Rav Uri Zohar’s Gift

By Jonathan Rosenblum

Rav Uri Zohar ztz”l, who passed away last week, arguably had a greater impact on the Jews in Israel than anyone else in the last fifty years. When he first appeared on the talk show he hosted in 1977 wearing a kippah, the audience and all those watching at home did not know whether to treat it as part of a skit or real. Until then, he had personified the Ashkenazi secular elite that dominated the country in its first three decades.

His move toward a Torah life made teshuvah a real possibility for every single Jew in Israel: If the Torah could win over Uri Zohar, how could anyone feel safe? Amnon Dankner, who would later become editor of Maariv, wrote at that time of hearing of another old friend entering Ohr Somayach every week, and described himself as like an “apple swaying on a tree,” not knowing which way he would fall.

Uri Zohar’s “conversion” simultaneously infused the still small (by today’s standards) Torah community with newfound confidence. Nothing could explain Zohar’s sudden shift other than his conviction of the truth of Torah, for in choosing a Torah life, he put his marriage at grave risk, and sacrificed the material success and fame he had achieved.

My life twice intersected with Rabbi Zohar’s. I was privileged to adapt into English (as a junior partner to Rabbi Doniel Baron) his pamphlet on dealing with struggling children: Breakthrough: How to Reach Our Struggling Kids (Feldheim 2016). I reread it after his passing, and remain convinced that it is required reading for every Jewish parent.

His advice on building a loving relationship, based on open lines of communication, with each child long before they reach their teenage years is invaluable. That means creating time to speak — and much more important, listen — to each child every day. Be careful not to respond with pre-packaged Mussar lessons, lest our children learn that there are subjects it does not pay to discuss with their parents. And don’t live vicariously through your children. “What score did you get on the test?” should not be our most frequently asked question.

Rabbi Zohar wrote about struggling teens from much personal experience with his own children, and of their eventual reconnection to Hashem. The resulting sefer is at once filled with common sense and based on deep Torah insights. (He was a serious talmid chacham, with particular command of the esoteric writings of the Vilna Gaon, Maharal, and Ramchal.) The writing is clear, logical, compassionate, and succinct. The sefer can be read easily in under three hours.

A child’s religious struggles strike parents at their most vulnerable points: their aspirations for their children and their self-image. And consequently, they trigger a host of negative emotions — shame, guilt, fear, and anger — which make it difficult to think clearly, at precisely the moment when thinking clearly is most needed.

Most parents, for instance, recognize that confrontation and denigrating comments are not the likeliest tools to bring their children back. After all, they smile and try to engage their neighbor’s off-the-derech child in friendly conversation. But with their own children….

Rav Zohar showed parents how to remove themselves from the equation in order to focus on helping their child. Rule one: Don’t worry about the opinions of your neighbors. Rule two: Avoid all reactions “cultivated by institutionalized religion, but which do not necessarily reflect true Torah values.” If we obsess, for instance, over a child’s jeans or hairstyle, we may end up driving away not only the legs wearing those jeans, but the heart and head attached to those legs as well.

Some degree of teenage rebellion is almost inevitable, Rav Zohar noted, as a teenager finds himself overcome by powerful emotions and drives with which he or she has had no previous experience. Those drives go with physical maturation, and that physical maturation usually precedes the emotional maturation necessary for a teenager to regain control.

That means there is often nothing that a parent can do other than exercise patience, waiting for emotional maturation to catch up, while maintaining the lines of communication and showing one’s continuing love for one’s struggling child. Expressions of love will not be experienced by teenagers as condonation for their actions; they know very well how their parents conduct their lives and their values.

Rather parental love conveys the message that the Torah does not reject him, and that Hashem awaits his return, just as we pray every year on Yom Kippur that He show patience with us in mending our faults and failures. Exercising patience means that what we don’t say or don’t do is often more important than what we do or say.

Everyone requires a measure of kavod, respect, and none more so that struggling teenagers. The Gemara (Bava Metzia 85a) records how Rebbi brought back the wayward son of Rabi Elazar and the grandson of Rabi Tarfon. In the former case, he began by conferring semichah on the young man, and in the latter’s case by offering his daughter in marriage if he did teshuvah.

Rabbi Zohar’s central metaphor for the role of parents in dealing with struggling children is a midrash (Midrash Rabbah Shemos 46:1). The Midrash relates that when Moshe saw the dancing around the Golden Calf, he realized he could either retain the Luchos, and the people would cease to exist, for they were no longer capable of receiving the level of kedushah contained in the Luchos, or he could break them. Even though the Second Luchos possessed far less kedushah, only they are referred to as tov, for only they were suitable to the spiritual level of the people. (See Maharal, Tiferes Yisrael 35.)

Similarly, writes Rabbi Zohar, parents must transmit Torah to their children according to their current level. “We need to shatter our own norms, abrogate our ‘nonnegotiable’ principles…. We cannot be fettered by social convention or any other social convention as we focus on how we can effectively give over Torah to our children.”

