Lev Shomea: A Helping Hotline

We present some of the enlightening words of Rav Aryeh Finkel and Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch at the event, as well as the answers of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman to some of the questions posed to him before the kinnus.

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How should the administration of a yeshiva react when a bochur does not attend davening at the yeshiva? What should they do with a bochur who owns a phone that is not filtered? How can they help a bochur who does not enjoy davening?

Every day, the dedicated faculties of today’s yeshivos grapple with these questions and others like them. Who is responsible to help these educators when they are uncertain of the proper approach to take?

The answer is clear: The gedolei Yisroel are here to guide our educators, to provide them with the daas Torah they need to make the best possible decisions for their students. A perusal of the questions that have been raised and the gedolim’s answers makes one thing absolutely clear: Expelling a bochur from a yeshiva is a step that should be taken only for lack of any alternative, and after many other options have been tried. This was the opinion of Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l, as well. For any child, it could be a matter of life or death.

Lev Shomea’s annual events, like its many internal conferences and the guidebooks distributed to mechanchim and to the organization’s activists, are not meant for public consumption. The main reason for this is the fear that today’s youths might take advantage of the gedolim’s instructions to shower them with nothing but warmth and love, seeing the approach as an opportunity for disciplinary infractions.

In any event, last Sunday, we watched as hundreds of yeshiva educators gathered at Lev Shomea’s impressive educational conference, where the guidance of the gedolei hador on chinuch-related matters was disseminated. The director of the organization, Rabbi Eliav Miller, began his address by declaring that Lev Shomea is proud to serve as a place for Torah sages to discuss the challenges faced by bnei yeshiva today, and that he is pleased by the trust placed in the organization by the rabbonim and talmidim of the various yeshivos. He thanked the leaders of Lev L’Achim for their investment in Lev Shomea.

What is Lev Shomea, you ask? Lev Shomea is one branch of the global kiruv organization known as Lev L’Achim. It offers a telephone hotline that is open to yeshiva and seminary students, who are invited to call anonymously and receive help of any sort, for problems of any kind. Lev Shomea’s telephone numbers are advertised daily in the chareidi newspapers in Eretz Yisroel alongside the telephone numbers of emergency services such as Magen David Adom and the fire department. What began as a modest telephone helpline has blossomed into a huge organization that places dozens of educators and professionals at its callers’ disposal. And most of those callers are young people struggling with various issues and challenges.

Fighting for Their Lives

The most accurate explanation of Lev Shomea’s services comes from Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, director of Lev L’Achim. In a special pamphlet distributed to the participants at the convention, Rabbi Sorotzkin laid out the history and purpose of Lev Shomea: “About 17 years ago, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman instructed the leaders of Lev L’Achim, who were already involved in kiruv rechokim and in promoting true Torah education for Jewish children in Eretz Yisroel, to add another objective to their endeavors: kiruv kerovim. He wanted the organization to provide encouragement and support to young boys and girls within the Torah-observant camp who found themselves contending with challenges or doubts. We began by setting up a headquarters for a group of avreichim and educators who dealt with the subject and providing discreet services by telephone to yeshiva students who needed them. Ever since then, until today, the activities of Lev Shomea have grown and expanded. Today, over 100 rabbonim, avreichim, rebbetzins and mechanchos work for the organization, responding to thousands of calls that they receive from all over Eretz Yisroel.”

Rabbi Sorotzkin oted that Lev Shomea’s activities today include assisting youths in various areas. The organization aids yeshiva students in contending with their difficulties, offers advice and guidance to parents and family members dealing with a range of situations, and hosts days of study, such as this event of enrichment for educators, dedicated to finding solutions to the challenges presented by today’s society.

