Don’t get me wrong. I am not a downer. I know as well as anyone how incredible we – as a people – have become. But if we are going to be honest with ourselves, and if we want to improve, this question must be given serious attention.
A friend of mine gave an insightful response, which made a great impact on me. He said that in the generation in which we grew up, there was much less rejection. We did not hear the word no in connection with Yiddishkeit. We went to the schools we wanted to attend. It was simply unheard of to reject a child from preschool or kindergarten. Yes, there was a formal interview, but because of the numbers and other circumstances, there was almost no rejection. As such, we grew up in a world of yeses, a world of positivity, a world where Torah and the beauty of Yiddishkeit were there for the taking.
Thirty-five years ago, I took a bechinah to get into Telshe Yeshivah in Cleveland. I was pretty much incapable of taking a test on the material I had learned during the school year, so I had to cram: I learned some of the third perek in Rosh Hashanah in camp and took a bechinah on that.
I got in. It didn’t hurt that my father was chairman of the board and that the bais medrash of Telshe was known as the Herbert I. Spero Study Hall after my grandfather. But everyone else got in, too.
The girls, for the most part, went to the seminaries they chose. Although there were only a handful of seminaries, just about everyone was accepted. If not, there was always a very good second choice. And the intense pressure was definitely not there.
The Gemara in Maseches Sotah (47a) tells the story of Rav Yehoshua ben Perachiah, who fled from Yanai Hamelech. When the danger had passed, he stayed with his talmidim at an inn, where the hostess of the inn took very good care of them. Rav Yehoshua ben Perachiah commented on how pleasant she was. A talmid misunderstood him, thinking he was referring to her physical attributes, and commented on her eyes. His rebbi gave him some scathing mussar and placed him in cheirem.
The distraught talmid tried repeatedly to regain acceptance into the good graces of his rebbi, but his attempts were rebuffed. One day, he came while his rebbi was in the middle of Krias Shema. By that time, Rav Yehoshua ben Perachiah was prepared to reinstate the talmid as he sensed his sincerity, and he motioned for him to wait until he was finished reciting Shema. The talmid misunderstood the gesture and thought that he was shooing him away. Devastated at the blatant rejection, he left the fold and became known as Oso Ha’ish, the founder of Christianity. How much Yiddishe blood has been spilled as a result!
Oy! The danger of rejection!
I truly believe that this is the difference between the generation in which I/we grew up and the generation in which we live today. Acceptance versus rejection. Our boys learn more, daven with more intensity, and have amassed more Torah knowledge. There are more chesed organizations than ever before, and our girls are, thankfully, heavily involved. There is an emphasis placed on tzniyus and not speaking lashon hara. We didn’t grow up with much of this. So how did we “make it,” while today so many are lacking those positive feelings we felt? Is it, perhaps, because all of the nos they face and all the rejection?
Rejection is so very painful. So painful, and at times the ramifications are irreversible.
When a child is rejected from preschool, it has an effect on the child. It has an effect on his parents. And there are only so many times that a person can be rejected without rejecting that which has rejected him. (Sounds like a tongue twister, but think about it.)
True, the temptations of today’s society dwarf the nisyonos we faced when we were young, and that should be taken into consideration. But we still must be better. We must do more to help ourselves and help the children of this generation.
Rav Yankel Galinsky zt”l has a powerful shmuess on this subject matter. Allow me to use some of his thoughts as a springboard to help us crystallize the problem in order to be able to find a solution.
The Sifri in Devorim writes that Yaakov waited over fifty years before reprimanding Reuvein for switching the beds of his mother, Leah, and Rochel. Why? Because he was afraid that Reuvein would latch onto Eisav. Is that possible? Would Reuvein, who Rashi tells us was fit to accept the crowns of bechorah, kehunah and malchus together, leave his father to join forces with his wicked uncle Eisav because of a little sharp mussar?
Indeed, such is the crushing blow of rejection. It can shatter even the strongest individuals and the strongest families.