My second opportunity to interact with Rav Uri came while interviewing him for my biography of Rav Noach Weinberg. Even before Rav Uri and his wife became fully observant, Rav Noach and his wife Denah went to visit them at their seaside villa. Subsequently, Rav Noach took on the support of a kollel, which included a number of highly motivated and talented baalei teshuvah, headed by Rabbi Avraham Mendelsohn, the son-in-law of Rav Yitzchak Shlomo Zilberman. Rav Zilberman was the primary religious influence on Rav Uri’s close friend Ari Yitzchak, and subsequently on Rav Uri himself.

Rabbi Zohar joined that kollel when he moved to Jerusalem, and learned in it for over a decade. His presence was one of the major reasons for Rav Noach’s ongoing support of the kollel in the Old City. During that period, the two became very close, though they also argued frequently. Rav Noach constantly pushed Rav Uri to become actively engaged in kiruv, while the latter considered Rav Noach’s vision of returning the entire Jewish People to Torah to be detached from reality and felt that he could have a greater impact through the power of his learning.

Not until 1992, after 15 years of nonstop learning, did Rabbi Zohar agree to make five public appearances on behalf of the new Lev L’achim organization, each of which drew huge crowds. That reemergence — but now as a full-fledged talmid chacham — was of great satisfaction to Rav Noach, and he raised very large sums for Lev L’achim.

My clearest memory of that interview is Rabbi Zohar’s lament that the Torah community is filled with many who have no doubt of Hashem’s existence, but who view Hashem as “out to get them.” They do not feel that Hashem’s greatest desire is their good. That lament could have been taken straight from Rav Noach, who always made Hashem’s ahavah rabbah the focal point of his teaching.

At some point in the interview, Rav Uri must have noticed my amazement at the tiny size of his apartment. He told me laughingly that he was downsizing in preparation for an even more confined space. His body is now there. But his great soul is free to soar unfettered.

Originally published in Mishpacha Magazine – 6/15/2022

The Biggest Problem in Judaism

What’s the biggest problem in Judaism. A lot of things come to mind, the Yeshiva System, the Shidduch System, the Chinuch System, the Left, the Right, the Middle, the Open, the Closed, the Leadership, the lack of Leadership, etc.

However, I think the biggest problem in Judaism is clearly stated in the pasuk in Devarim:
And now, Israel, what does Hashem ask of you, that you
1) fear Him, 2) walk in His ways, 3) love Him, 4) serve Him with all your heart and all your soul and 5) observe all the mitzvos.

That’s what’s expected of us!

On top of that we have an animal soul that’s impulsive, loves physical pleasure, and detests exertion. We have a yetzer hara that makes us ego-centric leading to selfishness, anger, envy and honor seeking. And we live in a world loaded with intellectual, emotional and physical distractions like politics, business, sports, shopping, gadgets, social media, and entertainment.

And even when we are able to overcome the physical, emotional and intellectual deterrents and create some connection to Hashem through fear, middos development, love, wholehearted service, and meticulous mitzvos observance – the majority of the payoff will not even be received in this world, but in the world to come.

This challenge is a tall order and it’s not really emphasized to FFB/BT children or BT adults, because it would just discourage them. So Yeshivos focus on the information and thought development of Torah study, and Kiruv and non-Yeshivish environments offers Torah as the best of all possible lifestyles. So it should be no surprise that many people want to move to a town where they can sit back a little and enjoy the Torah lifestyle.

That is the Biggest Problem in Judaism – a lot is expected of us and it’s really hard given our nature and environment. However, this is a problem that Hashem created. And if He created this problem, we know that He created a solution. We’ll take a look at the solution in a week or so.

Parent’s Guide to The School Open House

By Michael Salzbank

It is quite remarkable how quickly things can change. Just a generation or two ago, an Open House was a real estate term. Today it is a season in the calendar when schools host major events to showcase their programs and buildings. One just has to look in the newspapers right after the Yomim Noraim to see that everyone has one. The reason for the change is quite simple. Years ago a community may have had one or two choices; each school was clearly distinct in their hashkafa and their target audience. Since it was readily apparent to all, there was no need for an Open House. Today, though, with our larger communities there are more schools and the lines that distinguish them are blurred. Since there is overlap between them, Open Houses are seen as the best way for discerning parents to make an informed decision.

Are Open Houses really the best way to learn about a school? Are these carefully orchestrated marketing events the most accurate reflection of an institution? Does anyone really think the boys walk the halls in suits or the girls wear Shabbos clothes each day? It’s nice that the 8th grader, carefully selected to speak is so articulate, but what does that mean for rest of the school and more importantly for my child? Of course there is a lot of valuable information provided at an Open House. One will learn about the academics, extra-curricular programs and where the graduates attend school. It goes without saying that doing one’s own research and speaking with those who have children currently attending the school will yield valuable insight. However, if an Open House only highlights the positive and camouflages the negative, how can parents gain the most from these visits?

