In a fiery speech delivered on Sunday November 17, 2013 at the 91st Agudah convention at the Hilton in Woodcliffe Lake, NJ, Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein took today's education system to task for not meeting the many challenges facing today's generation and for their failure to imbue children with a love of Torah and yiddishkeit.
(The following description has been adaptated from the BaltimoreJewishLife.com)
Pointing the finger of blame squarely at our current leadership, Askumim, and community leaders, Rabbi Wallerstein spoke candidly, passionately and at times forcefully on difficult issues that most have been afraid to vocalize publicly.
Describing how the yetzer hora has elected to fight today’s unprecedented level of Torah study by dimming the beauty and allure of yiddishkeit, Rabbi Wallerstein told of his own interactions with teens.
“I’m not talking about kids at risk,” exhorted Rabbi Wallerstein.
“I deal with regular kids and I ask them. ‘So, translate, tell me, what is yiddishkeit?’
I have never, in thousands of kids, been answered ‘yiddishkeit is beautiful,’ not once. It’s rules, it’s a way to connect to Hashem a lot of different answers. Not one kid has ever answered me ‘yiddishkeit is beautiful.’”
Recounting a medrash of how Hakadosh Baruch Hu took Yirmiyahu Hanuvi, to task for the churban, Rabbi Wallerstein told over in the name of R’ Shimshon Pincus how the navi was held accountable because the destruction took place under his leadership and drew a parallel to the challenges facing today’s generation.
” Askonim, gedolim, rabbonim, klal yisroel, it is happening on our watch,” thundered Rabbi Wallerstein. “And at the end of the day we are going to have to answer for all the children that are suffering and the shalom bayis that is suffering and the girls that aren’t getting shidduchim. Yes we have a lot of good things that we are doing. But it is on our watch and Hakadosh Baruch Hu says that if it happens on your watch, you’re not doing enough.”
Rabbi Wallerstein spoke about the war between Yaakov and the malach of Eisav, noting that instead of saying that the two battled, the Torah uses the word “vayeavek”, and quoted Rashi who notes that the word’s root also means “dust”, alluding to an especially insidious tactic employed by the malach of Eisav.
“He knew he couldn’t destroy Torah,” explained Rabbi Wallerstein. “His objective is to do what dust does. All the women here know if you have nice furniture you have to dust it because dust makes it very dull. If you have mirrors they become very dull. If you have silver it becomes very dull. The koach of dust is to take beautiful shiny things and make them boring and dull. The Satan said I cannot destroy Torah but I will take the beauty, the excitement, the newness, the freshness, I will take that away from the Torah.”
That battle continues today, according to Rabbi Wallerstein, who warned that despite the diligent learning that takes place today, the Satan continues to chip away at the foundations of Torah by diminishing its appeal.
“Where is the beauty of a yom tov? We are all flying all over the place, every hotel is full. Where is the beauty of a Shabbos? I can’t beat you, I can’t stop you, but I can take away the beauty.”
Rabbi Wallerstein further criticized today’s educational system with its emphasis on competition and testing, saying that by turning Torah, Chumash and Halacha into subjects, they are diminished in the eyes of students.
“Torah is life; life is beautiful!” exclaimed Rabbi Wallerstein. “A subject is ugly; it’s competition. What are we doing? This is yavan!”
Rabbi Wallerstein emphasized the importance of connecting positively with students and children and stressed the importance of repeatedly telling children how much they are loved.
Telling over the words of the Chida, Rabbi Wallerstein spoke of how when Hashem appeared to Yaakov in a dream, revealing himself as the G-d of Avraham, his father, and the G-d of Yitzchak, puzzling words as Yitzchak is not also identified as Yaakov’s father.
“If you look in the parsha before you will see that never does Yitzchak call Yaakov ‘b’ni’ but he calls Eisav many times ‘b’ni,’” observed Rabbi Wallerstein. “Says the Chida: just because you have a child doesn’t make him your son and that doesn’t make you his father. You have to call him ‘b’ni’. You have to call her ‘biti’. You have to tell them how much you love them.”
Quoting the mishna in Avos, Rabbi Wallerstein explained while Hakadosh Baruch Hu demonstrates his love for us by reminding us that we are his children, we must rise to the occasion by instilling in our own children a genuine love of Torah and yiddishkeit, something that can be difficult in today’s fast paced world of technology.
“Apple comes out with a new iPhone every single six months: fresh, new, shiny, exciting. They are throwing at our children fresh, new, shiny, exciting. The yetzer hara doesn’t put avak on that, so our kids are getting hit with all this new stuff, new technology. We have to fight it with a Torah that is shining…a Torah that is exciting, not something that is just a subject.”
Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein is the founder of Ateres Naava Seminary for Girls, and Ohr Naava Women’s Institute in Brooklyn, NY.
(Description By Sandy Eller)