As anti-Semitism spreads around the world with devastating fury, we must
strengthen our faith and trust in Hashem and realize that it’s a time for us to mend
our ways and increase our prayers for His mercy. Throughout all ages our enemies
have done all they could to destroy our nation, yet they have been unsuccessful.
From the Inquisition of Spain, to the gas ovens of Auschwitz, our enemies have
done everything possible to wipe
us out as a nation, but Hashem has
always come to our rescue. While we
have suffered a long dark bitter golus,
we have emerged stronger than ever
before. Who would have believed
that just 60 years after we lost more
than six million of our brothers in the
Holocaust, Torah would be flourishing
on American soil?
One of the things that we must surely
improve is our brotherly love for every
Jew, since it was this particular sin that
caused the destruction of the Second Bais Hamikdosh.
“Love others as much as you do yourself is the
fundamental pillar of the entire Torah,” says Rabbi Akiva,
yet we still see far too much hatred amongst our own
Jewish brothers. The 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva
died when they didn’t heed his advice and they did not
respect one another properly. Even when one disagrees
with others, it must be done with respect. The halacha
follows Bais Hillel because they always would explain the
ruling of the Bais Shamai before their own.
While some schools do a magnificent job of teaching
their students proper middos and derech eretz, others barely touch the subject. We
recognize, however, that if we want to correct some of the faults and failures of
today’s society, we must begin from the bottom up. Once a tree is fully grown, it is
impossible to straighten it out. Only while it’s still young and fresh can it easily be
bent into shape.
We all complain when we are cut off in line or someone double-parks his car in
front of ours, or when someone uses improper language, yet we must realize that if
we want our children and students to be different, we must put as much emphasis
on good middos as we do on scholastic achievement. Only then will we meet with
We must insist that our students display good manners in the way they walk
and the way they talk, in the way they dress and the way they act. Being polite and
greeting people with a friendly smile, a “Good morning” or a “Please” and “Thank
you” doesn’t cost a dime, but is worth its weight in gold.
The best text for teaching this is Pirkei Avos, whose principles were handed down
to Moshe directly from Sinai. It contains all the basic middos one must know. Let’s
remember that Torah and Derech Eretz complement each other, as it says “Im ein
derech eretz ein Torah,” and “Im ein Torah ein derech eretz.”
Let’s also remember that developing good middos is not the exclusive obligation
of the school, but must be strongly reinforced in the home. It’s a two-way street! Only
when our students see that the home and school have the very same goals will it
leave an indelible impression on them. However, when they see inconsistencies and
that what they learn in one place is contradicted by the other, then whatever one
tries to teach them will be to no avail. If we want to make improvements, then the
time to start is now!