It begins with a change in one’s focus. If you come to an Open House anxious to hear all about their wonderful programs, then that is all you will hear. You will be dialed into their pitch and walk away with just what they intended for you to know. However, if you come prepared with a different mindset, one where you listen attentively to see how what they say relates to your concerns, you will have separated the kernel from the chaff. An astute parent will gain as much from the avoidance of certain topics in the presentation as they do from the direct discussion of others. As they say “the silence is deafening”.

What is this change of mindset?

Firstly, parents must realize that despite knowing their child, they don’t have a crystal ball. For the incoming freshman in high school, the next four years are among the most turbulent. They are wrestling with academic, spiritual, emotional and social challenges that can have a major impact on their needs in high school. For parents, whose child is entering an elementary school, there is even more unknown. As adorable as they are now at 4 years old, their development is only beginning. What will be their strengths and weaknesses? Will they be at the top of the class, the bottom or in the crowded middle? What emotional and social challenges will emerge in the years to come? No one knows.

The key questions are, given that we don’t know what will unfold in my child’s future, what plan does the school have in place to identify his or her strengths and weaknesses? And once they do recognize them, are they equipped to address them with enrichment or remediation? What does the school do to challenge each of the children in the large middle group? So, the presentation takes on new meaning as they discuss their academic programs. You are not just listening for the enrichment opportunities for your 4 year old doctor-to-be, but you are listening to hear their approach for all students.

Success in school goes beyond academics, the social and emotional progress is essential for a healthy self-esteem and ultimate growth. How sensitive are the school’s tools for early detection of emotional and social issues or do they typically respond only after the fact? A child will face many changes as they mature. The question parents need to ask is how well the school handles them.

Perhaps the most overlooked, yet most significant impact on a child is the overall tenor of the school. Is it overly competitive creating stress or overly relaxed impeding responsibility or have they struck a healthy balance? How do they deal with students and parents? Are they responsive? Do parents and children feel they are being heard and validated? No, is an acceptable answer, provided it doesn’t come across as arbitrary or just a matter of expedience. Children will spend up to 10 years in a school and they will be exposed to hundreds of problems, if not thousands. Some may seem as trivial as forgetting their lunch at home, to a girl not being their friend. Serious issues like illness and even death will undoubtedly arise through the years. Students absorb their surroundings and unconsciously will learn how to respond in the future from how they had seen problems handled in their youth. They learn much more than just Chumash, math and science in school. They are called the formative years for good reason.

Around 1990 when I was attending Open Houses the question all parents asked was “do they teach computers?” (At the time I had no idea what they really entailed, but I knew I had to ask it). At the turn of century the question was if the school had smartboards as if that guaranteed an excellent education, and today they ask regarding special STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs. Schools and parents can get fixated on the latest buzz words when the bottom line is, “Is this a school striving to stay ahead of the learning curve, are they proactive in incorporating the best advances in education and are they striving to reach every student? Is this a school driven by short term results in education or one that nurtures long term academic, spiritual, social and emotional growth? I read the school’s mission statement, have I heard and seen how they achieve it, do they walk the walk? Am I leaving this Open House confident that I have learned the answers to these questions?”

In general if a parent goes into the School Open House with the outlook of needing to know how the school will deal with developing changes, in education and in my child, they will perceive the less tangible, yet arguably, the most important factors in their decision.

Michael Salzbank has lived in Kew Gardens Hills for 32 years. After a 23 year career on Wall Street as independent floor trader, He worked 5 years as the Executive Director for Mesivta Ateres Yaakov and currently serves in the role at Bnos Malka Academy in Queens.

Torah Judaism and the Four Premium Values of Today’s Youth

R. D. Joshua Berman has a good post on “Why Are Young People Leaving Religion?” at Torah Musings. He references a book titled “You Lost Me”, by David Kinnaman, a devout Christian and a sociologist who discusses the four premium values of today’s youth:

Choice and Tolerance: What a young person sees is an endless parade of people like himself making choices about the ideals to follow and the lifestyle to lead and airing the feelings about the choices they’ve made. The result is that the paramount virtue of the younger generation is tolerance. We all do something a little differently, and that’s ok. Traditional religion, of course, says that there are absolutes, and that there is a core one, right way.

Complexity, Uncertainty and Doubt – In this vast exposure to viewpoints and ideas, young people quickly learn that there are no absolutes. They find cogent arguments against the existence of God, the divinity of the Torah, traditional notions of sexuality and endless more. They are more keenly aware of complexity than any generation of youngsters before them. When articles of faith are presented to them as simple fact with no complexity, they sense something phony.

Individual Expression – The Facebook post, the selfie – these accentuate for a young person the importance of self-expression, of being a unique and distinct “me.” They witness in their peers incredible creativity of expression literarily, musically, and artistically. For this generation davening in shul is a challenge – in shul, you do the same thing every single time, and you do it in lock-stop with everybody else.

