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Devar Torah - Pinchas

Thursday, 28 July, 2016 - 10:00 pm

Inspiring Today's Youth to be the Leaders of Tomorrow
By Rabbi Shimon Raichik

40 years ago the Rebbe introduced the12 pesukim for children. The 12 pesukim was part of a greater campaign. The campaign also intended that children learn more Torah in general, become more familiar with the basic and essential concepts of Judaism, learn pesukim and mamarei Chazal by heart, and help influence their friends and acquaintances to do the same. In 5741-1981 the Rebbe instituted Tzivos Hashem.

A person wrote the Rebbe expressing reservations about the Tzivos Hashem Campaign on the grounds that it is based on the glorification of the military and is an aggrandizement of arms, wars and battlefields.

The following are some excerpts from the Rebbe’s response.

A letter is hardly the proper medium to explain fully the reasons that impelled us to introduce the establishment of the Tzivos Hashem organization, the purpose of which is to bring young Jewish children closer to Torah and mitzvos, as I am glad to note you fully recognize. Needless to say, it was done only after due deliberation, which I can only briefly outline in this letter.

To begin with, “Tzivos Hashem” – as you surely know – is not a “foreign” idea. It is first mentioned in the Torah in reference to “G-d’s Hosts” who were liberated from Egyptian bondage. The term is clearly not used in the strict military sense. Rather it indicates that the Hosts who had been enslaved to Pharaoh to serve him, were now G-d’s Hosts, free to serve G-d, and G-d alone.

Of course, the Torah does not glorify militarism, war, and the like. On the contrary, “Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.” And, as our Sages declare, “the Torah was given to bring peace into the world,” and “there is no greater Divine blessing than peace,” and much more in this vein.

When the “Tzivos Hashem” was instituted recently, careful consideration was given to using a minimum of military trappings, and only such as would be consistent with the spirit of the Torah. For example, “spying missions”, which you mention in your letter as one of your objections, was categorically excluded. Furthermore, the whole Campaign is limited to children of pre-Bar Mitzvah and pre-Bat Mitzvah age. The idea is that reaching that age they become full-fledged Jews, and by then they will have had the benefit of the experience, and will realize that it had served its purpose for them.

The question is: Since the term “Tzivos Hashem” would seem to some people to smack of “militarism,” what were the overriding reasons that outweighed such reservations as you expressed in your letter? Could not the same results be achieved through other means or other methods?

This brings us to the core of the problem.

As an educator, you know that children need motivation, but that is only one aspect of the problem. The most important aspect, in my opinion, in this day and age, is the lack of Kabolas Ol, not only of ol Malchus Shomayim, but also general submission to authority, including the authority of parents at home and of teachers in school and the authority of law and order in the street. There remains only the fear of punishment as a deterrent, but that fear has been reduced to a minimum because there has in recent years been what amounts to a breakdown of law enforcement, for reasons which need not be discussed here.

On the other hand, American children have been brought up on the spirit of independence and freedom, and on the glorification of personal prowess and smartness. It has cultivated a sense of cockiness and self-assurance to the extent that one who is bent on mischief or anti-social activity feels that one can outsmart a cop on the beat, and even a judge on the bench; and, in any event, there is little to fear in the way of punishment.

As with every health problem, physical, mental or spiritual, the cure lies not in treating the symptoms, but in attacking the cause, although the former may sometimes be necessary for relief in acute cases.

Since, as mentioned, the root of the problem is the lack of kabolas ol, I thought long and hard about finding a way of inducing an American boy to get used to the idea of subordination to a higher authority, despite all the influence to the contrary – in the school, in the street, and even at home, where parents- not wishing to be bothered by their children – have all too often abdicated their authority, and left it to others to deal with truancy, juvenile delinquency, etc.

I came to the conclusion that there was no other way than trying to effect a basic change in the boy’s nature, through a system of discipline and obedience to rules which he can be induced to get accustomed to. Moreover, for this method to be effective, it would be necessary that it should be freely and readily accepted, without coercion.

The Tzivos Hashem Campaign has a further reward, though not widely applicable to Jewish children attending Hebrew schools. This, too, has already been alluded to by our Sages, in their customary succinct way, by saying that a person born with a violent nature should become a (bloodletting) physician, or a shochet, or a mohel – in order to give a positive outlet to their strong natural propensity (T. B. Shabbos 156a).Thus, children that might be inclined to aggressiveness and hence easy candidates for street gangs, and the like, would have a positive outlet by diverting their energy in the right direction.

