One Good Midah
“Reuven was a ball of fire in class today,” explained the
history teacher at the weekly teachers’ meeting. “He just couldn’t sit still.”
“At least he wasn’t chutzpadick to you,” said the math
teacher. “When I told him to write an assignment on the board he told me that he
had better things to do.”
The gemorah Rebbi added that also in the morning, although
Reuven does the work, he does it grudgingly, as though someone was forcing him
to do it.
“Gentlemen,” interrupted the principal, “is Reuven a
rebellious son? Can we not find one good characteristic in him?”
“What will it help to mention a good midah of his if
the boy is full of so many problems?” asked the history teacher. “Can one good
midah cancel out all the bad ones?”
“Excellent question,” retorted the principal. “The answer is
Yes! Let me explain why!”
“What is the connection between the name Chanukah and the
finding of one casket of pure oil? I’ll tell you! Chanukah is derived from the
root chinuch—education. Therefore, while Chanukah deals with the Jewish
people as a whole, we can relate its message to the field of education. Just as
the discovery of one pure casket of oil was the beginning of the spiritual
rebuilding of the Jewish people, the discovery of one good midah in a
child can be the beginning of his own spiritual development.”
"Our student, Reuven," continued the principal, "while he has
lackings in many areas, he certainly does have a number of good middos to
work with. If we pick just one, dwell on it, compliment him for it, and look for
constructive ways for him to express that midah, before long we will see
that Reuven has improved his other middos as well."
"This is the message we learn from Chanukah: it doesn’t
matter how limited a midah is at first for it to become a wellspring of
great achievement. But it does matter that it is refined, just as the oil was
limited in quantity but was of pure quality."
"What good midah does Reuven have?" muttered the math
teacher. "Of course," he remembered, "he’s always on time."
"Perfect," responded the principal, "we can put him in charge
of attendance at mincha (the afternoon prayer), give him extra credit on
his tests for coming on time to class and grant him the honor to hit the gong
when recess is over."
"The miracle of the lighting of the menorah on Chanukah
teaches us that not only can a small, though pure beginning lead to great
heights, but it can allow one to reach levels he never dreamed possible; and so
can happen with Reuven."
The Chumash teacher asked, "Of course the boy’s good midah
can be harnessed and expanded, but who says it can affect his other middos?"
"Let me explain," answered the principal, "I saw in
Michtav M’Eliyahu (Book 2 p.112) the following: Why do we celebrate Chanukah
today, as we are so removed from the time of the actual miracle? For the
teshuvah of the Chashmonoim was so intense and so deeply rooted, that not
only were they able to affect their generation, but future generations as well.
"Now, if one person can affect other people and even other
generations, surely he can positively affect his own other middos as
"If we are sensitive enough and concerned enough, we can find
a refined midah in each and every child. One is happy, one is quick, one
is strong, one is sharp, one is organized, one is generous, one has great
concentration and one has great respect for others."
Maybe this is the meaning of the tefilah, "ותן חלקנו
בתורתך" – "and give us our portion in your Torah!" That each one’s
portion is the starting point through which he can fulfill the whole range of
Torah and mitzvos.
On this point, the last Mishnah in Meseches Makos
(23b) concludes, “Rebbe Chananya ben Akashya says, Hakadosh Boruch Hu wants to
bring merit upon the Jewish people, therefore He gave them a multitude of Torah
(to learn) and mitzvos (to fulfill), as the posuk says, "ה’ חפץ למען צקדו
יגדיל תורה ואדיר" (ישעיהו מ"ב:כ"א).
At first glance, the Mishnah seems to suggest that our merit
stems from the magnitude of our involvement in Torah. However, the Rambam, in
his commentary on this Mishnah, explains that the emphasis here is not on
quantity, but on quality. He says that “one of the foundations of belief in
Torah is that when one properly and fully fulfils even one mitzvah of the
taryag mitzvos, without absolutely any side- or self-interest, but only
from and for the love of G-d, he merits a portion in the World-to-Come.
The Rambam is teaching us that one mitzvah done with
purity of intention and completeness of action has the power to affect one’s
whole future spiritual standing. So too, one pure midah in a child can
affect his whole spiritual development.
Maybe this is the meaning of Ben Azay’s statement in Avos
(4:3), "אל תהיה בז לכל אדם…שאין לך אדם שאין לו שעה." – “Don’t deride any
person…for each and every person has his time.”
One should not deride, belittle or discount any person, or in
our case, any child, for even though in general his actions may be faulty, each
child has a time (or midah) which he does excel in, to some degree. If it
is appreciated and he is given support and guidance, this small beginning may
develop to the point where the child, once thought to be “a lost case,” may
become even greater than the parent or teacher who prematurely judged him.
The comparison of Chanukah and Chinuch sheds light on the
great role of a teacher.
The Mishnah in the end of Gemorah Makos (23b) says
that if one guards himself from theft and adultery, he will bring merit, not
only to himself, but to all of his future descendents until the end of time.
If so, why is the miracle of Chanukah so special in that its
effect is felt on future generations? Even one who restrains himself from any
mitzvah in the Torah apparently has the same effect. The answer is, that while
an individual’s actions affect only his direct descendants, on Chanukah, the
Chashmonoim, whose efforts were spirited by the concern for Kall Yisroel as a
whole, affected the Jewish people as a unit and not as individuals.
A teacher or mechanech, as well, is not only concerned with
his personal avodas Hashem, but he merits to be involved with the betterment of
all those neshamos who sit in front of him each day. Therefore, he too
has the ability to affect, not only his only direct descendents, but those of
the greater community as well.
May the purity of the light of Chanukah give us, as teachers
and parents, the ability to see and appreciate the positive middos in our
children/students, and offer them the support and the guidance they need in
order to improve and prosper in all their ways.