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Each Child is the Only One - Rabbi Elimelech Biderman shlit"a

Chinuch – Each Child is the Only One

The Midrash (Shemos Rabba 2:2), says that Hashem tests tzaddikim by seeing how they care for sheep and goats. The commentary יפה תואר explains: "If he leads the lowly cattle with care, patience, and compassion, this proves that he will certainly lead the exalted human beings properly." The Midrash elaborates, "Hashem tested David with sheep and found him to be a good shepherd… David would bring out the young sheep to pasture first, so they could eat the soft grass. Then he brought out the middle-aged cattle, so they could eat the medium hard grass. And then he brought out the old sheep to eat the hard grass. Hakadosh Baruch Hu said, 'Someone who knows how to tend to sheep according to their strength, he should be the shepherd for My nation… "Moshe was also tested by sheep. When Moshe was a shepherd in the desert, one goat ran away. Moshe ran after it… until the goat came to a stream of water, and stopped to drink. Moshe caught up and said, 'I didn’t know you were running because you were thirsty. You're tired.' Moshe carried the goat back on his shoulders. Hakadosh Baruch Hu said, you have compassion on sheep and goats, I swear you will be My shepherd for My Jewish nation." This Midrash can be used for a lesson in chinuch (education of children), because in a way, each parent is a shepherd. Hashem appointed the parents to take care of His children, the Jewish nation. The Midrash teaches that a primary characteristic of a shepherd is compassion. When a child is thirsty, bring them to water; when a child is tired, carry them so they don’t have to walk back. Because a compassionate parent does whatever is necessary to take care of his children. This devotion makes him a fitting shepherd for Hashem's children.

Reb Avraham of Strikov zy'a adds: Moshe went out of his way to take care of one, singular, sheep. This is also a lesson in parenthood. Each child is precious, and each child deserves all the care and compassion. Even if one has many children, this shouldn’t cause one to lose sight of each child. Stating the names of Moshe Rabbeinu's children, the Torah says, "The name of one was Gershom… The name of one was Eliezer." Reb Shamshon Refael Hirsch zt'l notes that it should have said, "The name of one was Gershom… The name of the second one was Eliezer." Why are both sons called one? The verse is teaching that parents must consider each child as though he is their only child. Moshe had two sons, but each one was a "one" like his only child. If a person had only one child, how much effort, prayer, and devotion would be invested in that child! That amount is what should be invested in every child. No child should be ignored and unconsidered, due to the shuffle.

Teachers and Rebbe'im

These ideas are also directed to teachers and rebbes. Those who work in these positions are like shepherds. Hashem appointed them to care for the children and to help them reach their full potential. To fulfill one's role in being a loyal and devoted shepherd, one has to have compassion on his students. It is important that the teacher care for all his students. It isn't sufficient that he helps most of them, or the best ones. Each of his charges is an entire world, entrusted to him by the Almighty Hashem. Therefore, each student deserves attention, care, and devotion.

The Brisker Rav zt'l said: If you ask a cheder rebbe, "Which student is most on your mind," he’ll tell you about his best student, the one who knows everything he teaches and never caused him any trouble. But a parent is different. If you ask a parent, "Which one of your children is most on your mind," the parent will tell you about the child who is going through hard times in school (or in other areas). The Brisker Rav explained that the Torah calls students "children" because teachers should consider their students as though they were their own children. Because then they will be devoted to help all of them –not solely the more successful students.

Note: The Vilna Gaon zt'l writes, “A person can't change the way he was born… If a person was born with a bad nature, he has free will to use his tendencies to be either a tzaddik, a rasha, or somewhere in between. As the Gemara teaches, 'A person born in the mazal of maadim has the nature of spilling blood… He will either be a mohel, a shochet (ritual slaughterer), or a thief.' … He has the negative nature is to spill blood, but he has freedom to choose to be a tzaddik and use this tendency for a mitzvah, to be a mohel; or he can be in the middle, and be a shochet; or he will be a thief, someone who spills blood in its literal sense …. This is the meaning of the verse, "educate a child according to his way" – in accordance to his mazal and nature. Accordingly, you should educate him to do mitzvos. If you do so, he will not leave it when he is older. But if you steer him away from his nature, he will listen to you now, because he is afraid of you and he obeys you, but later, when he isn't under your surveillance, he will leave this path, because it is impossible for one to change his nature."

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