Why Students Fail to Listen

Parshas Vaeira begins with Hashem revealing Himself to Moshe
in a way which was hidden from the Avos. Rashi explains, that at this time Hashem
was ready to fulfill His promises to redeem Am Yisroel from Egypt, while
they remained only promises at the time of the Avos. Yet, we see that after Moshe
finished telling Bnei Yisroel the stages of the upcoming redemption and arrival
to Eretz Yisroel, they were unwilling to believe him or be comforted by his words,
as the posuk declares, "וידבר משה כן אל בני ישראל ולא שמעו אל משה מקוצר רוח ומעבודה
קשה" – "And Moshe spoke thus to Bnei Yisroel and they didn't hear [listen] to
Moshe because of short breath and difficult labor
(Shemos 6:9).

The unnecessary repeating of Moshe's name in the above posuk
strengthens this point, saying that even though Moshe, the brilliant, respected
and reliable Rebbe and leader that he was, was the bearer of this great news, their
situation did not allow them to believe it or accept it.

Also, the addition of the word "כן" in the posuk signifies:

  1. that Moshe gave over Hashem's message of redemption in a positive,
    exhilarating manner.

  2. כן is from the root of כנה – truth, meaning that Bnei Yisroel
    knew that the redemption would occur because Moshe, the symbol of truth, was telling
    them that it would.

  3. Moshe was a faithful representative of Hashem and gave over
    the message as he was meant to.

  4. The gematria (numerical value) of כן = 70, representing the
    70 different perspectives found among the Jewish people: the 70 different channels
    through which they understand the Torah. Moshe, in his great wisdom and sensitivity,
    was able to relay the message of G-d in all 70 ways so that all would understand.

Even so, Bnei Yisroel were not able to accept Moshe's words.
Why? "מקוצר רוח ומעבודה קשה." – "because of short breath and difficult labor."

The underlying lesson taught here is that sometimes, no matter
how brilliant, erudite or caring the teacher may be, the student, because of his
own situation, whether it be his academic or emotional limits, the influence of
the home or friends, or the ploys of the yetzer hora, will not be either
capable or able to accept the words of his teacher.

In a classroom, there are expectations a teacher has equally
of all his students. However, "קוצר רוח ועבודה קשה" teaches us that certain children
may not be able to live up to their teacher's expectations. In order for a teacher
to relate to each student in a fair and predictive manner, he must examine each
student in order to become aware of his personal"קוצר רוח ועבודה קשה".

What do "קוצר רוח ועבודה קשה" represent?

Rashi explains "קוצר רוח" to mean short-winded, nervous and troubled.
The Ramban adds that it includes fear, teaching that a person's respect of another,
or a child's ignoring of his Rebbe's words, does not necessary mean he rejects them,
but that his fear is overriding his senses.

The Malbim explains that “קוצר רוח” represents one who has a
low pain threshold and cannot hold back his feelings and reactions to suffering.

According to the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, the people were “קוצר
רוח” – meaning that they had a low-level of רוח or ruchnius (spirituality)
for they weren't bnei Torah and thus couldn't properly understand the words
of Moshe.

The Torah strengthens and widens one's ability to examine, contemplate,
compare, understand and accept new and different ideas, even during times of stress
and distress. A support for this idea can be seen at the beginning of parshas Vayetzei
(Bereishis 29:1). When Yaakov heard that Hashem would protect him during
his time in golus, he became filled with joy and traveling became easy for him (Rashi).
Rashi explains above, in posuk 28:11, that Yaakov had just learned Torah non-stop
for fourteen years in the batei Midrash of Shem and Aver. Thus, we see that
Torah widens and strengthens a person's heart, allowing him to accept Hashem's words
with simcha.

The Ohr Hachaim is teaching us a fundamental concept in dealing
with students' comprehension level. Since the Torah itself strengthens and expands
one's comprehension level, instead of dwelling on what the lack of Torah learning
causes, the Rebbe should make every effort to get his students involved in learning
and even excited by it, if possible.

According to Rashi, Ramban and the Malbim above, the Torah is
teaching us that the emotional or psychological status of a child can cause nervousness,
lack of patience, antagonistic behavior, inconsistent behavior, search for faultiness
in others, etc. A Rebbe/teacher would be wise to investigate the causes of a child's
"קוצר רוח" and then take them into account when relating to the child.

Causes of "קוצר רוח" stem mainly from one of four categories:

  1. Difficulties at home:
    1. Tension / arguments:
      1. between parents
      2. among siblings or other family members
    2. Disease of a family member, ל"ע
    3. Accident and injury of a family member, ל"ע
    4. Confusing, inconsistent or contradictory parental messages
    5. Destabilizing influences from parents from:
      1. Personality disorder
      2. Drinking addiction
      3. Unbridled anger
      4. Unemployment
      5. Being subject to influence of grandparents with different lifestyle
      6. Family simcha, which uproots:
        • a normal family routine
        • gobbles up hours of a needed sleep
        • brings about over-eating
        • exhausting traveling
        • uproots school learning schedule
  2. Personal situation:
    1. Sickness
    2. Trauma
    3. Fear
    4. Needs
    5. Lack of confidence
    6. Low self-image
    7. Period before and after Bar Mitzvah
    8. Visit by a relative from overseas
    9. Involvement with after-school learning group, lessons, sport or hobby
    10. Yetzer Hora
  3. Unstabilizing neighborhood influences:
    1. Bothersome neighbors
    2. Bad incident in neighborhood
    3. Terrorist attack
    4. Hoodlums
    5. Unkosher stores and products
    6. Angry or bad-mouthed bus driver
    7. News of another child's difficulties
    8. Disturbing national news
  4. School setting:
    1. Bad relationship with:
      1. Principal
      2. Rebbe
      3. Teacher
      4. Other children

