Eikev: The Tale of Two Rebbes

Last week, my wife sent me a link to a big museum in the States where it had an online exhibit of a pair of tefillin.  How did the museum label it? "A Muslim Amulet," when very clearly, it was not.


I forwarded this to a friend of mine who responded with a story he heard from two people who were there:

"Did I ever tell you about the group of Jewish archeologists who made, what they thought, was a startling discovery, concerning the existence of a community living in Yerushalayim 2000 years ago, who apparently were cut off from the people living around them? They convened a press conference in order to announce this amazing piece of information. They claimed that while the majority of the population in Yerushalayim used metal eating utensils, this particular group used stone.

All of the religious media correspondents in the room burst out in laughter! The archeologists, insulted, demanded to know what was so funny. One of the media people told them, “You are a bunch in ignoramuses who don’t even know your own history. Did you ever hear of tumah and taharah (impure and pure)? Kodshim? Kohanim? This group of people who used stone utensils were obviously kohanim who were careful about not becoming tamei (impure).” Needless to say, the archeologists walked out quite embarrassed."


It makes you wonder…. Something that your average 11-year-old religious boy knows, is something that these professors did not.  Professors of Jewish History, nonetheless!


"That just as a father will chastise his son" (Devarim 8:5).


This past year, my son had two rebbes (teachers).  One was his main rebbe, who taught them every day, most of the day, and the second rebbe came in most afternoons to teach math and geography.


The main rebbe was either liked or disliked by the parents (we liked him).  He was strict, and expected every child to perform their 100 percent.  He was also fair, understood each child had their strengths and weaknesses, and worked them accordingly.  No matter what, though, he gained the overall respect of the students.  Nobody did anything against him, because there was a certain awe and respect that he demanded and received.


The "math rebbe" is what I call a "P'tak," which, for all who are not fluent in the Klingon language, is a dishonorable scumball.  Not one child in the class (save his own) respected him.  He demanded respect and failed to earn it.  He gave out punishments that made no sense for crimes he never saw.  He bullied children and every year is despised by all.  It had even gotten to the point that the students actually struck back against him.  They set him up for embarrassing situations, some kids poured rice all over his windshield recently, they spoke about him negatively behind his back, etc.  Of course, if you're wondering why he still has a job, the answer is: Protexia - the famous Hebrew word for: he's got friends in high places.


Now, you might say, "Well, that's because he's the afternoon rebbe, and they probably don't treat him the same."  Let me introduce you to a third rebbe, another afternoon rebbe that the kids had a few years ago.  He is very strict with them.  Does not put up with anything.  The room when he is done teaching is clean as a whistle.  All his students fear and respect him, and all the parents love him.  I asked my son recently, why this is so.  His answer?


"Simple!  He's Teimani (Yeminite)!, and if you do something really bad he will hit you and pick you up and throw you out of the room."


I heard rumors about hitting part, but never really cared to look into it.  I asked for more details and he gave it with a big smile.  So, it seems, he does hit kids and literally throws them out of his room.  Obviously though, his strikes are not too hard and no kids complain about it to their parents (and it's not like some secret abuse ring or anything).


Once, he called us up about something my son did.  I forgot the details.  It wasn't anything super big, but he called me up, spoke to me nicely, explained the situation and told me what he would like us to do and what he will do to fix up the situation and why he wanted us to do what we were to do.  It was very pleasant, we did what he wanted, and we never received a negative report again. 


What's the difference between the first/third rebbes and the second one?  All were strict.  All were demanding.  One even hit kids ("he's Teimani", my son would say, "he can't help it!")


A certain rav told me that children need, want, and love rules and discipline.  And I've found that to be very true with mine.  However, the question is: what is the underlying motive of the one giving the discipline?  If he's doing it out of love of the children and his desire to see them succeed, than the children see that and respect it.  Even when they receive punishments from such rebbes, they will go home, cry about it, and then five minutes later, say over a story that exact same rebbe told them that day.


However, when the rebbe is not suited for teaching and is only interesting in blind obedience ("I am the rebbe, they are the students, that's all they need to know"), then the students see that as well.  They know that the rebbe does not care about them, but only his own honor, which, as Pirkei Avos teaches us, flees from those who chase after it.  In the end, they receive no honor, not from the students and not from the parents, and to be truthful, not even from themselves.


Being a parent is no different.  Punishments are needed sometimes.  And unfortunately, sometimes even hitting a child is needed.  But why is the punishment being given?  Because you are angry for your honor or because you want your child to be successful?  I know of a father with a son with ADHD.  Sometimes, the parents don't give their child his Ritalin so he has some time off.  And sometimes that child might lose it and say not-so-respectful things to his parents.  But the father ignores it. Yes, he could "educate" his child on how to properly speak to his parents, but he knows that his son knows it, and it's the ADHD "speaking out" and not his child.


True leadership means walking a fine line.  But the main contributor to the success of the leader is the overall motivation of such leader.


Have a wonderful Shabbos!