After greeting the gedolim at the convention, along with the many educators who came to increase their own knowledge and augment their techniques, Rabbi Sorotzkin added, “Lev Shomea’s annual day of study for maggidei shiur and mashgichim always takes place on Chanukah. Just as it was in those days, our young people today are fighting for their lives. They are fighting the vicious atmosphere of the street, the ‘culture’ of immorality, the scourge of modern technology, and an atmosphere of permissiveness that has no precedent in history. And now, just as then, the gedolei Yisroel have risen and are calling out, ‘Mi laHashem eilai!’ They are calling on us to stand with our youths, to help them fight and vanquish the yeitzer hara. Just as in those times, we are struggling to protect that single cruse of pure oil – the yeshiva students of today – as the Soton fights against them.”

“Be Like a Father”

Rav Aryeh Finkel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir Brachfeld and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, focused in his speech on the Torah’s description of our relationship with Hashem: “You are children to Hashem, your G-d.” That father-son relationship, he explained, is created through Torah learning. It is learning that fosters the relationship between Hashem and the Bnei Yisroel, as well as the bond between an educator and his students. “When we treat a student with respect, when we give him the feeling that he is intelligent, he will love us and will want to learn from us.”

Rav Finkel praised the people of Lev Shomea, asserting that the organization literally saves lives. He spoke in glowing terms of their willingness to help every young boy and girl, without even knowing their identities, and of the many lives they save and the fact that they help so many bochurim in crisis find their way back to the path of stability.

Rav Finkel delivered a powerful address that focused primarily, as we have noted, on the need for a mechanech to relate to his talmidim like a father. “A talmid must feel that his rebbi is like his father – that he is a person who cares, who is interested in him, and who listens to him,” he asserted.

The words were well-suited to Rav Aryeh himself, who is known for the unconditional love he showers on his own talmidim.

Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Slabodka in Bnei Brak and member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, also delivered an address and responded to questions on issues in chinuch and hashkafah that were presented to him. He focused on the need to uplift bochurim and to infuse them with a sense of the greatness of a ben Torah and the elevated status of a yeshiva bochur. At the conclusion of his speech, he also noted the vital need for an organization such as Lev Shomea, and he offered his brachah to all of its members, and to the leaders of Lev L’Achim.

The theme of his address, a rebbi’s obligation to uplift and elevate his talmidim, was also a recurrent theme in his answers to the questions that were posed to him. Rav Hirsch reiterated time and again that every bochur – and his rabbeim – must recognize his own value and uniqueness. “When I was younger,” Rav Hirsch related, “it made a tremendous impression on us when our roshei yeshiva would tell us stories about their own roshei yeshiva. You should do the same. Bochurim should be taught the concept of greatness. They should be taught that those who study Torah are the most special and exalted members of our nation, and they are the ones who are worthy of being admired.”

Experience Versus Knowledge

The next part of the program was a series of professional lectures, focusing on topics such as hyperactivity, anxiety in children, addictions, and improper friendships. Every year, the mechanchim discover new insights. The audience was fascinated by the ideas presented by the professionals in their enriching addresses. The following is merely a small example.

Rabbi Refoel Greineman spoke about the difference between experience and knowledge.  â€œEvery bochur knows many things,” he asserted, “but an experience will always outweigh knowledge alone. What do you think of when I mention an airplane?” he continued, explaining his idea. “If you went with the gedolei Yisroel to the kever of the Chofetz Chaim in Radin, then the mention of an airplane will remind you of a powerful spiritual experience. If you witnessed the attack on the Twin Towers, an airplane represents shock and trauma in your mind. In either scenario, you certainly know about both the trip to Radin and the events of September 11, but the actual experience of traveling with the rabbonim or of witnessing the collapse of the Twin Towers will overpower your factual knowledge. And here is another example: For one bochur, Shabbos might mean an uplifting experience at a seudah, while for another, it might represent the fear of committing a transgression that warrants sekilah. Both of them sit at the table on Shabbos and sing zemiros, and both of them know that chillul Shabbos is punishable by sekilah, but one of them lives with the inspiration of Shabbos, while the other lives with the fear.”

