Do we ever get stuck in the present?
The Sheva Brachos celebration following the marriage of a particular student of Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, was graced with the presence of some of the Roshei Hayeshivah, the deans of the institution. Typically, words of Torah are shared at such events. The chassan, groom, became uncomfortable when he saw that his grandfather wanted to address the assembled, but certainly could not stop him.
The grandfather related the following story. In a city in Europe, there was a wild child, who did not stop his antics at home or in his cheder (literally means room, but refers to place of Torah study for children). Once, his prank went past the limit. At nighttime, he went into the Shul and hid a goat in the Aron Kodesh. You can imagine the shock of the congregants who were there the next morning when the Aron Kodesh was opened to take out a Sefer Torah, and the goat sprang out. Bedlam ensued. With investigation, they were able to track down the culprit.
The principal of the school that this child had attended contacted the boy’s parents. This behavior was intolerable and the child was going to be expelled. The child understood the seriousness of the matter and went to the Rav of the city in order to bring the principal to a Din Torah, to face judgment of the court. The Rav had the principal appear before him, at which point the Rav asked the child, “What claim do you have against the principal?”
The child said, “I know I did something terrible and deserve to be punished. However, this is the only school of Torah in the city. Where will I go? If I don’t learn Torah, what will be with my children, my grandchildren? I know that I should be punished, but what is it the fault of the future generations? Why should they be punished for my misdeed?”
The Rav heard his position and saw to it that the child was able to return to cheder. “That child,” said the grandfather, “was me. Although I started out in the cheder, as I got older, I came to America, and was not able to advance my Torah education. However, I did get a foundation in Europe. Now my grandson is studying in Yeshiva. That is all a tribute to the foresight of the Rav. Had I been disallowed to learn, I wouldn’t be here, nor would my grandson.”
The Torah instructs that every seven years the King of Israel would recite the words of Torah in front of the men, women and small children. There is discussion in Talmud analyzing the point of bringing children who will not understand the words of Torah recited by the king. Afterwards the text refers to children who hear and study. Who are these children? They are the same children who earlier did not understand. Hearing the words as children, even if they do not comprehend, can be a stepping stone for them to learn, and want to learn years later.
Of course conditions of the present must be addressed and handled responsibly. However, things can change, not just for children, but even for adults. Even those who appear to be misfits have a potential for greatness that can be attained with them and their progeny.
Do we limit ourselves by focusing on the present or can we be open to the fact that the future can bring change and opportunity? If you were the Rav, what would you have done?
Rabbi Hershel D. Becker