Lot, nephew of Avrohom, was told, “Hipareid na mei’alai – Please separate from me” (Bereishis 13:9). Then, a mere four pesukim after being described by Rashi as the spitting image of Avrohom Avinu (Rashi, Bereishis 13:7), Lot declared that he wants nothing to do with Avrohom and his G-d (Rashi 13:11).
How quickly one can fall when spurned.
The megadeif, the blasphemer, attempted to pitch his tent in the camp of Don, but was accosted: “Mah tivcha lekan – What is your connection here?” A short while later, after losing his din Torah, he went out and publicly cursed the Al-mighty.
And the tale of abandonment continues.
Arpah, who was encouraged to leave by Na’ami in the gentlest of ways, felt somewhat rejected and fell to the depths of deterioration, eventually giving birth to Golias, a great villain and antagonist in the history of Klal Yisroel.
Indeed, the results are terrifying.
If we are to have any chance at stopping the negativity and its frightening ramifications, we must effect change. We must modify the process and stop the negativity. As echad mibnei hachaburah, I would like to search for answers along with everyone else.
This is not to suggest that everyone be admitted to every school he or she applies to. Of course, that is an impossibility. But when the answer is no, it cannot be with the connotation of “Hipareid na mei’alai – Separate yourself from me.” We must not look down on others and ask, “Mah tivcha lekan – What are you doing here?” For if we do, we are waiting for the next Golias, the next megadeif, the next one to attach himself to the likes of Eisav, chas veshalom.
Even so, let’s not play the blame game. That is not what this is all about. I am not blaming schools or principals. They are also losing sleep over this. This is about helping us not make the mistake the next time. If a child cannot be accepted, and the key word is cannot, for there must be a true and legitimate reason, then we must search for the right words and setting for it to be said. We can’t stop the process by refusing his entry. Rather, we must find a place where he will be accepted.
And we, at home and on our end, must continue to encourage our children. We must show them how beautiful and positive Yiddishkeit is and what a beautiful lifestyle one can lead. For those who unfortunately receive a negative response, never – and I mean never – speak negatively about those institutions in front of your children. You will feed the monster of rejection. I can proudly say that I don‘t ever remember my father speaking negatively about any rov, rebbi or institution. Unfortunately, there were other parents who did – and their children became victims.
Camp is another prime example. Every camp should include different types of boys, even if they are not the exact prototype of what the camp is looking for. If, in fact, the administration feels that a boy cannot function within its specified rules and guidelines, so be it. But the powers that be must think long and hard about their decision before implementing. And then they should see to it to find another place where the camper will fit in and be happy – and not to merely shut the door and walk away.
The same holds true in our social interactions. We live in a world of shidduchim where nos are a necessity. A no may come when a shidduch is first suggested, or it may not be until the young couple is on the threshold of their engagement, but it must be done with dignity and grace. Hurt feelings are part of life, but pouring salt on the wound need not be part of the equation. In addition, our children must learn to communicate, so that when they get married, their spouses never feel rejected when a disagreement occurs.
There is a fine line between disappointment and rejection. And it is all in the manner one transmits these emotions. At the Philadelphia Yeshivah, awards are handed out at the graduation. The yeshivah is top tier, and an argument can be made that they should not give out awards in public, as some of the boys who are deserving will inevitably be disappointed. There were those in the yeshivah who expressed strong concern and brought it to the attention of Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, the rosh yeshiva, asking that he put an end to the awards. Rav Shmuel responded that it is healthy for a boy to learn to deal with disappointment.
Indeed, disappointment, but not rejection.
Our work is cut out for us. We must stop turning people away. If they need to be directed elsewhere, it must be done with love, care, concern, and sleepless nights.
One last chilling thought. With Elul upon us and Rosh Hashanah around the corner, can we afford to have the Al-mighty turn the tables on us? How would we feel if He rejected us? Even if the answer must be no, we need to feel His love along the way.
The time is now.