This brings us to the point that although the ideal of peace is so prominent in the Torah, as mentioned, the fact is that G-d designed and created the world in a way that leaves man subject to an almost constant inner strife, having to wage relentless battle with the Yetzer Hora. Indeed, the Zohar points out that the Hebrew term for bread-lechem— is derived from the same root that denotes “war,” symbolizing the concept of the continuous struggle between the base and sublime natures in man, whether he eats his bread as a glutton, in a way an animal eats its food, or on a higher level – to keep the body healthy in order to be able to do what is good and right in accordance with the Will of the Creator.

This is the only kind of “battle” the Tzivos Hashem are called upon to wage. By the same token, the only “secret weapon” they are encouraged to use is strict Shabbos observance and other mitzvos which have been the secrets of Jewish strength throughout the ages.

Our experience with Tzivos Hashem – wherever the ideas has been implemented in the U. S. A. and Canada, Eretz Yisroel and in many parts of the world – has completely convinced us of its most successful positive results, with no negative side-effects whatever. I can only hope that it would be adopted in other sectors, outside of Lubavitch, in growing numbers.

When reading excerpts from this letter we see the Rebbe’s deep concern for the attitudes of the young men and women of the generation. We see that Tzivos Hashem was not founded to create competition in learning; the main purpose was to attend to the most burning issue of our time, personal responsibility.  We also see his great care and concern to instill in them this kabolas ol, this sense of respect for authority. After reading this response, we can now ask ourselves what happens with our children after Bar and Bas Mitzva. Does this approach continue on into their teenage years? The challenge is twofold. First, do these young adults feel that sense of personal responsibility, of kabolas ol? What about fear of Heaven, of yiras Shomayim? We know from the 41st chapter of the Tanya how essential it is to instill and incorporate a fear of Heaven, a yiras Shomayim into our service of Hashem. The love of Hashem alone not preceded by fear does not suffice. Nowadays, people only want to hear about love of Hashem. We have a great challenge in following through with the Rebbe’s campaign into the adult years.

Love of Hashem is the great motivator for all positive mitzvahs. Fear and awe of Hashem gives us this strength to refrain from transgressing negative mitzvos. The Rebbe instilled and instituted within us that we are in Hashem’s Army and we are responsible. 

Parents play in a central role in making sure we are successful in implanting this perspective within each and every child, and keeping it there, especially during the teenage years. So next time supper time rolls around in the house will we offer our children five options and let them choose or will we use our best judgment? Nowadays if our children don’t want what we prepared we offer them something else, and if that doesn’t work a third option. Who's in the driver seat? Is it really in their best interest to turn the authority to them and be under their control? All too often our children feel that if they nudge their parents enough they’ll get whatever they want in the end. This sentiment undermines the Rebbe’s goal to instill with in them a sense of responsibility and answerability to Hashem, their parents, their teachers and their school. 

In the teenage years it gets far more complex. If he's the only one that doesn't have the latest version of the iPhone he's pushing for that. If his early childhood was a series of one capitulation after the other to his desires what chance is there that the parents will able to stay no now? Once a child has a smart phone they become the authorities to manage the critical choices of what they see and hear, everything is available on these devices. Although it’s tempting and so convenient just to hand over the smart phone, what do we sacrifice? We see clearly the connection between accepting responsibility, kabolas ol and it's comprehensive effect on fear of Hashem. Further down the road modesty, tznius, becomes an issue. We are asked why we care, when we want to draw lines and boundaries. We are told that we are giving them musar. Every child needs to know their borders. It's not just touching,negiah that's not allowed. What about boys and girls socializing texting and talking? Where does this lead? Appropriate dress as well, where do we draw the line? This is the exactly the Rebbe’s point, precisely what he saw that needs addressing in our generation!

We need to get back to basics. To be successful we need to be unified, in our homes with our schools and in our communities. Our parents and our educators need to listen to each other with respect and help each other. Parents can and should work with the schools and the schools with the parents. Instead of treating our children as political hot potatoes we need to join together for the sake of our children and achieve a state of balance between our community and our institutions. When we are afraid to speak up and reach out, afraid that the only thing that works is love we close down the to the possibility of a real solution. The Previous Rebbe said when we let go this leads to a kind of numbness. We close our eyes and we close our hearts and then even when someone speaks up we don't feel it because we became immune to listening. Our children need strength and clear leadership; they crave guidance even if they say otherwise.  To be continued… 

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