Maccabee's Wars

A venting rage against the ills of our society with some hopeful observations.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Tipping the Scales -- How Much is Too Much?

My friend went to see his nephew play in an elementary school hockey game between two modern orthodox Yeshivoth. Both teams had poor records. The visiting team had one win versus seven losses while the home team had zero wins versus seven losses. With 27 seconds left in the contest, and the home team winning 4-3, the visiting team apparently scored a goal which evened the match at 4-4. But play continued until the buzzer sounded.

Being that one referee was absent for the contest, the other referee missed the goal and did not stop the action. At the moment of the score, the visiting team screamed in celebration. When play did not stop, the home team tried to act as if there was no score.

At the conclusion of the game, my friend who's nephew played for the now "losing" visiting squad ran over to the coach of the home team, the coach also being a Rebbi in the Yeshiva. My friend asked the Rebbi incredulously about the goal. The Rebbi said "I didn't see it go in."
The Rebbi then turned to his players and asked "Did you see any goal?" The response was a bunch of sheepish looks followed by silence. "I guess there wasn't any goal, then."
My friend walked away with his nephew feeling that he was had.

Did the Rabbi see the goal? Was there one even scored? Was the Rabbi trying to protect his kids? Was there a lack of sportsmanship? Was a lesson being presented to children on both sides that would have immense ramifications later. I don't know. I wasn't there. I'm not a mind reader and I can't predict the future.

However, after glancing at a book called "Off The Derech -- Why Observant Jews Leave Judaism," by Faranak Margolese and listening to a shiur by Dr. Shnayer Leiman, I began wondering about some of things we do for the "benefit" or Chinuch of others.

Margelese' thoughts on why we lose too many of our youth is the following:

If there isn't enough positive feelings, belief and implementation ability given over to Jewish children by parents, teachers and friends, children can go off the derech. On the other hand, in order to stay the course, it doesn't matter how much of the three factors exist in the child, just as long as they all combine to keep the child on the Derech.

For example, even if you have an emotionally battered child but he/she has enough intellect and/or belief to compensate, the child will remain frum. On the other hand, a child with a positive self-image or a child instilled with strong belief can compensate for a lack in having an intellectual understanding in Yahuduth.

As long as the combination of the three factors is enough to reach the level needed, which she calls the 100% level (i.e. the total of the three factors add up to the level needed for the child to remain frum), then the child will do so. In other words, all actions taken will either bring a child closer to or further away from the "Derech."

Dr. Leiman's shiur further piqued my interest in this area.

The Shiur began with the introduction of a scholarly Halachic periodical entitled "Ohr Yisroel," where a question was raised if one is allowed to "make up" stories about the "Gedolim" if it will show a positive attribute to be emulated, i.e. a lesson to be learned. After quoting from many sources, the author concluded in the affirmative. However, Dr. Leiman, seemed to differ. His shiur which was based on an article by a Rabbi Mondoshine posed the following:

Ruchama Shain, in a book published in 1990 called "Reaching the Stars," had a supposedly true story where the names of the protagonists were changed to protect the privacy of these individuals.

Basically, the story was regarding a Yeshiva Bochur who wanted to do some research on a topic. He was told that he would find what he was looking for at Hebrew University.

Being a 'good Yeshiva boy' he had never been to a University. He knew, however, that he would probably be at the University for many hours, so he packed himself a lunch and he was on his way.

At some point in his research, he decided to take a break. He went over to a water fountain to wash. He ate his food and Benched by heart and 'out loud.' A librarian came over in a huff and accosted him for eating in a Library, disturbing the solitude of the Library and for Benching incorrectly.

The Bochur apologized by saying he did not know that one could not eat in a Library and did not know that silence had to be maintained in the reading room. But incredulously he asked what mistake had he made in the wording of his benching.

The Librarian told him that in the Rachem portion he added the words V'Lo Nikosheil similar to the words in Ahavas Olam. He then smiled and said that this was his minhag and he is sure it would be found in some Benchers.

