Taming one's obstinate desires is a key element in attaining our educational goals with regard to loyalty to Torah, holistic Judaism, and human perfection. Accustoming oneself to forgo personal desires is an important objective in its own right even if the particular desire does not entail any halachic prohibitions. While during the child's youth this training affects trivial matters, it sets a tone that elevates a person throughout his life, allowing him to exercise restraint and thus dominate his animalistic tendencies.

"My teachers taught me that whatever one desires is forbidden."

Many of the great chassidic masters saw this as the main focus of their education as youngsters. R' Shlomo of Karlin, as a small child, was once holding a cookie in his hand and crying that he was ravenously hungry. When he asked why he was crying, considering that he was holding something to eat, he replied, "My teachers taught me that whatever one desires is forbidden."

Inculcating this perspective is a subtle matter, which needs to be done during special sessions. It is counterproductive to discuss such matters while disciplining a child for a past misdeed, since at the moment of confrontation, the child feels an emotional need to defend himself and is unable to absorb the message. Certainly an educator should not seek to convey this when either he or his student is angry, since under such conditions the chances for successful transmission of this life lesson are almost nil.

The correct approach when seeking to impart this perspective to younger children is to follow, when necessary, the dictum of the Sages that one may initially study Torah from ulterior motives since it will lead to studying for the proper reasons (Pesachim 50b). This is true in all areas of spiritual growth, especially for youngsters. Hence one should appeal to the child's sense of heroism, explaining to him how heroic one who is able to dominate his desires is. He should be made to understand how anyone who wants to be a paradigm of strength must develop an attitude that equates self-control with real power and heroism. To refrain from responding when insulted or to remain silent during a heated argument and not feel the need to have the last word is the sign of a true hero.

A second important area of emotional development is to nurture the natural caring instinct found to a great degree in youngsters so that exhibiting mercy and kindness toward the sick and low-spirited people and helping the elderly becomes second nature. The potential for this is dormant in youngsters; one who arouses and nurtures it does the child a favor for life.

...a day in which one did not squelch a desire and subdue his obstinate search for pleasure is an unfulfilled day.

Educators and parents should constantly reiterate how special one is if he helps and encourages his friends when they encounter difficulty in their studies or in other areas of life. In general we must emphasize to our children and students the importance of loving others and of caring and helping them even at personal, physical expense. We should remind them of the words of R' Moshe of Kobrin that a day in which one did not squelch a desire and subdue his obstinate search for pleasure is an unfulfilled day.

Thus these two areas of character development are the keys to filling our days with meaning. This is alluded to in the Scriptures by the fact that both Abraham, who was the prototype of loving-kindness, and King David, who was the role model of teshuvah, are described as being "full of days" (see Gen. 24:1 and Kings I 1:1). By imbuing every one of their days with meaning through kindness toward others or by exercising self-restraint, they gained the complement of fulfilled days.

An educator who stresses these two areas is assured of success in his educational endeavors.


[From "Nesivot Sholom: Netivei Chinuch: Essential Perspectives on Education" by HaRav Sholom Noach Berezovsky (Feldheim ).]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky (1911-2000) served as Slonimer Rebbe from 1981 until his death. He is widely known for his teachings which he published as a series of books entitled Nesivos Sholom. Through his prolific writings he was among the most influential of contemporary chasidic rebbes, among chasidim and non-chasidim alike.

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