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Unfolding Uniqueness

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 30/12/2019

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Unfolding Uniqueness

There are those who say that the development of the child/student is stunted because he is trained to follow a path just like everyone else rather than to develop his own individuality.[1] One may even do this with his own children in that they want their children to be a certain way.


However, if we want a child/student to fulfill their maximum potential we need to let them develop with their capabilities and the way Hashem made them. We need to follow Shlomo Hamelech’s advice—חנך לנער על פי דרכו, train the youth according to his way.[2] This follows the expression, “Kids are not meant to be molded, they are meant to be unfolded.” Many Gedolim are the outcome of such education. Indeed, Moshe davened that the leader that should be appointed is one who can tolerate each one לפי דעתו, according to his personality.[3]


R’ Yitzchak Hutner wouldn’t speak to two boys at the same time because what he wants to say to one, he doesn’t want to say to the other. He said his job is to connect to each individual and see how each one works. One can’t speak to two worlds at the same time. No person is like another. This idea is hinted to by the fact that initially only one man was created.[4]


A family that embodied חנך לנער על פי דרכו had each of their children choose a different path in the Torah world. One became Chabad while another remained Litvish. Another became a Stolliner Chassid and is a Rosh Kollel of a Stolliner Kollel while a different one received Semicha from R’ Pam and became a principal of a Yeshiva.


R’ Yaakov Kamenetzky was once asked by his grandson, R’ Yitzchok Shurin, what he should keep in mind when starting a Yeshiva. He answered, “Don’t make Sodom beds.” R’ Yaakov explained a Sodom bed refers to the cruel practice of demanding that everyone be of uniform size and cutting off legs or stretching the individual who didn’t conform to the one accepted height.


Just as we can’t expect everyone to be a lawyer because not everybody is cut out for it, so too, we can’t expect everyone to follow the same path in spirituality.


The Pasuk states ולמען תספר באזני בנך,[5] so that you may relate in the ears of your son. The word בנך is singular indicating that we need to speak to each child as an individual, the way they are. This is why it says והגדת לבנך in the singular.[6] In ושננתם לבניך, you shall teach them thoroughly to your children,[7] the word ושננתם is rooted in the term שינוי since the way to educate your student/child is with his personal שינוי as each one of us has our own unique qualities.[8] For this reason Yosef says העוד אבי חי,[9] is my father still alive (and not אבינו, our father). This can be compared to a puzzle of many pieces. No two pieces are alike and go in the same place. We are compared to a tree—כי האדם עץ השדה. Just as a tree that is forced to grow in a certain way may be a cripple similarly it is with children ח"ו.


The Alter of Kelm never had more than 30 students in his Yeshiva as he would say he raises shepherds not sheep. Each of the Avos became who they were because they each expressed a different trait—Avraham with Chessed, Yitzchak with Din and Yaakov with Emes.[10]


Where does this idea originate from? Each of us is a letter in the Sefer Torah as there are 600,000 letters and 600,000 root Neshamos. Just as each letter is placed differently in the Torah so too is each person with his qualities, talents, and capabilities. We, therefore, each have that which is unique to us and need to be educated accordingly.

Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] See Devarim 6:5, Rashi.

[2] Mishlei 22:6. See Chovas Hatalmidim.

[3] Bamidbar 27:16. There is an expression, “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

[4] See Sanhedrin 37a.

[5] Shemos 10:2.

[6] Similarly, in the Haggada we say אחד תם ואחד... since we need to view each one as an individual (since really it could have just written the four sons without the word אחד).

[7] Devarim 6:7.

[8] See Devarim, 6:7, Rashi s.v. לבניך. Someone once said, “The secular people externally look different but internally are the same. The religious externally look the same but internally are different.”

[9] Breishis 45:3.

[10] Incidentally, this is hinted to in אחד as it forms an acronym ofאמת, חסד, דין—the traits of the Avos.

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