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Sunday, 12 February 2017

It's okay to screen your kids' friends

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 21

Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, known as the Netziv of Volozhin was one of the greatest Roshei Yeshiva of the nineteenth century.  During his tenure, over ten thousand students passed through Volozhin.  In addition, he authored multiple Talmudic and Biblical exegetic works.

Following the publication of the Haamek Sheila, the Netziv made a great feast, at which he told the following story:
“When I was eleven years old, I overhead a conversation my parents were having.  I was a pretty restless kid and they decided that perhaps I’d be better suited to a trade.  Being handy and fashionable, they thought that ‘cobbler’ was the way to go.  That night I had a dream.  I was up in shomayim (Heaven) and they welcomed me in.

‘Tzvika,’ they said to me, ‘You’ve been an erliche Yid (good Jew) and you’re destined for eternal heavenly reward.’  But then they showed me a sefer (book) called Haamek Sheila and they asked me why I didn’t write that book.  I looked inside and responded that I was but a simple shoemaker.

I immediately awoke and ran to my parents’ room, pleading with me that they give me one more chance.  They did.  I turned over a new leaf and began to apply myself like never before.  Today I am making this Seudas Hodaah (Feast of Gratitude) to thank Hashem for directing me to fulfill my destiny!”

Rav said to Rav Shmuel bar Shailas: When you discipline a child, smite him with a shoelace.  Those who learn, may they learn.  Those who do not learn, let them remain in the company of their friends.
Rashi explains: Never reject a child and he will eventually give his heart.

Every child is a wellspring of G-dliness!  Every child has the potential to be the Netziv.  Baruch Hashem, in the twenty-first century we know better than to kick a kid out of school simply because they’re being disruptive.  As Rav teaches, the first step is light discipline.  The second step is not rejection; on the contrary, it’s leave them there in the class with well-behaved kids and eventually it will rub off on them.

That was the attitude the Netziv’s parents displayed.  They knew how to discipline ‘with a shoelace.’  They spoke to one another just loud enough for him to hear from the next room and become so concerned for his future that he would dream of the consequences of his current behavior, and choose to turn his own life around. 

Your child could very well be the next Netziv!  If they’re into learning, push them along.  Make sure they’re always stimulated.  Sometimes, smart kids get bored because of the ‘lowest common denominator’ pace in many classrooms.  If you think that might be happening with your child, find other ways to challenge them like the Chidon Hatanach (International Bible Quiz).  Or reward them for mastering pages of the Talmud independent of the class curriculum.  With particularly bright kids, don’t be shy to push the school administration on the question of skipping grades.

And if they’re not into learning, Rav teaches that your aim as a parent should be to screen their friends.  Sadly, misery loves company – many kids who are not making it in the system find others who are similarly uninspired; they end up thriving off one another’s disenfranchisement, and fall deeper and deeper into the pit.  In contrast, if they have good friends, it will eventually rub off on them and they too will become inspired and ambitious!


Your child is unique.  You are unique.  No educational system is a perfect fit for you or your children.  May you tailor your personal education and that of your children to give yourself and them the best possible opportunities in life!