By M (a Yeshiva and Smicha graduate)
The farbrengen was winding down, and the janitor had already begun throwing away the empty plates and sweeping the floors. Ari, my brother-in-law, had one last question before everyone called it a night.
“Rabbi, what is the number one thing that a bochur in yeshiva needs?”
Ari asked sincerely yet with a knowing smile on his face as he waited for the Rosh Yeshiva to answer. He had recently initiated his oldest son into Mesivta and was curious to hear the Rosh Yeshiva’s advice.
He was confident that the element a bochur needed most to grow into a strong, healthy chassidishe Tomim was – Love. Love, he felt, is essential and so important. For without love infused in a Yeshiva, one’s Torah learning and Yiddishkeit quickly turns dry and cold, slipping one into disassociation and spiritual decline.
The Rosh Yeshiva smiled. “More than anything that a bochur in yeshiva needs, a bochur needs respect,” he stated.
Ari recoiled in surprise. After sharing their opinions back and forth, Ari compromised: a bochur needs both of these vital components – respect and love.
When I heard this story, I was deeply taken aback and astounded. These words struck a deep chord. It made me think of my younger self as a fresh bochur in Yeshiva. I can’t tell you what I needed, but I can tell you what I wanted. I wanted more recreation, better food and a little more love and care. I now realize that what my soul was starving for and most desperately needed was respect.
Respect is a bit of a tricky word. Like all language, it conjures up our associated meanings and usage in similar contexts. Respect may bring up images of “Kavod” shown towards one’s parents, a Sefer Torah, or standing up for one’s teacher.
The kind of respect that the Rosh Yeshiva meant and that my heart knew deeply at that moment was as the psychologist and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm defines it, according to its Latin origin, “respicere” – to look at. “The ability to see a person as he is, to be aware of his unique individuality. Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is and not as I need him to be as an object for my use.” (Fromm, Erich. (1956). The art of loving. Page 22).
Thinking about what a bochur most needs, I couldn’t help but be flashed back to a particular experience as a young bochur.
One afternoon during Girsa seder (afternoon Gemara), a classmate summoned me to the Mashpia’s office. The Mashpia, a yungerman in his mid-thirties, had served as a pillar in the Yeshiva since joining a decade earlier. My peers and I very much appreciated him. His kind, personable nature, excellent Chassidus classes, niggunim sessions, and farbrengens made him a legend in our eyes. His one-on-one “talks” functioned similarly to how school social workers check-in and inquire about students’ well-being but generally with additional spiritual, Chassidus-inspired guidance.
I was looking forward to my private time with him and hearing his advice on where I should consider going for the following year of Zal (grade 12 +). “Zal” plans were on everyone’s mind, and it was my priority for our talk.
I sat down across the table from him, and he began speaking to me in his gentle and accented elementary English, due to Yiddish and Hebrew being his primary languages. After a few pleasantries and discussing his “Zal” ideas, he said to me in the sweetest and most caring way, “I see you are unhappy, what’s bothering you?”
At that moment, I felt like I was going to break down and cry. I wanted to show strength, pretend that I could hide certain feelings under the rug, and keep “cool.” I held back the emotions as I felt my eyes moisten and tear. I remained silent, unable to answer. I did not know the words at that moment to authentically express myself.
I wanted to tell him that I felt unseen, disgruntled, and alienated by Yeshiva, that the demeaning manner in which the Menahel (principal) lined us up after davening to discuss late infractions filled me with dread and degradation. I wanted to tell him that in front of the Menahel or his constant looming presence on campus, I wasn’t a person; I was a soldier who went AWOL, an undeserving creature, a misbehaving cog. That when I walked in the hallways, I was afraid that he would get me for something. A bad test score, an early absence, or that my pants or shoes were unacceptable, thereby defining me, in my mind, as inadequate and unbelonging. For the past three years, this culture of fear and daily survival had become my norm, and articulating an alternative reality or clear aspiration for one at that moment proved difficult.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not promoting a new-age, relaxed Montessori-styled Mesivta. Rules and discipline are extremely important. If executed correctly, they give bochurim the orderly routine and structure they desperately need to be successful. The way they are communicated and implemented, however, makes all the difference.
