Listen to this story about Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l, about leadership, responsibility, chinuch, and caring about every Jewish child.
One morning, twenty-five years ago, after davening Shacharis kevosikin, Rav Chaim turned to his trusted driver and assistant, Rav Yeshaya Epstein, and told him that he needed to go somewhere immediately. It was pikuach nefesh.
Rav Chaim directed Rav Epstein to his daughter’s home. Rav Chaim knocked on the door until she woke up. When she came to open the door, he apologized for waking her and asked her to get in touch with a certain rosh yeshiva and inform him that Rav Chaim reconsidered his statement to him the evening before to send out a certain bochur from his yeshiva. “Tell him that I said that he should not expel him,” he told her.
When they arrived home, Rav Epstein apologized to the rebbetzin for their delayed arrival from davening, explaining that it was because Rav Chaim asked him to go somewhere. The rebbetzin responded, “I know what it was. It was concerning that bochur.”
She explained: “Last night, after the rov finished kabbalat kahal and everyone had left, he woke me from my sleep. He said to me, ‘Listen what happened. A rosh yeshiva arrived during kabbalat kahal and told me about something a bochur in his yeshiva had done. He wasn’t sure how to react. I told him that he should send the boy out of the yeshiva. Later on, a boy came and began to cry to me. He told me that he had done something terribly wrong and wanted to know how he should go about doing teshuvah. I asked him, ‘Where do you learn?’ He told me that he learned under the rosh yeshiva who had been by me earlier this evening. I immediately understood that this was the boy the rosh yeshiva had asked about. I was convinced that the boy sincerely regretted what he had done. He had performed a teshuvah sheleimah and I felt that the rosh yeshiva needs to let him return to the yeshiva.
“‘I know,’ the rov said, ‘that if I would tell him that the boy did teshuvah, he would not be convinced. So I am going to accept it upon myself and tell him that I changed my mind and decided that the boy should not be sent out of the yeshiva.’”
The rebbetzin continued, “After saying that, he said to me that we should sit together and say Tehillim for the boy that he should not be sent away from the yeshiva. So, when you told me that he asked you to take him somewhere, I knew that it was pertaining to that boy.”
We see from here the importance of every person, even someone you don’t know, even someone who did something that merited being thrown out of yeshiva.
When Rav Chaim saw the spark of holiness in the boy and that he regretted what he had done, he immediately decided that he had to do what he could to help the boy. Thus, he woke his wife to daven with him for the boy, and early the next morning woke his daughter to make the call blaming himself for offering incorrect advice. The boy deserved another chance and Rav Chaim made sure he got it.
From the Torah’s instructions of how to speak to our children concerning Yetzias Mitzrayim, we learn the importance of caring about every child and finding a mode of communication suitable for him.
As we begin the month of Nissan, our minds instinctively think of the Seder, when we sit with family and recount the geulah from Mitzrayim and the ultimate redemption, for which this month is an opportune time.
At the Seder, every father speaks with his family about how Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim, using his talents to hold the attention of the children as the evening progresses, while discussing with the others the eternal messages and lessons of the Haggadah.
This Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos Hagadol because of the great miracle that took place on the Shabbos prior to the geulah from Mitzrayim. The date upon which that miracle transpired is Yud Nissan, though unlike every other miracle that we commemorate, the celebration takes place on the day it happened, Shabbos, not the date it happened.
Perhaps this is because what we commemorate on Shabbos Hagadol is that the Jews fearlessly risked their lives to bring to their homes the sheep they were preparing for the Korban Pesach. The Mitzriyim worshipped sheep, and the Jews let them know that they were planning to sacrifice their gods. That act was the commencement of the geulah from their centuries-long slavery.
On Shabbos Hagadol, we commemorate that back on that Shabbos, 10 Nissan 2448, the process of geulah began, and we hope that it will be completed soon with the arrival of Moshiach. Every week, as we celebrate Shabbos, we are able to experience a taste of the World to Come, when we will merit the redemption from golus. Therefore, Shabbos is the appropriate day for the celebration.
It is on this Shabbos before Pesach that we celebrate the faith of the soon-to-be freed slaves. Despite having spent their entire lives in obedient slavery until that point, they braved threats of torture and death and followed Hashem’s commandment to bring home sheep and tie them to their beds. On this Shabbos, as we are reminded of their emunah and bitachon, we seek to learn from them and follow their example. We daven that just as their emunah and bitachon led them to geulah, so shall ours.
We begin reciting the Haggadah on Shabbos Hagadol to remember the nissim and do what we can to merit our geulah. Instead of waiting until the night of the Seder, we begin a few days prior, studying the pesukim, Medroshim and meforshim, preparing the material and language in which to deliver the messages and stories in a way that everyone will understand.
