We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Refrain from judging a situation that may seem clear to you.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Situations Lesson #3
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
Set Up Many Students
Part 2 - V’He’emidu Talmidim Harbay
Perek Aleph, Mishna Aleph
Story: (based on a true story)
“Good morning, Chava!” my fellow teacher Rina called as we approached the cafeteria. “What a beautiful day! Isn’t it great to finally see the sun?”
Chava lifted her head a bit in her wheelchair and turned from her nurse who was feeding her. The corners of her mouth stretched a bit out, almost into a smile. Rina stopped and continued speaking to Chava for a few minutes, so I stopped as well. As usual, I had no idea what to say to Chava, but I took a minute to say hello to the nurse and ask about her family.
Later that day as we all left school, I asked Rina a question that had been spinning in my head since the beginning of the year only a month earlier when Chava had joined our school.
“How do you always know what to say to Chava? I’ve tried, but it always seems so awkward when she can’t talk back. I always seem to ask her a question, but then she can’t answer, and I don’t want her to feel bad about that,” I rambled.
Through the years, I have learned to interact with kids with various special needs as they came through the school I teach in, though I don’t consider myself great at it. But Chava has stumped me. I say hi and I wave, but that’s all I know. What will I do next year when she will be in my class for part of the day?
Before Chava began school, the relevant staff was informed about her basic needs and that while her body couldn’t do much, her mind followed everything. We were all happy to have her, and she seems to enjoy her classes and classmates so far, based on the frequency of the almost-smiles. But I really don’t know how to interact with her, nor do a lot of others in school, I’ve noticed, so I asked Rina.
“I have a leg up,” she answered. “I have a niece in a pretty similar situation, and my sister has helped me along. So it’s pretty normal for me, and I guess I forget that it’s not for other people. I guess I could help you.”
I accepted gladly, and then wondered out loud if Chava’s classmates might be a little confused too. Rina agreed to talk to their teacher and see what they’d been told already and if she could help. Then she told me that she had learned something from me today.
“You had such a nice conversation with the nurse,” she said. “She seemed to really enjoy it. I bet people don’t stop to talk to her that often.”
“I learned that in my family,” I answered. “My great aunt was a nurse for an elderly man, and she used to complain to me that everyone except one of his kids treated her like furniture.”
Rina eventually did speak to some staff and the kids, and she made sure to tell them to remember to say hi to the nurse. Within a month, Chava’s nurse was telling me how friendly the class was and that they had even made her a card for her birthday. The school administration saw the kids in Chava’s class interacting with her more both in and out of school, and teaching other kids in the school and around town how to be friends with their wonderful classmate. I imagine these kids will teach many others, including their own families. I myself became the beneficiary of many, many half-smiles, and learned to watch for the beautiful light in Chava’s eyes as an indication of how she might be feeling. She became “Chava” to me, not “Chava in the wheelchair.”
It’s amazing what can happen when we give over what we know to someone else.
“…Haym amru sh’losha d’varim, v’he’emidu talmi’dim harbay…”
“They (Anshay K’nesses Ha’g’dola) said three things...set up many students…”
(Perek Aleph, Mishne Aleph).
Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel disagreed about the nature of the obligation to set up students of Torah. According to Bais Shammai, only those with proper character and who are not bothered by monetary concerns should be taught, as effort is best spent teaching those who are more likely to become the next generation of sages. Bais Hillel, however, maintained that Torah should be taught to everyone. Each student, regardless of character, should be taught with the utmost effort and care, since even sinners who begin learning Torah often become righteous people.
The Me'i'ri adds that those with more limited talent but with stronger determination often strengthen those who are more predisposed to learning. Their repeated questions and drive toward clarity bring inspiration and understanding to their peers as well as themselves.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau asks how it could be that Bais Shammai would go against the directive of our sages to set up many students. He quotes his father, Rabbi Moses Chaim Lau that the word “harbayh” does not literally mean “many” but instead “a great deal”. It is possible that the word “harbay” modifies “V’he’emidu”, to set up, and not talmidim, students. Bais Shammai focused on setting up each student very, very well.
The mishna uses the phrase “set up” rather than “teach” because a teacher must ultimately set up each student to eventually stand on his own. He or she must teach students not just facts and material, but also must breathe life into it, fully explaining ideas and providing a foundation. The teacher must also focus on the student’s character and perspective. Caring for his student, the teacher truly sets him up to become a Torah Jew.
Anyone who has knowledge to give over to another is a teacher, no matter what method or style he uses to give over what he knows. If we are educated in or have spent time working on a particular area, including bain adam l’chavayro and ahavas yisrael, we must “set up students” and teach others what we know in a way that they too will be built up and we can all build up the Jewish people.
Discussion Question Options:
What kinds of knowledge might we have to share about interacting with others that other people might be in need of?
Why do we sometimes not share what we know? Should we wait to be asked?
What are some paths to effectively share our knowledge, even if we are not officially teachers?
Stretch of the Week:
Bring someone else into an ahavas yisrael goal or project you are working on.