I have tremendous respect and appreciation for the educators and principals of our Chabad institutions. They are the ones in the arena devoting their lives, time, and resources to educate and raise the next generation. It’s easy for me to say how things should run and how to balance the complicated dynamics of successfully running a yeshivah. However, I speak on behalf of my younger self and the many souls that have gone and those who will go through our Yeshivos. This affirmation of every individual’s respect is and must be the foundation and basis of education. For it is this premise of respect that separates education from manipulation.
Respect means giving room to see another as they are. This requires distance and a release of absolute control. When there is this space and distance, there is the need for faith. Faith that although I am giving room for you to be you, I have faith in your innate neshama, goodness and potential, even though you may temporarily stumble. Without this space and its necessary faith, there is no longer anyone there to build anymore, no individual, only an object and “robot” to mechanically follow the rules and fit the mold.
The incredibly fertile seeds containing the joys and responsibilities of being a Yid and a Chossid can only take root where there is a bochur with dignity, seen as an individual, deserving of respect, care, and help. Otherwise, these beautiful and precious seeds spill on unreceptive shallow earth and create in the consequent years not treasured teenage memories but painful wounds and limiting beliefs that carry far beyond adolescence.
A culture that has its principal and teachers showing genuine respect for its students will, in turn, have its students genuinely respecting their teachers. That would thereby allow their teachings, lessons, and inspiration to take hold and sprout deep roots. As it is so astutely stated in Pirkei Avos (Chapter 4 Mishna 1 & 12), “Who is respected? He who respects his fellow” and “Let the honor of your student be as dear to you as your own.”
I firmly believe in the adage that you cannot give what you don’t have. Only an educator who has developed a deep and healthy respect for himself can extend that same respect to his students. If a person doesn’t hold a sense of healthy love and dignity for oneself, they will be incapable of offering anything but what they have to their students.
Although I believe there is a lot of work to be done for our Yeshivos and their advancement to be all they could and are called on to be. I am advocating for our educators and parents to recognize this most pivotal issue that has plagued on for many years.
Too many of our precious youth feel burned by their formative yeshiva years. Too many of my friends resent the tyranny of those years. Many unfortunately never got the chance to fully taste or appreciate the richness and beauty of being a Yid and a Chossid.
A bochur treated with genuine respect will, in turn, learn to view himself positively and as a bearer of dignity and opportunity. This healthy self-image creates a positive feedback loop that can enable bochurim to learn, develop, and actualize their potential.
In conclusion, love is the flagship of so much good. It is the glue that holds us together. It is so necessary to bring out the best in people. That’s why my brother-in-law, Ari, was so adamant about its priority. However, respect, as the Rosh Yeshiva wisely said, is the necessary precedent and unquestionably the most essential need in education and our bochurim. Love without respect, as is sadly seen on news headlines, can be detrimental, abusive, and dysfunctional. Only on the foundation of respect, can love play a significant role in education.
Due to the deeply personal resonance and the recurring theme of respect that I heard from fellow bochurim and many friends, I decided to share this perspective and my experiences. I recognize that I am limited and want to make clear that I don’t have the ultimate solution or answer. I am confident that through people sharing their candid experiences and with more discussions relating to the most important needs in education we can make positive advancements. Advancement, that will enable the light of Torah and Chassidus to empower, strengthen and build our bochurim and not chas vshalom degrade, disempower or burn our most precious commodities – our children.
Every menahel and mechanech in Lubavitch needs to read this
1. Dont do to your children what you recieved from your parents or teachers. Do better! People tend to pass the same cycle again and again. Stop blaming parents when you are old enough to take responsibility and not give to to the next generation what you didn’t receive. 2. Being involved in shidduchim I realized when dealing with bochurim and me being a serious girl seriously wanting to married, I was faced with bochurim yearning thirsty (like literally drinking it all in) for emotional support from me when I gave them my undivided attention. Each time! I always wondered… Read more »
Wow knH good for you for being so aware. Please continue spreading this. Very nice!
