Sep 20, 2012

When Pointing Fingers is a Good Thing

In a letter to the editor of a frum publication, a parent writes, "I have often wondered about the emphasis rebbeim place on having students keep their finger on the place.  Several years ago, my son was a third grader who had a difficult time with this practice....  He was a good student who knew the material and was not disruptive in class.  Yet somehow, keeping his finger on the place and chanting the pesukim in unison with the class was just 'not his thing.'"

I'm not going to discuss the merits of finger-pointing here.  What concerns me about the letter is that this is a third grader who doesn't do what his rebbi says to do.  The rebbi is the authority in the classroom, just as the parents are the authorities at home.  When the rebbi says to keep your finger on the place, this is not optional, to be done if a child feels like it or not! Whether or not the child knows the material is not as significant as the child obeying the authorities in his life.  If a child feels that he can decide to do his "own thing" when it comes to his third grade rebbi, what will stop him from deciding that certain mitzvos are just not his thing?

This leads me to the topic of choices.  It is very popular nowadays for parents to give choices to children as young as toddlers.  Do you want the Rice Crispies or the Corn Flakes? The red shirt or the green shirt? The idea is that if a child is able to make choices from the youngest age, this will train them to make choices when they are older, and if a child is able to make choices this will make him feel empowered and wonderful about himself.

Rabbi Aaron Dovid Gancz, a mechanech, says offering these choices to children undermines the foundation of kabbolas ol we want to instill in them.  Giving many opportunities to choose ruins the child for life, he says.  Why? Because it is not training him to be a soldier in the army of Hashem.  Because the child's feelings and preferences have been given so much importance.  A child who has been trained all his life to think, "What do I like? What do I want?" never to learns ask himself, "What does Hashem want from me." R' Gancz concludes, "Chinuch is based on mesorah from G-d Himself.  It is absolute truth and there are no choices."

Back to the third grader for whom pointing at the place is not "his thing," that's the problem right there.  Who asked him whether it's his thing or not? His rebbi said everyone should point, and everyone should point.  The parent thinks the issue is the value in finger-pointing.  The actual issue is kabbolas ol.

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