Reduced Regard for Hierarchy and Authority – You don’t need to turn to anyone anymore to gain knowledge. No matter what question you have, it’s all there on the internet. The internet knows best, not father. Young people don’t turn to adults for advice; there’s Google for that. Once upon a time rabbis were placed on a pedestal, their esteem was unquestioned. But today, no models enjoy unquestioned esteem. Heroic athletes turn out to be steroid cheats. For young people, regular reports of rabbinic misconduct mean that today a rabbi must earn his esteem. It is no longer automatically assumed.

Go read the article to see Dr. Berman’s suggestions for dealing with these issues.

Factors in Choosing a Mesivta

A BBT practical advice classic.

Factors in Choosing a Mesivta for Your Son – Part 1
Factors in Choosing a Mesivta for Your Son – Part 2

Here’s an excerpt:

Right Level of Learning
It is important to choose a school which is a close fit to your son’s level of learning. Boys’ yeshiva high schools, with the exception of a community school, tend to be narrowly tailored to a specific level of learning. It is important to consider schools where your son will be challenged, but not so much that he will feel frustrated or be on the bottom of the class and struggling to keep up, nor too little that he will feel bored too soon or where it would be difficult for him to find a chavrusa of similar skill. Larger yeshiva high schools might have more than one class/shiur, with the different classes tracked. It is important to determine if there are different kinds of boys in one track vs. the other and which group your son is most likely to be part of.

How to determine what learning level a school is on can sometimes be a challenge. Yeshivas, like other schools, like to strengthen their reputation to prospective families, and sometimes schools will declare, at an open house or elsewhere, that they serve “the best boys” or have a “top program.” It is important not to be naïve and take everything a yeshiva says about itself at face value. That is, it is important to go beyond these statements and find out what the learning level of the boys who are currently there really is to determine if it is a good match. [Similarly, if a school brags about its graduates who go on to the Ivy League, try to find out if they are bragging about one or two unusual boys, or whether it is typical for its graduates to go on to the Ivy League.]

I would hesitate to send a boy to a “top” school if his grades in learning don’t match up or if he is unmotivated. Some rabbanim recommend that a boy go to a “better” school rather than one with a lesser reputation if a boy is borderline in his learning abilities, because, if things don’t work out initially, it is easier to transfer from a better school to a lesser school than visa versa. I would say this should only be followed where the boy is very motivated and is the type to put in the extra effort he will need to maintain a fair position in the class, and if you as parents are willing and able to pay for tutoring if he needs it. It does him no favors to languish at the very bottom of the class at a “better” school rather than thrive at a more modest school (unless there are other factors present that would counterbalance this possible sense of failure and lack of accomplishment).

Read the whole thing.

Filling Our Higher Walls With a Meaningful Relationship with Hashem


Building “higher walls” is a hishtadus implemented in many communities in Klal Yisroel. It’s a hishtadlus that many FFB’s and BT’s put a good deal of their precious trust in to keep their kids on the derech.

But, no hishtadlus, however worthy, can “make” anything happen or guarantee a result. G-d alone made, makes and will make all happenings (Rambam Thirteen Principles of Faith #2). G-d is the One & Only Source of every seemingly independent power, and every seemingly effective hishtadlus (#’s 2 & 3 of the Six Constant Mitzvahs).

If you trust in Hashem while making a histadlus, He will requite and fulfill that trust in Him. Whereas if you repose your trust in anything else—-such as building higher walls—- Hashem’s system is to remove His Divine Providence and let “nature run its course”. The very thing you trusted in will be the “cause” of your frustration, disaster, loss etc and your trust in it will be unrequited.(Heard from Rabbi Avigdor Miller ztl)

There is a lot of emphasis placed on building higher walls but insufficient emphasis on filling the confines of those walls with a meaningful, loving and rewarding relationship with Hashem. Instead the confines of those higher walls continue to be filled with externalities based upon social/cultural conventions that are mistakenly confused with genuine Avodas Hashem.

Is it any wonder then that the hishtadlus/strategy of higher walls is failing regardless of what community is being discussed?

From Where Do You Put Your Old Time Rock And Roll? – Comment 45 by YMG

Ten Ways to Inspire Our Children

By Rabbi Shaya Cohen

I. Make sure that all Torah learning is exciting, stimulating, and interactive.

II. Make sure that they realize that t’filah is to inspire in us a greater appreciation of Hashem, develop a closer relationship with Him, and trust Him, and through that process be able to receive the benefits we want from Hashem.

III. Alert them to the ongoing, endless incidents of hashgachah pratis throughout our history and continuing throughout our own lives.

IV. Encourage them to discover Hashem’s hashgachah pratis — individual and intimate involvement in their own lives.

V. Make sure that they are aware that Hashem’s purpose in creating the world was to bestow chesed on His creations in both this world and the next.

VI. Be sure they understand that the purpose of mitzvah performance and Torah study is only to refine one’s character.

VII. Let them know, through teaching and personal example, that each mitzvah provides a benefit to the one who observes it specifically and generally, fostering happiness, closeness to Hashem, and eternal reward.