So true, and so well articulated.
The staff at Mesivta Ohr Temimim have an incredible mix of authentic chassidishkeit, yet an understanding that bochurim need to be valued and noticed, their strengths lovingly drawn out. My son has matured and grown with an emeskeit and contentedness that makes me just so proud and grateful.
First, the author of this piece is for sure a recent psychology-oriented graduate, perhaps a social worker or an ealy-development therapist. And yes—I say that cynically. Second—sometimes, we lose ourselves in abstractions. This article articulated the importance of love and respect in a young man’s development, both of which are undoubtedly necessary, and then the article heavily elaborates on it. Implicit in the article is that the absence of these things is the primary cause for many bachurim’s suffering in yeshiva. However, let’s take a step back: Do you really think that the reason so many bachurim are unhappy in… Read more »
Get to know the Talmuds name for starters. (I had many Yeshiva years where they didnt even know my name) Then learn what makes the student special, different and shine. Encourage, compliment and follow up. Dont be judgemental. (No need to bring up the multi colored sneaker 6 times to Friday) Yes it IS usually that simple to make a Talmud become the best he can be. Really.
Do you really think chinuch isnt complex? Is it really that simple? Are michanchim so dumb? Dont you think there is a reason why so many fail? Dont you think there is a reason that the Frierdike Rebbe said and the Rebbe put in hayom yom, that every Yid who is shayach needs to spend at least HALF AN HOUR A DAY thinking about the chinuch of children (including teenagers)? A talmids life should be simple, but a michanechs life, especially hanholos of mesivtos needs to be complex. Chinuch is deep. There are subtleties that are so abstract that the… Read more »
Our yeshivas copied what other Brooklyn yeshivas were doing instead of learning from the Rebbe. That’s why we have all these problems. The other communities expect to be treated in a hard way and just accept it
Etzem vs P’nimius??? Give me a break. Simply respect and cherish the Talmid. Make him feel special and don’t be judgemental when he has his own unique style.. This will yield healthy humans and they will learn all the Mamarim and go through the entire Shas as a “happy” and healthy camper.
You probably mean talmid.
Were you that type of talmid that all it would take to make you happy in yeshiva was the staff knowing your name?
It would definitely help feeling more respected and appreciated if staff members knew students name
It’s interesting you confidently make that first assumption when very likely he is just a bochur…. Just finishing or out of the system, possibly just naturally emotionally aware and articulate. Boy oh boy. I wish you could find out.
As for concluding that the author is blaming all students’ unhappiness on this is silly. He doesn’t say that, nor does he strongly imply it. Respect is vital and could, however, extremely enhance or improve the experience of nearly every bochur.
100% disagree I’m a bocher in shiur aleph zal and has been around in different yeshivas on the spectrum and I say it with no doubt this is the most accurate description I’ve ever seen of what unfortunately yidishkeit and chassidishkeit became in our system this article is the nice way of saying that the system unfortunately destroyed and continues to do so too so many young teens..
On the mark !!
Expressed very clear.
Unfortunately I know of bachurim in some cases who even intermarried from being squashed by hanhala hashem yishmareinu. Imagine parents work so hard to send their kids to yeshiva and they get trashed. If you see it happening to your kid, get him to a different place, immediately.
As you wrote what has happened is disempower and burnout our most precious commodity rachmana latzlan.
A lot to be discussed further
Bsuros tovos and Hatzlacha to the educators , students and parents. And don’t forget about the girls as well too.
I think it’s important that we mention the girls also I think they lack this and feel this as well… Hatzlocha in all mosdos
Looking forward to see a follow up about this!
Wow! While thankfully it is a tiny plague. (Hope it’s not my ignorance) The fact that I know of 2 and unfortunately this tragic disease it is likely more prevalent is horrifically sad. Dunno what can be done as sometimes calling attention creates a bigger problem but WE MUST DEAL with this and save so many who are falling out just as the geula is so near. This article is brilliant. We do need better bridges so ppl won’t fall off. but we can’t just fix the bridge, we need hospitals for all those who accidentally jumped off ( or… Read more »
Thank you for sharing this critical message .
