Warning Signs

Warning signs are Hashem’s way of telling us to beware or to be alert. There are many different types of warning
signs, some given on a national level and some on a personal level. As our
column focuses on education, we will, be"H, concentrate on those signs
seen in the speech, look or actions of our children and students which can help
us help them improve themselves.

Right in the beginning of our parsha we see this
concept of simanim (signs) mentioned. In posuk 22:7 the Torah
states that the elders of Moav and Midian went to Bilaam
and brought "Kisamim" with them. Rashi explains that Kisamim
refer to a method of testing Bilaam to determine whether he was capable
of helping Balak to curse the Jewish people, chas v’sholom. If
Bilaam
would tell them to wait, they would take it as a sign that he was not
serious. And so, when Bilaam told them to wait and spend the night, the
elders of Midian left.

Later on, in posuk 23:17, Rashi explains that
when some of the princes of Moav saw that Bilaam did not deliver
the goods, they too left, leaving only a handful of princes of Moav
behind.

The more aware one is, the quicker he picks up signs. The
slower one picks up signs, the more time he spends in acts of futility and
prevents himself from exploring new and more beneficial plans of action.

Through observation one can become aware of another’s
personality traits and decide the extend of the relationship he wants to have
with that person. In terms of education, awareness of a child’s behavior will
give insights into his character, which can help a sensitive parent or teacher
improve the child’s ways.

In Pirkei Avos (5:23) we learn that the difference
between Avraham Avinu and Bilaam Harasha can be detected in the
middos
of their students. Whereas the students of Avraham look
favorably on others, are humble and modest, the students of Bilaam Harasha
look down on others, are haughty and greedy.

Rashi, in our parsha, learns these three
attributes of Bilaam by observing his speech and actions. Haughtiness he
finds in posuk 22:13, greediness in posuk 22:18 and the mida
of evil eye in 24:2.

The most important lesson we learn from these Rashis
is that one needs not just to use his eyes to see, but to inspect and to
analyze. If we are to fulfill the command ofחנוך לנער על פי דרכו, it is
incumbent upon us to become as aware as possible of a child’s דרך. This comes
through being constantly aware of and in tune with the child’s speech and
behavior.

In addition to the signs mentioned above, observation of the
following signs will help get a clearer insight into the child’s behavioral,
psychological and emotional status:

  1. Facial expressions: In Bereishis (31:2) after
    Hashem miraculously bred the type of sheep which Yaakov asked for from
    Lavan
    , Yaakov noticed, says the posuk, that the look on
    Lavan
    ‘s face had changed dramatically. One should be aware of any unusual
    change in a child’s facial expressions. It is a sign that something unusual
    has happened or is about to happen.

  2. Speech: Delicate and clean speech is usually a sign
    that the child’s inner self is delicate and clean. Coarse speech is a sign
    that the child has a connection with coarse behavior, or with people who act
    or speak in a coarse manner. In addition, contradictions in speech show a
    tendency to lie or cover up and reveal inconsistent behavior in the child.

  3. General mood: A sudden or clear change in a child’s
    behavior or manner of expression should be examined to see what lurks behind
    the mood change.

  4. Responses: A child who is relaxed, confident and
    generally well-mannered will respond to an unusual situation with
    self-restraint. A child who overreacts is revealing that he is either
    insecure, over-pressured or lacking in other traits.

  5. Participation: Participation in class is healthy
    behavior, expected of any normal child. An exaggerated need to be heard shows
    signs of insecurity, lack of warmth, inability to share time with others, or
    other traits which need to be worked on. A lack of participation on the part
    of the child is also a sign for the teacher, signaling either a feeling of
    insecurity, a feeling that the teacher is not interested in his participation,
    a lack of understanding, etc. In any case, the child should be examined to see
    what the cause or causes of this lack of participation are.

  6. Unusual movements: Hashem made man balanced, in
    physical, mental and emotional form. Any deviation from this balance is a sign
    of imbalance, whose cause/s should be looked into. Examples of physical
    imbalances are stuttering, eye-blinking and jerky body movements. An example
    of mental imbalance is an inability to concentrate or to maintain a line of
    thought, while an example of emotional imbalance is a child who takes things
    out of proportion or runs away instead of dealing with problems which arise.

In order to pick up simanim, one needs to observe,
with open, objective eyes. However clear a siman is, if one is not ready
or able to see it, it will have no effect on him. One may think to himself, "If
I see, fine, and if not, I don’t lose anything by it, I just did not get a
clearer insight."

However, failing to pick a sign could have disastrous
results. What greater miracle is there than a donkey speaking like a human
being? Would we not fall breathless upon seeing a miracle of this nature?

Rav Yosef Sorotzkin in his sefer "Maged Yosef"
remarks that Bilaam heard his donkey speak to him, and instead of being
shocked at this most unusual reality, he answered the donkey and entered into an
argument with him, as thought it was the sensible thing to do.

Here, explains Rav Sorotzkin, Bilaam‘s need to
have the last word blinded him and prevented him from seeing a great and obvious
miracle.

In order for a parent or teacher to pick up "signs" in his
child’s or student’s speech or actions, he needs to make the utmost effort to
restrict personal interests and needs from blinding his vision. The truth is,
signs and wonders, from the smallest, most subtle, to the greatest and most
obvious, are all revelations of truth and insight which Hashem sends to us for
us to either correct our own ways or help others correct theirs.

Accordingly, ignoring these signs, is equivalent to ignoring
Hashem’s personal message, otherwise known as hashgacha pratis, as well
as preventing ourselves from being able to educate and guide effectively.

In conclusion, as parents and teachers entrusted with the
formidable task of education our children, in order to succeed, we need to be
constantly aware of the G-d sent signs found in our children’s speech, look and
actions. Through analysis of these signs and the development of a plan of action
to help each child improve his ways, we will surely see success in our
endeavors.