The Yalkut Shimoni explains that Bnei Yisroel did not
accept Moshe's proclamation, for they were caught in the web of idol worship (which
can be included in עבודה קשה). Thus, in posuk 6:13, we find Hashem telling Moshe
not only to talk to Bnei Yisroel, but to command them – ויצום – to stop their
avodah zara
and free their minds to accept Toras Moshe. This request to leave
their idol worship is seen in parshas Bo (Shemos 12:21), where Moshe asks the elders
to help the people, "…משכו וקחו לכם צאן…", which Chazal explain to mean, משכו
– pull yourselves away from avodah zara and וקחו – take (choose) for yourselves
the way of Torah (לקח represents Torah, as we learn from the parallel structure
in the posuk, "כי לקח טוב נתתי לכם תורתי אל תעזבו" [משלי

Before a teacher can expect his students to קחו (take) Torah,
he has to make sure the child has left (משכו) those activities and influences which
have drawn him to a world of mischievousness or have caused him to succumb to the
pleadings of the yetzer hora.

It appears from here that a fruitful way to pull one out of idol
worship and similar draws of the yetzer hora, is to involve respected
talmidei chochomim
. Their formidable presence, chochmah and their live
representation of the beauty, purity and honor of Torah, will urge the students
to emulate them and thereby lose interest in their previous desires.

The second reason Bnei Yisroel did not listen to Moshe was because
of עבודה קשה – hard work. Hard work includes difficult physical or manual labor.
Work can be difficult for a number of reasons, all of which are found in the type
of work the Jews did in Egypt:

  1. Demand of great physical exertion
  2. Labor which in itself does not take great physical exertion, but must be done
    in a continuous manner without sufficient time allotted for resting
  3. Work done without an obvious or known purpose
  4. Unsuitable work, i.e., a man doing women's work, or visa versa.
  5. Labor which is too easy or boring or overly repetitive

Corresponding to the above five explanations of עבודה קשה, we
can identify five different requests of a student which may cause him undue hardship:

  1. Physical Exertion: The teacher squeezes three boys
    onto one table; the students are forced to shlepp home a full bag of books each
    evening; the child has to travel across town in a crowded un-air-conditioned bus.

  2. Without respite:The Rebbe gives too long a shiur; the
    breaks are too short; the students are overburdened with work; a level beyond
    their grasp is expected of them; the basic needs of rest, relaxation and exercise
    are denied to the students.

  3. Without reason: An assignment is given disconnected
    to presently learned material and/or beyond the scope and ability of the students;
    a set of halachos is learned which has no bearing on the lives of the students
    and they are too young to appreciate its importance; the Rebbe tells his students
    to work hard to finish the mesechta and that when they finish he will make
    them a siyum and mesiba, when its obvious to all that the students
    are not capable of finishing within the designated time period.

  4. Unsuitable work: Beginning students learning Tosfos
    or advanced students learning without commentaries.

  5. Too easy or boring: Forcing advanced students to keep
    a notebook of new words; repeating the shiur until every single student knows
    it 100%; speaking in monotone; saying exactly what is written, without adding
    additional insights; a shiur which doesn't stir the students' curiosity or imagination.

While the first category of "קוצר רוח" usually designates a problem
with the child, "עבודה קשה" usually means the Rebbe needs to improve the way he
gives the shiur and/or conducts the class. However, the reverse can be true as well.
The Rebbe may be the cause of the child's "קוצר רוח", by instilling unnecessary
fear in him, by deriding and belittling him, by embarrassing him or even by ignoring
him. This causes the child's defenses to go up and his ability to put up with his
Rebbe, and certainly to listen to him and accept his words, to go down.

“עבודה קשה” as well may be found in the home. There are parents
who overburden their children with tasks in the home. One parent, who's son was
in a dormitory all week, would put his son to work building an extension onto the
house on Friday as soon as he arrived home from the Yeshiva until Shabbos, and again
on Motzei Shabbos. This left the child exhausted on Sunday morning when he returned
to the Yeshiva and put him in a bitter, frustrated and haughty mood. Why? Because
he was given "עבודה קשה" at home and wasn't given the time he needed to rest and
relax. Parents whose children work hard in the Yeshiva all week, should not have
unnecessarily high expectations of their child on, before and after Shabbos, even
in spiritual areas, for since he worked hard all week, he probably needs a good
rest. This will also help to avoid friction between the child and his parents. If
the child is doing well in the Yeshiva all week, he has the right to relax on Shabbos,
as long as he fulfills his basic obligations.

A Rebbe should be aware that his students will have varying degrees
of "קוצר רוח ועבודה קשה" and will not always live up to his expectations. Some things
can be helped and some cannot be, or least only partially so. The Rebbe should not
give up, but fulfill his job as faithfully as possible, putting up with discrepancies
between his expectations and the child's abilities and behavior.

If a Rebbe feels that he is not being as successful as he thinks
he should be, and sees no point in continuing as a Rebbe, his awareness of his situation
will be clarified by the Yalkut Shimoni's explanation of Hashem's demands
on Moshe.

The Yalkut (parshas Vaeira 178) relates that since
Bnei Yisroel were unwilling or uninterested to accept Moshe's promise of redemption
and blessing, Moshe felt that they were impossible to deal with and wanted to return
his mandate to rule and take care of the nation. Hashem told him, "Moshe, be aware
that My children are rebellious and burdensome, and with this in mind, and under
these conditions, I command you to take care of Bnei Yisroel and lead them. All
this, even though they curse you and stone you."

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