The Torah invests each father with the sacred task of inspiring his children about how Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim. The Rambam (Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 7:2) writes that it is incumbent upon fathers to teach their children about Yetzias Mitzrayim on their level. There is no one way to teach and get the message across. It has to be adapted to the level and understanding of the child.
The Torah discusses questions that children may pose. A different response is suggested for each type of child. Rashi quotes the Mechilta and the Yerushalmi in Pesochim that state, “Dibrah Torah keneged arbaah bonim.”
The Baal Haggadah says, “Keneged arbaah bonim dibrah Torah,” the Torah speaks about four types of sons who ask about Pesach observances. There is the smart, the wicked, the ignorant, and the one who is so simple that he cannot express himself.
It is interesting to note that the Haggadah introduces this concept by stating, “Boruch haMakom boruch hu, boruch shenosan Torah le’amo Yisroel.” Hashem is to be praised for giving us the Torah – “keneged arbaah bonim dibrah Torah.” We praise Hashem for giving us the Torah, which speaks – and is relevant – to different types of children and people.
While every father wants to be blessed with smart, all-knowing, well-behaved children, when his offspring don’t necessarily turn out that way, the Torah provides the language with which to reach every type of child. As frustrated as he must feel, a father of such a child doesn’t have the option of ignoring or speaking roughly to him.
Every child is born with the potential for greatness. Should a child deviate from the path we wanted for him, we must not give up on him. The Torah requires us to reach out to and speak to him in a language that he can understand.
Essentially, this is the message of the posuk in Mishlei which states, “Chanoch lanaar al pi darko.” The premise of that advice is that every child has a derech. There is a distinct path to the heart of every child. There is no child who cannot be reached when the language and approach meant for that child are utilized.
Communication seems to be a lost art, but if we want people to appreciate our way of life, if we want to have a better chance of our children following in our ways, and if we want to have a positive impact on those around us and on the world in general, we have to work to think clearly and articulate our thoughts cogently.
Too often, we repeatedly mouth the same platitudes and then wonder why our points are not getting across. Often, this happens because we do not take the time and expend the effort to understand the mentality of the people we are seeking to influence. Thus, our arguments fail, either because we are not properly addressing their concerns or because our logic is communicated in a language and with methods that people do not relate to. Effective communication means understanding not only the topic, but also the thought process and the value system of the people we are addressing. We should take the time to prepare what we want to say and how to say it so that it will resonate with the audience.
Moshe Rabbeinu was not a gifted orator; in fact, he was quite the opposite. His koach was b’peh, but not because he wowed people with his oratory skills. He convinced his audience with the content of his words, not by the way he expressed them. He influenced people with the strength of his arguments.
The Drashos HaRan says that the Ribbono Shel Olam caused Moshe Rabbeinu to stutter so that it would be evident that his successful transmission of the Torah to Klal Yisroel was due to the effectiveness and potency of his message and not his speaking style.
There is no match for genuine concern. A good educator succeeds when he views each student with an appreciation that there is a language and a path that can reach his soul and tailors the message accordingly.
Just as there are arbaah bonim, four sons, there are also four expressions, arba leshonos, of geulah. Perhaps this is a hint that in order to bring about the ultimate geulah, we have to use the proper language for every type of child.
If we only speak in one lashon, we will not succeed in reaching everyone and we will not succeed in bringing about the geulah. The geulah is dependent upon everyone’s devotion to the mitzvos of the Torah.
Golus Mitzrayim was preordained to last 400 years. When that time period concluded, the geulah arrived, despite the state of the Jewish people at that time. Unfortunately, the present golus, which is known as Golus Edom, has no predetermined end. Instead, the end of the golus depends upon us, our dedication to Torah, our emunah and bitachon, and our teshuvah. It is only when Klal Yisroel does teshuvah that Hashem will bring us Moshiach and the geulah.
With the right words, we can change the world, providing strength, humility, wisdom, joy, resilience, pride and, ultimately, the redemption.
A mechanech traveled from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak to consult with the Chazon Ish on chinuch matters. Before he had a chance to begin speaking, the Chazon Ish turned to him and said, “I see on your face that you are not happy. You need to know that it is impossible to reach children without simcha. It is impossible.”
We have to reach the proper level of happiness and learn the correct words and leshonos with which to reach people of all ages. May Hashem assist us in raising a generation of satisfied, good people, and together – parents and children, teachers and students – merit the geulah sheleimah and greet Moshiach, bimeheirah biyomeinu.