Sounds like rabbi Vechter from Toronto mesivta is the mashpia in the story. Big fan of his
This article is gold, thank you for sharing.
Likely the best article written on col! Every single school personnel and parent should read this.
This resonates so much!
It sent me back down memory lane, and I feel sad for my younger self.
Applies equally to girls high schools and seminaries.
Parents need to speak to their children respectfully, as well.
This must be a major reason why so many of our beautiful youth went off the derech
An article for everyone to read
What “M” is expressing is something that does not get spoken about enough.
There is culture of disrespect around “bouchrim” as a whole that falls into the category they should have “bitul” that is killing our teenagers from the inside.
Hope this article is the start of a greater dialog with our yeshvias.
Thank you! Congrats on sticking through it 🙂 (Yeshiva and Smicha graduate)
If you are in education and don’t “get” this message, then maybe you should consider another career or get help until you “get”,it.
Big Yasher Koach to the author of this crucial oped.
You “nailed it”!
Not only every bochur, tho. Every human, regardless of age or social status, wants to be seen without conditions, and to matter. And while that seems basic, consider yourself and your views and interactions with others – does another’s being matter to you? do you accept and recosgnize them as theyare or as you want them to be? And as to this post and its focus – bochurim (or students), I’d say it’s quite the challenge of an educator to respect a student who doesn’t conform to the box the ultraorthodox religious jewish chassidish lubavitch has for its citizenry and… Read more »
….But 25 years ago, as a young bochur, I wouldn’t dare discuss ‘respect’ with a hanhala member.
A Rosh Yeshiva told a bochur I know (as welk as a few others that year), at the beginning of his second year there, that “I just want you to know that I did not want for you to be here this year.” This bochur, a relative of mine, lived with that for a whole year and did not tell his parents until the end of the year. He had never done anything any worse behaviors (typical bochur mischief — nothing outrageous or illegal) than several “in good standing” classmates had done — but the classmates had lied and this… Read more »
I agree with the author. I would take the author’s advice and apply this 10x to “BT” bochurim. Chabad prides itself on being open and inclusive yet I experienced something different when I came to CH as a bochur from a foreign country (someone who was raised in a secular home) to study in Hadar Hatorah. I learned that the people of CH shunned and looked down on Hadar HaTorah bochurim and was quite taken aback by this attitude (this is despite the fact that many Bochurim who studied in Hadar HaTorah were very accomplished and went on to achieve… Read more »
And being involved with FFBs throughout my life, I can only say: hang on tight to your belief that you decided to become frum for Hashem and his Torah and hiskashrus to our Rebbe. FFBs will disappoint you, a lot. To the point where you will question, THIS is the Rebbes chassidim? This is their whole encouragement to make frum yidden? The answer will be yes, and unfortunately. My parent left chabad but came back only for our Rebbe (this was before gimmel tammuz, and yes an old issue) BUT hold on tight to Hashem and his Torah!
Bochurim are expected to be like machines – Learn 14 hours a day, daven x hours, sleep x hours etc. The fact is the vast majority of Bochurim just can’t handle that. Maybe start treating boys as human beings, just like girls are.
But I’ve seen more mussar from chabad than from litvaks… with our own that is.
It’s like there’s 2 modes- “in house” and “out house” as one Shliach proudly told me. Maybe it’s time to synthesize the 2 attitudes…
The contrast of the accepting non judgmental Chabad that accepts and welcomes every single Yid must carry forward towards those within our communities. I like the term you use. “Synthesize” the two attitudes.
As someone not as articulate as you, I’ve not been able to express my anger and rage at the way some of my grandchildren were treated at several out-of-town Chabad yeshivos. The people in charge are not the big “educators” they pretend to be. Clearly unable to pick on someone their own size, they mistreat young sensitive students. Making an “example” of a student for an infraction, humiliating him before the entire student body, treating him as worthless, what good could possibly result?
Let bochrim have their beins because they are just expressing themselves in a mature fashion. Menahel step back and give space for this wonderful expression of maturity