VIII. Learn with them parts of Shir HaShirim with Rashi to help them to realize how much Hashem loves us, despite our shortcomings, and how much we love Him, despite the difficulties He sometimes makes us endure.

IX. Let them know that the more they refine their midos, the more like Hashem they are, and the closer and more fulfilling their relationship is with Him — in this world and beyond.

X. Make sure that real simchah and a sense of privilege to have Torah permeate your home, your life, and your observance of all mitzvos.

Rabbi Shaya Cohen is the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Zichron Aryeh and Kollel Ner Yehoshua for over twenty years. Before that, he founded Valley Torah High School in Los Angeles and served as its dean for a decade. Rabbi Cohen founded Priority-1 in 1987 to help at-risk teenagers and their parents and families. Its workshops and events have taught thousands of parents and educators to inspire children to a lifelong love of Torah and Yiddishkeit. Rabbi Cohen can be reached at 516-295-5700, and Priority-1 resources are available online at www.priority-1.org

Important New Children’s Book – Let’s Stay Pure

We have learned that blockages in our bodies are the root cause of disease. Detoxification, the removal of blockages is the basic cure for disease. And never accumulating blockages in the first place, is the healthiest and most flowing state for our bodies to be in of all.

Our bodies parallel our souls, and the blockages that cover our souls cause our spiritual sense of dis-ease. It is possible to become aware of what blocks us from accessing our souls, and we can consciously learn how to remove the blockages. It is also possible to help children avoid accumulating these blockages as much as possible. This is done by helping children develop the inner resources to deal with life’s challenges, which are all around.

My Let’s Stay Safe book (Artscroll/Mesorah/Project YES, 2011) focuses on ways to keep a child’s body safe from harm, which in turn protects the child’s spiritual development. My new book, Let’s Stay Pure, highlights the importance of safeguarding each child’s radiant soul by creating healthy boundaries on the materials, activities, and other influences to which we allow a pure neshama to be exposed.

A couple of years ago, a mother contacted me and basically begged me to write a kind of “Guard Your Eyes” book for children. Once I started writing it, I realized it was actually expressing the thoughts that guided my parenting when my children were growing up. From my own experience growing up, I knew that destructive values seep in subliminally, diminishing clarity without our being aware of it. A pure neshamah craves truth and needs all the help it can get to shine brightly and joyfully.

Hashem has given each of us a pure neshamah in order to experience the greatest, deepest, and most lasting pleasure possible in this world. It now seems easier than ever for a neshamah to get covered over with garbage. Yet keeping the connection between a neshamah and its infinite Source clear from debris brings incomparable pleasure. Although children appear small, each child has a neshamah that is as infinitely gigantic as an adult’s, and each neshamah is always seeking pure nourishment. It takes a lot of thoughtful effort to nurture a neshamah in our current generation, but it is so worth it.

When we provide our spiritual heart, as well as our children’s core, with the pure nourishment it needs, the spiritual arteries don’t become clogged. (It’s the junk that forms the gunk.)

Let’s Stay Safe has helped protect the innocence of many children. I hope that Let’s Stay Pure will help to further protect many of our children’s pure souls. Through a honed awareness that comes from learning to be more careful and wary, our little ones actually have a much greater chance of being able to retain, yet refine, their sense of trust in our world, instead of losing it, G-d forbid.

There was one jar of pure oil left that was found amidst the garbage in our Holy Temple during the first Chanukah, and it miraculously created a light that continued shining. Despite the garbage that may presently block all of our light from streaming through, the pure potential miraculously remains in each of us, and we can still find it.

And by helping children protect the spark within from becoming obscured, our little candles retain the ability to shine with a healthy glow, each with a uniquely beautiful radiance.

Bracha Goetz is the author of twenty-four Jewish children’s books: http://www.amazon.com/Bracha-Goetz/e/B001KCI086. Pages from her new book, Let’s Stay Pure, published by Torah Temimah Publications can be viewed here: http://www.judaicapress.com/Lets-Stay-Pure.html.

An Open Letter to Teachers before School Starts

Dear Rabbi and Morah,

Hi and thank you for taking on the challenge of teaching my child this year. I am entrusting you with a precious gift that Hashem gave given my family and I know that you will do your best to help my child grow and reach his/her potential. I know that your classroom will probably be overcrowded this fall and that you have probably only had about 3 days of the entire summer not involved with school or your summer job.

I want you to know that you are appreciated. You have dedicated yourself to a system designed by Yehoshua ben Gamla that was meant to help our community’s children grow in their learning. I know that you feel your job is never done. I know that behind any trip to the grocery store, Target, a walk in the park on Shabbos, or minyan lurks the shadow of an impromptu parent-teacher conference. You have taken on the responsibility of children other than your own and this shows how big your heart really is.

