
Yeshiva,” asked Reb Zechariya, searching for a way out, “mustn’t one give a
warning before punishing?””

“No
question!” answered the Rosh Yeshiva. “However, your warning should have come at
an earlier stage. Also, the very act of reproof is only a warning and not
punishment!”

“You
mentioned at the outset that you wanted to bring up Rafael’s speech problem.
However, who says by now there’s still something we can do? Maybe ‘his hand has
fallen’ and even the whole staff cannot raise it back up?!”

“Our job
as educators is to catch a student even before he begins to fall and certainly
no later than when we first see him slipping. If we don’t, we will be held
responsible for the outcome, for the student is in our custody and his progress
is our responsibility. If the Torah makes us responsible for a neighbor’s
financial loss, certainly it makes us responsible for our own students’
spiritual loss!

“On a
similar note, Rav Moshe Sternbach shlita, in his sefer, Ta’am Veda’as (Vayikra
25:35), quotes the Suchatchover Rebbe, who explains that in the desert, where
food was heavenly-provided for everyone, the Jewish people fulfilled the mitzvas
of tzedaka and chesed through teaching Torah to each other. We can add that they
also helped each other resolve their personal, emotional, psychological and
social issues, and with this they fulfilled the posuk of
"והחזקת בו"
.

“I would
like to mention an additional point which we most likely overlook in our
everyday communication with our students. Chazal tell us that more than the
wealthy person does for the poor person, in giving him charity, the poor person
does for the wealthy person, by giving him the opportunity to fulfill the great
mitzvah of charity. This idea is alluded to in our posuk above — " ומטה ידו —
עמך"

“his hand began to fall
with you,”
which can be understood to mean,

for you
.
(Chazal learn that the following phrase
"וחי עמך"
teaches that your life comes before another’s, explaining
עמך
to mean for you.) Meaning, more than you are helping another, he is helping you.
The same applies with our students. Although we may feel, and rightfully so,
that we are contributing greatly to the growth of our students, they are
actually benefiting us even more so, for they are supplying us with the
opportunity to help them grow.”

“An
educator should always be tuned in to the emotional, psychological, and social
standing of his students. The earlier he detects a problem, the greater are his
chances of stemming the student’s downward slide and of putting him back on his
feet. Actually, this earlier detection is of immeasurable value, for even the
smallest problem, if left unattended, can develop into a major problem later on.
On this note, Dovid Hamelech writes in Tehillim (127:4)
"כחיצים ביד גיבור כן בני הנעורים"
– “As arrows in the hand of a mighty archer; so are youth”. The commentaries
explain this to mean that just as the slightest change in the positioning of the
arrow in its bow will result in a substantial difference in where the arrow hits
the target, so too, the slightest deviation in the behavior of a young child
will result in a great deviation when he matures.”

“Although
children need a lot of attention and security when they are young, and therefore
parents and educators tend to ignore small deviations from acceptable behavior
in order not to upset them, we see above that it is crucial that children be
reprimanded when necessary, especially when they are at a young and
impressionable age, so that an apparently insignificant deviation does not
develop into a major one at a later age, when it is already too late to remedy
the situation. The need to show warmth and support for a child is not meant to
replace proper education. Rather, its purpose is to give the child a feeling of
security so that he can withstand and accept the reproof and direction of his
parents and teachers.”

“A story
is told of a young man who was caught stealing and was sentenced to death. When
offered one last wish, he asked to see his mother. When his mother arrived, he
ran up to her and bit her ear in anger. His mother, writhing in pain and in
shock over what her son had done to her, used her last energies to ask her son
what she had done to him that caused him to react in such a demeaning manner.
Her son answered that when he was young and would steal small amounts from the
local stores, his mother would laugh and say ‘how cute is this little boy. He
really doesn’t even know what he is doing.’ ‘Now see what I have done and what
it has brought me! If you would have stopped me then, I would never have fallen
into the predicament I am in now’.”

“The
lesson for parents is ‘one small cry of a demanding child because of his
parent’s expectations of him, is infinitely better than a deafening scream of an
adult who suddenly comes to the realization that he has fallen prey to the major
evils of society’. The lesson for teachers is not too overlook even a subtle
deviation from accepted behavior in order to prevent a major landslide in the
future.”