DON’T PLAY WITH FIRE
By Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita
Hurt comes in many shapes and sizes, all of which wreak damage in their wake. I read a very moving episode from the Pnei Menachem of Ger Zt”l and want to share it with you. It comes from the new book on the Rebbe’s life from Avrohom Birnbaum.
A broken Yied who looked to the Rebbe as he would a father came with a kvitel regarding a matter that was causing him tremendous pain. He knew that by sharing his burden with the tzadik he would find some strength and courage.
His child dreaded going to cheder. Why? This child had a skin condition that caused his complexion to be mottled. Many of the children, perhaps not realising how much pain they were inflicting, would constantly ridicule him. His father asked the Rebbe, ‘what should I do? I can’t bear to see my son suffering like this. It is bad enough that he has the condition, but that he can deal with. Being pursued and ridiculed by insensitive kids, however, is too much for him?’
Horrified, the Rebbe told the father, “Children must realise that they are playing with fire! Dangerous fire that can injure and kill! They can end up paying a very steep price for their thoughtlessness, r”l. The 24,000 talmidim of Rabbi Akiva died because they did not display the requisite honour for one another. Children ridiculing one another is an absolute red line, especially when it comes to an outer blemish on the body for which the child has no control. Isn’t it enough that he has to deal with the condition? They have to add to his pain by making fun of him?!” With this the Rebbe gave the distraught Yied a fulsome brocha that things will get better.
And it didn’t end with the Rebbe’s commiseration. That very same day the Rebbe found out who the child’s Melamed was and personally called him. “I want you to know something,” he said. “What do I do all day? I listen to Yiddisher tzaros, to the difficulties that people are suffering. Seventy or perhaps eighty percent of difficulties that people undergo in life is due to the fact that they were bullied as children. Children can sustain tremendous psychological damage from being bullied at an age when they don’t have the emotional maturity to deal with it!”
With this, the Rebbe urged the teacher to dedicate an enormous amount of time and effort to explain to the children how terrible it is to bully and offend others.
This was not enough for the Rebbe. His next step was to ask his son Rav Yitzchok Dovid, to travel to the school, which was in a different city, and speak to the boys about the importance of being careful to preserve the honour of one’s friends and classmates.
We are now in the period called “the three weeks” which are directly connected with all the painful events that have been inflicted upon Klall Yesroil in our long Golus. How much of this pain has been caused by our wayward actions, especially when it comes to Sinas Chinam which means senseless hate.
As we come up for air from the challenges of Coronavirus, as our children prepare to return to School, we must undertake changes, and bullying must be high on the ‘to do’ list.
Having learnt with talmidim, and also being a communal Rabbi, I see so much of the results of historical bullying. Souls are devastated and the scars fester. In time, as we turn towards adulthood, those wounds keep getting in the way of a future which seeks acceptance and calm.
The Rebbe Zt”l had a distinctive feeling for the young, his heart was always fatherly, with total empathy. Once, whilst still Rosh Yeshiva of Sfas Emes, the Rebbe came for a visit to New York City. Shabbos was spent in Boro Park with his davening in Yeshiva Yagdil Torah, the Gerrer cheder. Havdalah was said in the administrator’s office and the olam pushed to gain entry. I was there with my son, then aged 5, holding on to my hand as we jostled to get in. Suddenly, my young son lost his grip and cried out, “Tatty! Tatty!. The Tzadik quickly turned and called out: ‘Shah!! A Yiddisha Kind vient! (Silence, a Jewish child is crying) That moment has lived in my heart ever since, the sound of the Rebbe’s voice, it was a beseeching sob, a lament for the pain of a little boy. In that sudden moment one sensed how much he felt a child’s pain.
We have all shared in a tumultuous epoch and we daven that Hashem will have rachmonus on us all. Let us strengthen ourselves and take note of that long ago sob. Yiddisha Kinder are crying, they are being ripped apart, as we stand on the sidelines. These months together with our children should have given us some understanding, and now we must all act.
Let our children be safe, allow them entry into a warm-hearted future. The world we reenter must not be the same that we left behind. This is the time we should grasp the meaning of these unique weeks of mourning and spread the salve of healing to all our young innocent souls.