I also want you to realized that my child, like most, is an individual. He might not learn the same as the other kids. She might not be as social as the other children. He might feel that that he is always picked last for sports during recess. She might love to draw. He might be the one that says, “Stop it!”, when the others are picking on someone and you are out of the room. She might give her snacks to another girl, who only brings a sandwich for lunch.

As an educator, I know that you value the positive influence you can have on my child. As a parent, I value the time and effort you put into your work. Many schools stress the importance of a partnership between teachers and parents. If we both have the goal of helping my child become the best person they can be, then we are bound for success.

Neil Harris

Why I Write Jewish Books for Little Children

OK, so I act like a child sometimes. But that’s because a lot of me remains child-like, and I really want those aspects to continue right along with me.

There is a gigantic sense of wonder about the world, for instance, that doesn’t seem to be decreasing at all. And a delight in simple things that can seem ridiculously corny to some people, I guess, but that’s just how it is. So I’m finally understanding that’s why, even though I was once a top student in the psychology department at Harvard, I’ve not been drawn to write long professional treatises on scholarly subjects. Nearly halfway through my life, G-d willing, I’m starting to get (accept) (even appreciate) what my essence really loves to do.

It’s not easy, and I can see why, because I just now looked up “childish” in the thesaurus, to try to find another word to use, and look what I found: infantile, juvenile, babyish, brattish, senile, simpleminded, weak, and foolish. Not too positive. So that’s what I’ve been up against!

People who know my background find it hard to believe that my favorite books have always remained picture books, and that those concise volumes are what I’m still drawn to read, much more than longer things. Picture books opened up the world to me when I was little, and now still, when I open one that I love, worlds within open.

So, when I began to have children, I began writing the kinds of books I have always most wanted to read – books to unfold the deepest and most important mysteries of life – in the simplest way possible. The Happiness Box, for example, probably emerged from the excitement of potential that cardboard boxes of all sizes still manage to contain for me. My mother loved to say that the best toys are cardboard boxes because children can find so many ways to play with them – including playing under them and on top of them, of course. In this book, one of the most essential tools in life, the skill needed to achieve happiness, is demonstrated in a way that children, as early as possible, can learn how to create their own happiness.

The deep concept portrayed in Aliza in MitzvahLand is that we are not here to be entertained, but to make this world better. And even very young children can absorb this outlook about their purpose in life, if the understanding develops delightfully, with concrete examples of ways to help others so that a child need never feel bored. Remarkable Park shows how the natural world that surrounds us, is chock full of deep spiritual messages for us. When even the “lowly” ant has so much to tell us when we are receptive – what an amazing adventure life can become!

The Invisible Book actually proves, in the simplest way imaginable, that it makes perfect sense to believe in an invisible G-d. Oh how I yearned for this book as a child, when I had so many unanswered questions that I was afraid to verbalize, so my inner confusion just mounted.

There is the series of What Do You See board books designed to help even the littlest toddler begin to see the everyday objects around them through their uniquely Jewish eyes. And then there is my newest book, Let’s Stay Safe which, I realize now, actually came about because of two more words I found in the thesaurus when I just looked up the word, “childish.”

The two other words I haven’t mentioned yet, as synonyms provided for the word “childish” are “trusting” and “naïve.” These two words still apply to me as well, but dramatically less so, since I became painfully familiar with how molesters in our midst operate. I don’t want more of our children’s sense of wonder, kindness, or joy in the world to be destroyed on account of perpetrators. Therefore, I wrote this book, to increase our children’s awareness of real dangers that exist, so that they can be far better prepared to avoid them. Empowering children to be less vulnerable is the goal.

It has been dangerous for our children to remain naïve. Through a honed awareness that comes from learning to be more careful and wary, our little ones can actually be able to retain, yet refine their basic sense of trust in our world, instead of losing it, G-d forbid.

Children may appear very small, but their neshamas, just like ours, are infinitely gigantic, and always seeking pure nourishment.

I’m figuring out now that I became a children’s book author because I wanted children to be filled with hopefulness and the delight of discovery, for as long as possible, like me.

But unlike me, I also want them to be able to grow up seeing clearly that spiritual meaning can be found all along this wondrous journey through life, from their very earliest pages.

Bracha Goetz is the author of 16 children’s books, including Remarkable Park , The Invisible Book and Let’s Stay Safe! She also coordinates a Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Program in Baltimore, Maryland, and can be contacted for questions, comments or presentations at bgoetzster@gmail.com.

Keep Our Children Safe

I am pleased to inform you of a Project YES, “Keep Our Children Safe” initiative designed to raise awareness among parents in our community about the importance of speaking to your children about safety and personal space—in order to protect them from child abuse and molestation.

The workshops will be practical in nature and will guide parents in how to have these discussions in a tzanuah manner that is congruent with our Torah values.

I will be conducting these workshops as a public service of Project YES and there will be no charge for attending. Here is a list of the venues:

Baltimore: Motzoei Shabbos, June 11th – 10:15 p.m.
Congregation Shaarei Zion
6602 Park Heights Ave.

