We are here to improve our relationships with others
in order to transform the Jewish people in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Overlook a negative act or trait in a parent or elder and focus on a positive one instead.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Teaching Students - We Are All Teachers
The mishna in Avos (4:12) tells us, “The honor of your student should be as dear to you as your own." There are two basic reasons why kavod is imperative to students’ success. First, since self-esteem is so critical and vital to one’s success in life, both spiritual and material, we have an obligation to give them kavod in order to help them achieve self-esteem. Rabbi Daniel Kalish once pointed out that the first mishna in Pirkai Avos says, “Stand up a lot of students." It does not say, “Teach a lot of students." Part and parcel of a teacher’s obligation and responsibility is to give his students confidence, and to stand them up into secure and confident b'nai Torah. When a teacher believes in his student, the student will see himself through the eyes of his teacher and begin to believe in himself.
Second, if teachers want their students to be motivated to learn from them, they need to treat them with kavod. People only like those who treat them with respect. A child is more likely to perform better for a teacher whom he likes. Although teachers should not be constantly focused on winning their students’ favor, nonetheless they should certainly treat their students in a manner conducive toward generating a very positive relationship. When dealing with students, Chazal (Sotah 47a) tell us, “One should always push away with the left and bring close with the right.”
Rabbi Kalish often says that when he sees a class that gets along well, he credits it to the teacher. A good teacher builds each of his students, and knows how to point out each one’s strengths. When the other students see how their beloved teacher values and respects each student, they too begin to value and respect each other. Furthermore, if a teacher treats all his students like his children, they automatically become united under their shared parent. When they feel united as a family, they will treat each other with more kavod. We naturally stand up for the honor of our family members and those closest to us.
The same idea applies to parenting. Parents who treat each and every one of their children with love and kavod are likely to have children who are close to one another. They will have love and respect for one another following their parents’ lead. They will not be jealous of each other because each one is secure with his special place. They are united by their beloved leaders, their dear mother and father.
We can take this idea one step further. When we treat our fellow Jews with kavod, we are creating achdus, unity, among K'lal Yisrael. What divides us is when we think and speak negatively of one another. The second Bais HaMikdash (Temple) was destroyed and never rebuilt because of the hatred and negativity that exists between fellow Jews. Through our efforts in spreading kavod and achdus, may we speedily merit the redemption in our days.
(Reproduced from Run After the Right Kavod by Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum, with permission of the author and copyright holders, Israel Bookshop Publications).
Story: (based on a true story)
I still remember how that first moment felt. I walked into our monthly women’s shiur (Torah class) and took my usual seat. As I searched my purse for a pen, I felt someone sit down next to me, and looked up to say hello or to introduce myself. And there she was: It was Rachel.
I hadn’t seen Rachel in almost ten years. I met her while I was in graduate school; we had most of our classes together for two years and often had lunch and studied together. She was about my age and Jewish as well, but only minimally connected to her Judaism, and had been fascinated by my being married with two kids by the age of twenty three. Aside from school work, our talk often centered on our families and the way we celebrated holidays, and on my style of dress, my wig, and my kosher rules, which she saw as too confining for her but interesting. Now here was Rachel, sitting next to me at my shiur, wearing an artfully tied colorful headscarf and a bohemian skirt and sweater and reaching into her handbag for a tanach (bible).
After the shiur and a joyful hello hug, Rachel explained that she had become observant five years earlier and had just moved back to the US from Israel. She had studied in an Israeli school for women returning to their roots and had eventually met her new husband, who had done the same. I wanted to know how it had all started.
“After grad school, I got a job in an Orthodox high school,” she told me. “I worked there for a few years, and everyone was so nice to me. I got the Purim baskets like the religious teachers, and the students explained the Hebrew words and the customs. The principal was wonderful to me and I learned so much from her about Judaism and about my job. And one of the teachers even taught me how to say brachos (blessings) over food when I asked about them. I remembered that you used to say them too and have me answer “Amain”, so it wasn’t so scary. I liked the gratitude of it.”
I did remember Rachel being very into gratitude. I had strengthened my own hakaras hatov (recognition of the good I received) through talking to her over the years; she was particularly amazing in her respect for her parents and grandparents. She hadn’t seemed so interested in brachos at the time; it was more like she was humoring me. But, I guess, something stuck.
Rachel continued to tell me how she had become more and more interested and eventually had signed up to go learn in Israel for a summer and then for longer. “I found my own style when I started with more modest clothes and when I started covering my hair,” she said. “It was easier than I thought it would be, actually. I got used to the idea when you and I talked about it, and seeing you and your friends every day like that. Also with Shabbos and kosher. You guys were so normal and nice, and I never felt excluded.
“I really did appreciate being invited to your house for Shabbos, even though I never went,” Rachel said. “Looking back, it felt like you were telling me you knew I could do it, even though I didn’t yet. But I did keep Shabbos eventually. Just a few years later!”
As I drove home with Rachel’s email and new number in my phone, I thought about how Rachel had become interested in her Judaism because she felt respected and cared for in her Jewish workplace. I thought about her statement that she applied for a job there because she had known me and my friends in grad school and we were good people and always willing to help or explain, so she figured she’d be in a good place and get to learn more about being Jewish. And I could hear her say, “I never felt like I was ‘less than’ you guys. You listened to me and told me you were learning from me too. Now I almost feel like family, even though I haven’t talked to you in ten years!”
We never know when we are teaching someone, or what impression we are leaving. I knew I was teaching Rachel what a bracha (blessing) was and what the basics of kosher were; I didn’t know that I was teaching her that to be a Jew is to care for others. I was glad I had taught her little bits about the mitzvos here and there, but was now even gladder I had seen her strengths despite our differences and gravitated toward her because of what made us the same. I had treated her respectfully, as everyone deserves, and that seemed to be the most important piece in driving her journey.
I have to be my best, most respectful me wherever I am and whoever I’m with, to see each person for his or her positives and value and reinforce them. I need to always be that person, because everyone is a creation of G-d and it’s the right way to be, and because the potential impacts are endless.
Questions for Discussion:
Was there a teacher who motivated you to grow? Someone who functioned as a teacher? What was it about them that motivated you?
How does feeling respected drive a person to learn and grow?
What practical things can we do to ensure that those we teach or influence, our students, children, or others around us, feel respected as they learn from us?
Stretch of the Week:
As you teach or impart a concept, be careful to encourage your student’s/children's self-esteem.