She then pulled off the shelves many of the Siddurim in the Library and dared him to find it. He could not. This probably bothered him a great deal, so he made it his business to find his nusach in some Siddur.

Eventually, he went to Mea Shearim, found a Siddur, made a photocopy, circled the V'Lo Nikosheal, placed arrows pointing to it, all in red ink and sent it off to the Librarian. But he didn't hear from her.

A few years later, he received a wedding invitation. It was in Yerushalayim, so he decided to go even though he didn't know who sent the invitation. At the wedding, he saw no one he knew -- neither on the Men's side nor on the Woman's side. (it was probaly a Chareidi Wedding -- no mixed seating.) But someone spotted him and came over to him.

He was told that the Kallah wanted to meet him. He went over to her but he didn't recognize her. The Kallah then told him that she was the Librarian and his letter arrived just at the moment when she was receiving a marriage proposal from an Arab whom she was planning to wed.

When she saw the Yeshiva Bochur's note and the words V'Lo Nikoshail circled in red she had a change of heart and became frum.

Nice Story? It was repeated many times in other volumes over the next 15 years with minor variations where the Yeshiva Bochur was actually a famous Gadol and other minor discrepancies.

Yet the story supposedly first appeared in print with the 1990 publication.

Dr. Leiman then pulled out a 1937 volume by Shai Agnon. In it was the same story of sorts except that the girl was a doctoral thesis student from Germany who had come to eat at the Agnon's house in Eretz Yisroel.

After completing the meal, he began benching and she corrected him when he said V'Lo Nikoshail. Agnon said that this was his father's minhag. She retorted that's impossible and that he would not find this nusach anywhere.

Sometime afterwards, on Agnon's father's Yartzeit he went to buy a new Siddur to use during the davening. While searching, he came across a Bencher which looked quite similar to one used at his father's table in Poland. Lo and behold, it had V'Lo Nikoshail.

Agnon was so excited, he sent the Bencher off to Germany with a congratulatory note to the young woman for receiving her doctorate.

Yet that was not the end of the story. Years later, the woman said she was coming to make Aliyah with her future husband and that she would be honored if Agnon could attend their wedding. At the end of Sheva Brochot, she handed him a leather bound jeweled encrusted Sefer.

It was the Bencher.

Agnon exclaimed how he had bought the Bencher for a few Prutahs and now she encases it in such an ornate binding. The young woman replied, that she received Agnon's note just at the moment when she was about to marry a fellow gentile student. When she opened the note and saw V'Lo Nikoshail encircled in red, it changed her life. The Sefer certainly deserved to be bejeweled and he deserved to have it.

If you didn't know by now, Shai Agnon was a fiction writer. But not all of the story was fictitious.
The minhag of his father was true.

Dr. Leiman pointed out that in the back of the Shulchan Aruch on Halochos of Brachos, there is a commentary from the Rav of the Polish town where Agnon and his family lived.

The Rav comments that he had a minhag to say V'Lo Nikoshail in Rachem but had no source for it. He also did not recommend anyone else to follow his minhag.

Nevertheless,what ever you believe, the entire piece is a great story.

But in response to the article in "Ohr Yisroel" the current ADMAR from Slonim wrote in the next issue that a Rebbi should not change the facts to suit the moral because the morals of the Torah are based on Emes. [Of course, for Darchei Shalom, you don't have to spill the beans on everything. If your wife has a new hat, you don't have to tell her how ugly you think it looks.] The ADMAR quoted a story from the Peshvorsk Rav who had broken his arm and gave out a 'krechts' (a wail) during davening.

Afterwards, he called together his Talmidim to explain why he yelled out. They responded it wasn't necessary to explain. But he said it was. He yelled out because of the pain and not because he had more Kavanah. He did not want any of his students to have a false impression less at some time in the future they feel he wasn't being truthful about this and that possibly he wasn't being truthful about everything else he taught them.

So how far do we push someone for their benefit? Are we pushing them for our benefit? Does the end justify the means? Maybe.

Maybe not.

You be the judge.