Queens: Monday, June 13th – 8:30 p.m.
Congregation Ahavas Yisroel
147-02 73rd Ave, Kew Gardens Hills

Monsey: Tuesday evening, June 14th – 8:00 p.m.
Yeshiva Darchei Noam
259 Grandview Ave.

Brooklyn: Wednesday evening, June 15th – 9:15 p.m.(following Maariv,at 9:00 p.m.)
Young Israel of Midwood
1694 Ocean Avenue

On a personal note, I plead with each and every parent to educate yourselves regarding best practices of conveying these crucial messages to your children. You have no more sacred obligation to your children than to keep them safe from predators.

The danger is so great and the education is so simple.

L’maan Hashem, please take this matter seriously and take the steps necessary to give your children the very best chance at remaining safe and secure.

Worded differently, I ask you to be the ones to educate your children about their bodies and personal space—so that the predator is not the one to teach them these lessons.

R’ Yakov Horowitz – Director, Project YES

Mission Accomplished (although I am not wearing an air force jumpsuit)

Dear Beyond Teshuva Readers:

It has been far too long since I have posted on this website, but I do visit the site regularly and I am proud to have had a small part in facilitating the rich and meaningful discussions on Beyond Teshuva a number of years ago when Mark and David were launching the website

I am pleased to inform you that I recently a skills-based Chumash workbook that some readers may find helpful in terms of gaining a better understanding of lashon hakodesh (Hebrew).

Although it is designed for classroom use at the entry level of Chumash learning, many parents of Yeshiva Darchei Noam students — both “lifers” and ba’alei teshuva — have found it to be helpful to them in their own learning (we used a black and white version of this program for the past 13 years). In fact, if you have a look at this promo DVD here, you can listen to an FFB parent in our yeshiva discuss how it helped him.

For many years now, I have been writing columns on the importance of teaching these skills to children (click here “………. To review 3 essays I published in Mishpacha Magazine several years back), and our master first-grade rebbi Rabbi Yosef Rawicki and I created this program to provide a tool for children and their parents that is simple to use and attractive to the eye.

Kindly click here to review the post on my website, and here to download an 11-page sample, and on the link above to view the promo DVD that explains the philosophy and practical use of the workbook.

I hope that you find this to be helpful.

All the best

Yakov Horowitz
Monsey, NY

A Roadmap for Torah Chinuch

By: Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan

A parent in our community, who had consulted with me over the past several years concerning the chinuch of his children, recently informed me that he pulled his children out of our local schools and chose to “home-school” them instead. When I expressed my shock over his decision, a story of woe followed. He told me that the midos of insensitivity, rigid conformity and skewed values displayed by the schools in our community were the direct cause for this decision. Though I am not in a position to confirm or disprove the assertions that were made, I felt compelled by these unfortunate circumstances to address the matter of chinuch in my drasha on Shabbos.

A Road Map for Chinuch.

The first Rashi in Chumash poses the following rhetorical question: why does the Torah begin with the narrative of creation instead of beginning with the first mitzvah of “hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chodoshim” (this month is for you the first of months). Rashi’s answer concerning HaShem’s right to give Eretz Yisroel to the Jewish people explains why the first parsha (or parshios) of Beraishis appear at the beginning, but it doesn’t fully address the need to have the entire narrative of the Avos precede that first mitzvah.

One possible explanation might be that by using this particular order (the story of creation followed by the narratives of the Avos, yetzias Mitzrayim and the giving of the Torah), the Torah intends to teach us the general structure of Avodas Hashem and most importantly the paradigm of Torah Chinuch for all time.

The Baal HaTanya in the first Igreres HaKodesh (holy letters) describes the structure of the body and how it relates to Avodas HaShem. The first part of the structure is the mosnayim, the thighs, which represent emunas HaShem – belief in HaShem as Creator of the world. This is the foundation of everything, as the Gemara states (Makos 24a): “bo Habakuk v’he’emidon al achas, tzadik b’emunoso yichyeh” (Habakuk came and set it on one thing: the tzadik (righteous person) lives with his emunah). The next part of the structure is the body and the extremities. The body is the means for observance of mitzvos and the extremities (right, left and center) represent the emotions of love, awe and mercy which provide the energy that drives actions and are therefore all integrated with the body.

This structure reflects the course that the Torah follows as well. First we find the narrative of creation, which is the basis of our emunah that Hashem is the creator of the universe and controller of everything. This emunah represents the “thighs” of the Torah, upon which all else is built. The Torah structure is laid out in the first two parshios of the Torah. This foundation is followed by the narrative of the Avos (patriarchs). The Avos are well known to represent the three primary emotions: Avraham, love; Yitzchok, awe/severity; Yaakov, mercy/praise. So once the foundation of emunah has been established, the next step is to develop the emotions of love, awe and mercy/praise of Hashem. In this way, we learn to experience the love that Hashem has for each one of us. This represents the body and the extremities. Finally, we come to story of Matan Torah, the receiving of the Torah which represents the head – the study and knowledge of Torah.

