Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Balancing Chizuk with Divine Service

Anonymous commented on "Toiling in Torah": "Respectfully: i think a point is missing here. it is not fair to compare parents and children. to expect or even hope that a child will go beyond a parent in torah is not showing kindness or fairness to the child. HaShem makes everyone different. Our goal is to be the best person 'we' can be. not in relation to another.
sadly, i think much damage and hurtful pressure is put on some kids to "be like" or 'exceed' their parents achievements.
doesn't it says by pirke avot(?) to encourage a child in "its" way?

the famous story of reb zushya getting to heaven and H' asking not why were you not moshe but why were you not zushya!!!

this is the key. certainly children should be encouraged to do well, to work hard, to excel.

if a child works in torah like his parent then let the child find his own way in torah.

sorry, i strongly disagree here."

My answer: You are totally correct that each person has his own derech.
It is well known that pressuring children is the number one cause of "off the derech syndrome." Any pressure must be very balanced and with so much love and caring that these traits are palpable to the child. This is clear in Chazal: "Push them away with the left hand while drawing them near with the right."
But I don't think this piece implies otherwise--it certainly was not meant to.
The two talmedei chachamim discussed were not children. Even as adults, no one told them what the Ohr Sameach said or embarrassed them. This story was told long over after they left the world to teach a lesson.
The Ohr Sameach knew them well and saw that for all their erudition and refinement, they could have been much more. With more hard work would have reached comparable greatness to their father (=gedolei hador.)
But this does not mean that they would have followed exactly the same path or written the same works. There were many children who reached--or even surpassed-- their father's greatness yet clearly blazed their own trail in learning and avodas Hashem. One well known example of this is the Chacham Tzvi and Rav Ya'akov Emden.
Even in our time, Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita may very well have reached his father's greatness even though his path is different from his father's in many many ways.
This in no way implies that everyone can surpass their father in learning. The Arizal says that some people are just not cut out for learning. Some of these souls have already done their learning in earlier lifetimes. In any event that is not their mission here at all.
when the elderly tzaddik exhorted his students that if they toil they will reach such exalted levels he meant each person would reach their true potential.
The Mishna Berurah writes that one who does all he can spiritually is equal in Hashem's eyes to a second person who is more talented and also does all he can. In this sense if the students do all they can they will equal these gedolim.
In addition, it is possible to "expand one's soul" and achieve greatness where none was there before. (There are a great many sources for this concept.)
One example of this is Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita. When he was a child his father would write down the tractates he needed from the shelf before sending young Chaim since the young man would forget any name by the time he made it to the shelf. He worked and toiled with purity and prayer and look where he ended up.
The Chazon Ish would often say that gadlus is not necessarily found in people with the greatest talent but the ones who want Hashem the most and are the hardest workers.
The man who retold this story apparently noticed that people were not working as hard as they should and wished to encourage them to reach their full potential. I think it is safe to say the same about most people in our time as well.
Although I really don't believe we disagree on any count, this piece was written mainly to encourage each person to internalize how precious every little bit of spiritual light is in our dark times.
We should all rejoice in our spiritual accomplishments and be filled with chizuk so we are able to safely tax ourselves to grow just a little bit more each day.
Let us not forget that although Reb Nosson of Breslov says that one needs mostly chizuk, he also says that avodas Hashem that is only chizuk is not the path of the truly righteous.
It is important to note that there are exceptions to this rule. One exception is someone who is so broken that he needs immense chizuk just to be made whole again. Although this healing process takes time, it should not last forever. When one is finally repaired he needs to advance spiritually. Yet even someone in such a "healing mode" must at least yearn to be better each day. And just like the rest of us; if he falls he needs to make a new beginning. Rebbe Nachman revealed that sometimes one needs to make many new beginnings in one day. Rav Nosson promises that if we keep at it we will eventually achieve our spiritual mission. This is why giving up is the worst spiritual evil.Despair is a direct result of judging Hashem to be unloving and judging oneself to be beyond salvation and is false on both counts.
Hashem should give us all immense chizuk so we are strong enough to keep climbing spiritually one step at a time!


Anonymous said...

thanks for your thoughtful response.
the key element that is missing here is the problem with 'pressure'.

there are different kinds. surely, people do much better when 'motivated'; although sometimes we need negative pressure to motivate us.

you seem to see my point. way too often parents mistakenly pressure their kids out of what they perceive as love. when in fact, the wiser parents understand that when a child is motivated from inside themselves (or an adult) then the strength is more genuine and lasting.

sorry, i think it is absolutely terrible for anyone to compare a child to their parent or another child in the expectation to do more.

now, if the child is lazy and the parent or friend (to an adult) says: well, look at so and so. he's got all these responsibilities and he gets up early and goes to work etc. sometimes this can work well.

again, the key here is this: if we are to understand that H' made us each unique, then we must try to encourage individual development.

this is not an easy topic, or task. but my main point about parents comparing or pressuring children remains.


Micha Golshevsky said...

Anonymous: Thank you again for your comment which inspired my response; your point was certainly well taken.
I just don't think the piece implies to pressure children or compare them to anyone else. The Ohr Sameach was asked a question and replied candidly to teach a very important lesson.
Do you think I need to change the piece to clarify not to compare or pressure children?
I don't believe so, but I may be wrong; wouldn't be the first time...

Anonymous said...

you are very humble and very thoughtful.when i read the first quote about the reflection of water and the heart, i find it to be an uplifting and inspiring statement; however, unfortunately, the piece then engages a discussion on people who lament that their kids didn't exceed their parents. dang.

these days for jewish people, i think the more we can inspire and uplift each other the better.

how we do that is important.

re the example of the parents kvetching about their kids.

what would happen if, instead, the parents really got into torah study with their kids, or grown kids?

what if the parents (or friends etc) showed sincere joy, interest, enthusiasm in the kids torah study.

the learning generated from this would truly be l'shem shamayim, nu?

if a person appears lazy, or not trying 'hard enough' there may be other things going on. calling them lazy or pressuring them could backfire. i have to wonder if the reaason the people you cited..maybe the reason the kids didn't exceed the parents is because they either didn't like being pressured or compared...or somehow deep inside they said "enough already, i do the best i can and it's not good enough for you? forget about it".

this is often the case, often unspoken and i think it leads to an alarming rate of sadness vs simcha.

parents should encourage their kids to be b'simcha in a toradich way.

and search for, value and help the kids see and develop their own perspectives.

i didn't grow up frum, and today i am 'traditional'. a frum rav i know said 'you would've been a realy fine rabbi'. i took that as a very nice compliment. but, did i say, oh shoot, i wasted my life, now i can't be valuable to the klal?

nope. i learn, i share and i'm happy to learn from young yeshiva bochers as well as older people who are not observant.

you post great pieces on this blog and i mean no disrespect at all. you are very kind to even consider my idea.

after all, what do i know?

Anonymous said...


i also think a key here is when H' created the first person. He created one person. He blew the soul of life into one person. the first woman came from one person. they were both certainly unique in the most elemental way.

from this we can see that each person is truly unique. H' doesn't duplicate nor does He desire duplication!!!

how then can parents or educators or anyone fairly, lovingly or kindly expect, even in a subtle way, that one person 'exceed' another.

i find the whole concept disturbing, quite frankly.

reb nachman speaks at length about finding one's own (and others') good points. this is akin to a song.

this applies directly to my issue with the content as i read it.

more singing, less kvetching!!


Micha Golshevsky said...

Thank you again for your comments-- and the chizuk!