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  • Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier

One boy didn't know the answer. What the Rav did changed his life.

VA'ESCHANAN

Someone recently challenged me: “What did you learn today that you didn’t know yesterday?” He explained that he asks himself this question after his daily Torah shiur, and he asserted, “if I can’t point to anything new then the learning was a waste of time. Is this a correct assessment? In this week’s parsha we’re commanded: “These things [Torah and mitzvos] that I am commanding you today shall be upon your heart.” Why does Hashem emphasize that He’s commanding us “today”? Chazal explain that we should always view Torah as something new, as if we just received it today. But how is this possible if we didn’t just receive it?! Because Torah is not simply about information and academics. Even when the information is old, the experience can be new and fresh. When your child says “I love you,” do you think to yourself, “I knew that already”? Of course not. Because he’s expressing today’s love, and that you never knew. The Alter Rebbe explains that studying Torah is primarily a means of bonding with Hashem, not acquiring knowledge. Even if we spent an hour grappling with a difficult subject, only to remain clueless, we have still spent an hour of quality time with Hashem. Imagine this: You finish a typical night’s supper with your family and someone asks you, “What did you learn about your family that you didn’t know yesterday?” A good answer would be: I learned nothing new about my family today. But I did learn “family” today. Our family bond became stronger today than it was yesterday. Of course we share information with each other. But the primary accomplishment is not the knowledge, rather the bond it creates.

The environment in today’s education system can sometimes be too focused on the need for academic achievement. Like machines, children are assessed by results. But not all children can excel academically in all subjects of Torah. And nevertheless, every child, without exception, can feel connected to Torah.[1] A bachur in Eretz Yisroel went off the derech and was even planning to marry a non-Jewish woman, R”L. One Shabbos afternoon, the bachur’s father invited him to join a shiur given by HaRav Aron Leib Shteinman. To the father’s delight, he accepted. After the shiur, the father introduced his son to the Rav. They had a very warm conversation, and as a result he became a full-fledged baal teshuva. Why did he agree to meet with HaRav Shteinman? When this bachur was in kitah daled, his teacher arranged for his class to be tested by HaRav Shteinman. The questions were intentionally easy and each boy received a candy for answering correctly. The Rav asked this boy a question, but he didn’t know the answer. He asked him a second question and then a third, but he couldn’t answer any of them. When the test was over, all the children left the room with a candy in hand. Everyone, except for this boy. When he passed by the Rav’s desk, the Rav stopped him. "In Torah and Yiddishkeit,” he told the boy, “we reward the effort, not the results. All the other boys put effort into one question so I gave them one candy; you put effort into three questions so you deserve three candies." Chazal say that beginning from the 15th of Av the nights become longer and we should spend more time studying Torah. And in answer to my friend; No, it’s not all about what we learn but about the quality time we spend with Hashem. And may we soon merit to have Torah chadasha from Moshiach. Gut Shabbos, Rabbi Lipskier


[1] There are, of course, some topics that need to be treated more academically, for example, reading skills and the basic dos and don’ts of halacha. It’s also imperative to keep children motivated by creating opportunities for them to succeed academically. But we must be clear on what our overall goal is.