I have been teaching for many years and have gotten to know many different types of children coming from a variety of backgrounds and with different personalities. I’ve seen some exhibiting the finest of manners as well as those with a major attitude problem and unbridled chutzpa. What concerns me most is the disrespect I sometimes notice between one student and another. I was recently substituting a class in a very frum yeshiva. Most of the boys were excellent students scholastically, yet some showed a tremendous lack of respect and concern for one another. When one boy answered a question and his answer didn’t make any sense he was immediately ridiculed by some of the other students in the class. I immediately stopped the lesson and tried as best as possible to impress upon them the terrible results of such behavior but I highly doubted that my words would leave a lasting impression. This type of behavior had become part and parcel of their daily routine and it would take far more than one lesson to uproot it.
For some strange reason parents and teachers tend to put their priorities on scholarship and sometimes students seem to get the impression that it’s their test marks that count in life when in truth it’s the way we relate toward one another that matters most. Ridiculing one who can’t play well or makes an error or gets a poor mark on his test is unfortunately far too common. When we see it happening and don’t put an immediate stop to such behavior, children get the impression that it’s not all that bad and that we condone such behavior.
There certainly was no greater teacher than Rabbi Akiva, yet 24,000 of his students died because they did not show the proper respect toward one another. Surely he tried his best to teach it to them but wasn’t successful. After all, it was Rabbi Akiva who taught that “Love your friend as much as yourself” is the great fundamental rule in the Torah. Shouldn’t this impress upon all of us the need to put a greater emphasis on this most important requirement? Nothing will happen if we learn a little less Chumash, Mishnayus, Gemora, or meforshim. Yet, if we don’t succeed in imbuing them with proper respect for one another, then I’m afraid we may be failing in our mandate. That’s because this is the foundation upon which all else stands. If they don’t learn to respect one another then how can we expect them to learn to respect their parents, rabbayim, or teachers? Without the proper respect for one another, society as a whole breaks down and everyone suffers. Common courtesy and politeness for one another are the underpinnings of society. If they don’t learn it in school and from parents, then where will they get it from?