His conclusion was that an educator must create positive experiences in his students’ hearts. Merely teaching them positive facts is not enough.

A pamphlet packed with insights was distributed at the kinnus. Among other things, it quotes some of the answers of the gedolei Yisroel to the questions brought to them by the people of Lev Shomea before the convention. For example, Rav Chaim Kanievsky was asked about the convention itself: Is it necessary for educators and maggidei shiur to learn how to teach? His answer: “They have to learn first, so they will be able to teach.” When asked how to help young men who have difficulty with davening, he replied, “Without davening, a person can’t do anything.”

Rav Shteinman Responds

A number of brief responses from Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, who himself served as a maggid shiur for decades at Yeshiva Ponovezh Letzeirim, the yeshiva ketanah of Ponovezh, where I myself attended his shiurim, are also quoted in the pamphlet. Below are some of the questions, which shed light on the many difficulties faced by today’s educators, and some of the answers, which open a window into the daas Torah of the leader of our generation, providing us with incredible insights into the basic principles of chinuch.

Question: “Is there anything that should be stressed in the chinuch of an average bochur?”

Answer: “Every person is better at certain things and not as good at other things. It takes a good deal of wisdom to know what is good for each person.”

Question: “Some bochurim are advised by their doctors to take Ritalin so that they will be able to learn better and with greater ease. What should we tell them?”

Answer: “Some people suffer from pains and have to take medication. What choice is there?”

Question: “Should they be forced to take it?”

Answer: “How could you force them?”

Question: “But they disrupt and ruin the shiur!”

Answer: “There are some people who are sick and are not willing to take medicine. What can you do?”

Question: “Sometimes the parents are opposed. Can the parents, and perhaps the bochur himself, be told that if he refuses to take Ritalin, he will be removed from the yeshiva?”

Answer: “You are saying that these bochurim disturb the shiur. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Every case must be judged on its own.”

Question: “Some parents argue that it wasn’t necessary for bochurim to take these medications in the past, and they don’t understand why it is necessary today.”

Answer: “The world lives with a different sort of outlook today. In the past, when a bochur had a question, he would ask his father. Today, there are good children, but each child thinks that he is wiser than his father.”

Question: “Some bochurim demonstrate indifference. They have no drive to daven.”

“Atzlus,” Rav Shteinman comments.

Question: “They also have no drive to learn. Where does this come from?”

Answer: “There are many different kinds of people. Some are very diligent and some are lazier.”

Question: “What can we say at this convention to an audience of roshei yeshiva and educators?”

Answer: “The Maharsha comments on the posuk, ‘He’emanti ki adaber ani anisi meod – I had faith when I spoke after suffering greatly,’ that this means that I had faith that I was successful because I spoke after ‘suffering greatly’ and toiling extensively. But, as the next posuk says, ‘ani amarti bechofzi kol ha’adam kozeiv – I said in my haste that every man is a liar.’ When you are hasty, and you do not work hard, the results are false. If you have not invested effort, you cannot believe that you have succeeded.”

En Route to the Airport

As a side note, Rav Yeruchim Olshin, rosh yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoah of Lakewood, recently visited Rav Shteinman. Several hours after his visit, Rav Shteinman asked someone to find out Rav Olshin’s phone number. Rav Olshin was on his way to the airport from a wedding at Armonot Wolf Hall in Yerushalayim when the call was placed. Rav Shteinman wanted to correct something he had said earlier: “This afternoon, when we spoke, I said something in the name of Rav Yisroel Salanter. I want you to know that it is also a Maharsha in Maseches Megillah.”

Rav Olshin had asked Rav Shteinman for some words of chizuk to share with his talmidim in Lakewood. Rav Shteinman had cited the above interpretation of the pesukim from Hallel, quoting Rav Yisroel Salanter: When a person works hard and invests effort, he can have faith that he has succeeded in reaching the truth, but if he achieves his goals with haste and without any exertion, he should not have faith in the results.”