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It Makes No Sense – Part One

By Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg
Dean, Torah Academy, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Before you read any further, please accept my apology.  The message in this series of articles is so important that I feel it needs to be shared, even though it can’t be done in just one article.  I suspect that the message will be delivered in three parts and it will require keeping track, from one week to the next.

The title of this article is both misleading and it can be applied to so many situations in life.  It is misleading because it suggests that we disregard something when it makes no sense to us.  On the contrary, in this article I will begin laying the foundation for an idea that makes no sense when you hear it but it works wonders each time you apply it.  I wish I had one dollar for each parent and each teacher who doubted this theory and became surprised at its effectiveness once they applied it.  My suggestion is that before you write it off as something that doesn’t make sense and therefore will not work, you consider trying it.

One more point of introduction is that for this to work one needs to pay close attention to all the components of the theory and have some patience for things to play themselves out. 

In almost any presentation that I make to both parents and teachers I try my best to include the idea of this article and instead of just telling you the theory, I will describe a lengthy picture of how this theory was applied and we will then go back and see what the actual ideas were behind the practice.

For the sake of privacy I will change the names in this story; however, most of the details are real and actually happened in one of our yeshivos.

The first scene of this story takes place in the Yeshiva’s Bais HaKenesses, the room in which the students in grades 5-8 daven each morning.  Supervising the davening is the Menahel, Rabbi Moskowitz and role modeling how to daven properly are the Rabbeim, Rabbi Adler, Rabbi Berkowitz, Rabbi Goldberg, and Rabbi Davidowitz.

The daily minyan begins at 8:00 each morning and one of the expectations of all the students was to be in their seats at 8:00.  This expectation applies to all students, regardless of how close or how far they live from the Yeshiva.  Rabbi Moskowitz and the four Rabbeim were in their designated spots at 7:55 each morning, ready to greet all the students and begin the day in the right spirit.

By and large, the students were cooperative and they respected the expectation to be on time.  That is with one difficult exception – Leibish Latecomer.  Leibish would stroll into the Bais HaKenesses any time between 8:15 and 8:30 each morning and he still had his eyes glued shut on many mornings.  You guessed correctly if you assumed that he lived around the corner from the yeshiva.  He was actually the student who lived closest to the yeshiva. 

This began on the first day of the new school year which coincided with the beginning of Rabbi Moskowitz’s tenure at that yeshiva.  In a preliminary staff meeting between Rabbi Moskowitz and the Rabbeim, the expectations were spelled out clearly.  However, even against the protests of Rabbi Goldberg, there were no consequences set in place for what would happen if an expectation would not be met.  Therefore, Leibish came late day after day and nothing happened to him. 

At the first meeting of the school year, after three weeks of the new term, Rabbi Adler brought up the issue of Leibish’s lateness and he suggested that Rabbi Goldberg was right after all that it was necessary to have consequences in place.  Rabbi Moskowitz listened carefully to what all the Rabbeim had to share about the situation and they all seemed in favor of taking some serious action with Leibish.  They drew up a list of what would happen the next time that Leibish would come late, what would happen the second time, the third time and so on.  They created a list of what would happen all the way to Leibish coming late on eight occasions.  They felt that it was safe for them to stop after eight times because by then, after so many consequences, he would surely learn his lesson. 

Rabbi Moskowitz disagreed with all the Rebbeim and he suggested that this system wouldn’t work and if they felt that consequences were necessary, they should realize that the consequences were not going to make him come on time, not after one time, not after eight times or ever.  Rabbi Moskowitz agreed to go along with the plan devised by the Rabbeim not because he liked it or thought it would work.  Rather, he knew that it wouldn’t work and he wanted to teach this valuable lesson to the Rabbeim. 

The next day came; every rebbe was in his position at 7:55 and all the students arrived before 8:00.  That is all, except Leibish.  He strolled in at 8:20 with his eyes barely open.  The Rabbeim all looked at Rabbi Moskowitz and one even raised one finger, implying that today we go with consequence number one. 

Immediately after davening, Rabbi Moskowitz, following the pre-set list of consequences, informed Leibish that he had lost his morning recess period.  While Rabbi Moskowitz was vehemently opposed to taking away recess privileges from students and didn’t approve of that form of consequence, in this situation he went along with it because he was following the plan that was agreed to.  He felt that it was all going to be an ultimate benefit to the entire yeshiva by having the Rabbeim learn some critical lessons.

Leibish spent the morning recess period sitting alone in the Bais HaKenesses and he didn’t seem phased by the experience.  That afternoon during their lunch break, the Rabbeim had a heated discussion on whether or not Leibish was going to be on time the next day.  Most said that losing just one recess period wasn’t going to do the trick and it would take much more than that.  Rabbi Berkowitz was the lone voice, feeling that since Leibish was a good boy in general, all he needed was a firm reminder that yeshiva began at 8:00 and the loss of his recess was that reminder.

The next morning the Rabbeim appeared in the Bais HaKenesses earlier than usual, waiting to see when Leibish would arrive.  7:55 came and went and the hour turned 8:00 with no sign of Leibish.  While the Rabbeim were davening with great kavonoh, as they understood their role as role models, they did peek out from the corner of their eyes every few minutes to see if Leibish Latecomer has arrived.  It was finally during Kerias Shema that Leibish strolled into the Bais HaKenesses.  He took his seat with an obvious understanding that he was in for another consequence that day.

After davening, Leibish was summoned to Rabbi Moskowitz to hear the verdict for his lateness on day two.  On the second day his consequence was the loss of two recess periods.  This practice continued day after day and each day Rabbi Moskowitz dished out the consequence prescribed for that day… to be continued

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