This system also describes the process of Torah Chinuch.

The first step in chinuch is to inculcate emunas HaShem into the child – the pure, simple belief that Hakadosh Boruch Hu created the entire universe and everything that is in it. Furthermore, we teach the child that each and every one of us was personally created by HaShem and chosen, individually, to be one of His people. This foundation (the sturdy “thighs”) must occupy the most important place in the chinuch of a child and must constantly be reinforced, as Dovid Hamelech tells us in Tehillim “ure’eh emunah,” feed (pasture) the emunah because it requires continuous nurturing. This is the first priority of the chinuch process.

The second step is the development of the emotions of love, awe, and mercy (praise) of HaShem. Since it is these emotions that drive action, the success of this facet of avodas HaShem determines the way an individual actually lives his daily life. This, therefore, must be the second priority of the chinuch process.

The third step is the acquisition of knowledge and the skills to engage in the lifelong affair of Torah learning. When this order of priority is properly developed, the learning (driven by love and awe of HaShem) is a joy and a pleasure, rather than an anxiety-producing experience that is avoided as soon as one is able to do so.

Unfortunately, it seems that the chinuch system we now have in place has these priorities inverted! Knowledge and skill-sets have become the supreme priority, if not the sole measure of successful chinuch. The magnitude of the problem (which is growing at an alarming rate) that we observe today with drop-outs from the system and the general disinterest of so many of our children, can be directly attributed to this distortion of the true Torah chinuch process.

Let me take this a step further.

The Gemara in Pesachim explains the posuk in Lech Lecha where HaShem promises Avrohom that ואעתך לגוי גדול ואברכך ואגדלה שמך והיה ברכה I will make you into a great nation (this is why we say in the Shemoneh Esrei “the G-d of Avrohom”); and I will bless you (this is why we say “the G-d of Yitzchok”); and I will make your name great (this is why we say “the G-d of Yaakov”). I might think that we should also conclude the blessing with all three names, but the posuk states and you shall be a blessing (with you, Avrohom, it [the blessing] is sealed and not with them). Therefore, we conclude the blessing with “[the] shield of Avrohom.”

As mentioned earlier, the three Avos represent the three primary emotions: love, awe/severity and mercy/praise. These three are also in their appropriate order for the proper chinuch process. The first approach to chinuch by parents or teachers must be love. The child must truly feel that he/she is loved by the teacher/parent, and they must emphatically communicate the love that HaShem has for the child just as he/she is.

Next in sequence comes discipline. Love without discipline is destructive. However, discipline can only come after love has been well established. Otherwise, discipline can produce negative consequences. As the posuk states: “(only) the one whom He loves does HaShem rebuke;” first love, then rebuke.

Next in sequence is praise. Praise is a critical factor for a child’s development. However, praise should only be given when the child has some real achievement and success. A child must feel that he/she is succeeding and deserving of the praise that is being given. Only then is the praise genuine and meaningful. In order for this to happen, achievable goals must be set for the individual child. The posuk in Mishle states חנוך לנער על פי דרכו. The posuk uses the Hebrew singular, “the child,” not “the children,” and “according to his way,” also in the singular. Unrealistic and non-specific goals are perhaps the single most destructive force in chinuch.

Here again, our current system is often programmed for failure by establishing scholastic goals and values that are unattainable for many of our children.

Finally we are told “with you (Avrohom) it (the blessing) is sealed and not with them (“the shield of Avrohom.”) Other emotions are necessary and important, but in the final analysis, love is the bond that holds everything together. A child who is convinced that his/her parent/teacher truly loves them is the child who will put in the effort to succeed, provided, of course, that the goal is attainable.

Let me share with you what the parent at the beginning of this article told me.

“Rabbi you know how much effort I have put in to my Yiddishkeit. I wasn’t brought up this way but came to it later in life. It was a real struggle to change my entire life around and make Torah the focus of everything I do. Rabbi, of what value will all of this effort be if I will not have ‘frum’ grandchildren?”

I don’t know about you but I tears came to my eyes when I heard this.

Can we, as a community, justify telling this father: “Sorry your children just don’t have the skill sets we are looking for in our school”? Can we bear the thought, as we stand before HaShem, that we are telling Him: “Sorry, they just weren’t a good fit, so we abandoned them”?

It is essential for us to demonstrate that the Torah way of life places its highest value on simple emunas HaShem, sincere commitment and love of HaShem with genuine, passionate fulfillment of mitzvos. In fact, the Torah teaches us that the ultimate quality that HaShem values above all others is “You found his heart faithful before You” (Nechemia, 9:8). These are also the qualities to which everyone can aspire and which they can indeed attain. We also must stress the value of Torah learning, but that is a goal that has to be tailored for each person individually.

When this becomes the ideological orientation of our chinuch system, we will succeed in bringing up a full generation of Torah-committed Jews.