Friday, May 24, 2024

Words to Touch and Inspire

As we study Parshas Bo, we note that the pesukim and narratives of this parsha comprise many of the words and stories intrinsic to our faith, which combine to mold the drama and excitement of the Seder night.

On that night, every father is charged with imparting not only the stories, but also the eternal messages and lessons that emanate from our experiences in Golus Mitzrayim, and our deliverance from there, which formed us into the am hanivchor.

The Ramban famously teaches that Parshas Bo is the guidebook of emunas Yisroel, which is the foundation of our belief throughout the ages. Interestingly, besides for Yetzias Mitzrayim being the bedrock of our faith, within the account of Yetzias Mitzrayim we find important chinuch lessons and timeless truths about how to maximize the potential of every Jewish child.

It is in regard to the mitzvah of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim that the Torah charges each father to be a mechaneich, invested with a sacred task of inspiring his children. The Rambam (Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 7:2) writes that it is incumbent upon fathers to teach children about Yetzias Mitzrayim, and a father should teach his children according to each child’s level.

Several pesukim in the parsha discuss how to teach our children about the importance of Yetzias Mitzrayim and its connection to the mitzvos we observe on Pesach.

The Torah discusses diverse questions that various types of children may pose. A different response is suggested for each type of child. Rashi quotes the Mechilta and the Yerushalmi in Pesachim that state, “Dibrah Torah keneged arbaah bonim.”

The Baal Haggadah says, “Keneged arbaah bonim dibrah Torah,” the Torah speaks about four different types of sons who question our Pesach observances. There is the wise, the wicked, the ignorant and the one who is so simple that he cannot even express his questions.

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.

The Torah provides an answer for each child. 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 person is born with the potential for greatness. Should he unfortunately be detoured from his mission, we never abandon him. The Torah requires us to reach out to him and respond to his queries in a language that he can understand.

Every talmid has the potential to become a gadol b’Yisroel if he is properly nurtured and allowed to develop. There are many stories of boys who were considered average in their youth and developed into famed gedolim. Sometimes it was a rebbi who took an interest in them and reached deep into their untapped greatness. Other times, a student’s stubborn dedication to learning allowed the intelligence to develop. In other cases, it was caused by the tefillos of a budding talmid chochom desperately pleading, “Choneinu mei’itcha deah binah vehaskeil.”

This is the depth of the posuk in Mishlei that 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 are no people who cannot be reached when the language and approach meant for them are utilized.

In this week’s parsha, we are reminded that the Torah speaks to every person. We have to heed that message and seek to speak to every Jew in a way that he can understand and accept.

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 improve our communication skills. We have to learn how to think clearly and articulate our thoughts cogently, verbally and in writing.

If we want to influence the debate, we have to understand the questions that are being posed and respond to them in a way that the questioner can understand. How many times do we attend a speech, only to hear the same stories repeated? People tire of them and are turned off.

Too often, we act as if we are in an echo chamber, repeatedly mouthing the same platitudes and wondering 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 don’t 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.

The Chofetz Chaim taught through speaking and writing in simple, plain language. Anyone who heard Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach’s urgent flow of words, and his passion and intensity compensating for a lack of elocution, saw that his effectiveness had less to do with the medium than the message. He cared, so his words were accepted in the spirit in which they were said.

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 path that can reach his soul and tailors the message accordingly.

Just this week, Yeshiva Darchei Torah honored Rav Yaakov Bender for his forty years of chinuch leadership in that world famous institution. Rav Bender epitomizes the ability to reach and inspire each child. He demonstrates that children taught with love and care can grow and flourish. This recognition was richly deserved and serves to inspire others to aspire to attain that level of success in imparting Torah and its lessons to the next generation.

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. The golus in which we now find ourselves, Golus Edom, has no known expiration date.

The redemption depends on us, our dedication to Torah, our emunah and bitachon, and, mostly, 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.

The yeitzer hora is a crafty enemy. Because he understands our motivations, he is able to outsmart us. For us to perceive the plainly evident truth is an epic struggle, for he shades and colors the way we understand what is happening around us and goads us to react in ways that harm us.

He uses words and ideas that paint negative actions as positive ones and causes us to view positive accomplishments with negativity and cynicism. He tells us that not all who wander are lost and endeavors to remove our focus from the goal.

The skewered reality, representing the value system of the alma deshikra in which we live, has been on display since the 2016 election season.

Unhappy with the way that election turned out, the media has been gearing up ever since for the next election. There is almost no reporting on how President Trump has positively affected the economy. The stock market sets new records almost daily, last week the Dow hit 25,000 and this week it passed the 26,000 mark. Don’t expect to see any headlines about it.

The reformed tax system has just gone into effect and is already putting more money into the pockets of workers. Instead of focusing on the historic swing in the economy, the media reports on liberal states where Trump’s reform will have little impact on homeowners.

The country is rebuilding its army and defense abilities, which had been weakened under the last president. American prestige is rising and consumer confidence is moving up. The GDP is up, unemployment is down. Black unemployment is at the lowest level in many years. But you’d never know any of that if you depend on the mainstream media for your news and information. All you’d know is that the president colluded with Russia to get elected, is a racist, bigoted nut.

There is a constant drumbeat that the president is mentally deranged, because it works. There is probably nobody left in the country who believes that Trump is playing with a full deck. The difference is that some overlook that flaw in favor of the many aspects of Trump’s agenda that are proving to be greatly beneficial to the country.

The media pounds propaganda into people’s psyches until the public accepts it. Mainstream politicians are so scared of saying something that one group or another will find offensive that they fear saying the truth. There is rarely any intellectual honesty displayed. Everything has to fit into a convenient politically-correct box.

But that doesn’t work for us as a people. If we want to reach people with questions and prevent them from going OTD, we have to be open and honest. We have to learn how to address our own issues using real solutions and honest ideas, not noise or sound-bites. What we need is practical direction, not grandstanding for the glory of the moment or fanciful thinking that has no application to reality.

It is far easier to deliver big speeches and to propose sweeping changes than to sit far from the limelight and develop a workable solution. Clearly thought-out approaches will have a lasting salutary effect on the community long after the speech has been forgotten.

Fighting battles of yesteryear will cause us to lose today’s battles. Seeking to be mechaneich children with the wrong methods causes them to be turned off.

A mechaneich 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, proper language and various leshonos with which to reach different people. Fathers will then reach their sons – veheishiv lev avos al bonim velev bonim al avosam.

We will raise a generation of satisfied, good people, and together – parents and children, teachers and students – we will greet Moshiach, bimeheirah biyomeinu.




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