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A Case of Mishandling Youthful Exuberance
by Rabbi Y Reuven Rubin

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A Case of Mishandling Youthful Exuberance

Rabbi Y Reuven Rubin

Rosh Mosdos Ohr Shlomoh

Here is a tale that may be considered nothing more than an urban myth, although I heard it from someone who is usually reliable.

It seems there was a family in Bnei Brak that had a small boy who was having trouble in cheder. Let’s call him Itzikel. Although he had the most adorable big eyes, long curly peyos, his rebbe was certain that in the boy’s chest beat the heart of a villain. Itzikel was always the one in trouble, calling out, standing up against the rebbe’s instructions; in short, the kid was driving the rebbe crazy. The menahel had to do something; it was a large class and things seemed to be descending into total anarchy. The parents were called in and told that the child needed to be put on medication to calm him down. If not, he would be thrown out of the mosod.

Wasn’t this quite drastic, all this tumult over a sweet six year old? The parents could not understand what was going on. At home Itzikel was a fun- loving normal boy who did not get into any more scraps than his other siblings. They were at their wits’ end; they didn't want to “medicate” the child they saw as perfectly normal, yet without this there would be no place for him in school. With great reluctance they fell into line, and soon an action plan was put into place.

The boy’s home was a busy one in the mornings, what with ten children all running about looking for their shoes and other personal effects. So it was arranged that our little Itzikel would keep his medicine in the rebbe’s desk and every morning at ten the rebbe would ask him to go to the teacher’s room and make the rebbe a tea. It was at this time the child would take his pill as well. The change was almost immediate: things quietened down, the child became a positive class member who followed the rebbe’s instructions and got on well with everyone.

After some months the parents came to the cheder to ask how things were progressing, only to hear a glowing report. The joy was palpable: where there had been chaos, peace now reigned, and everyone was satisfied.

Sometime later, almost fortuitously, Itzikel divulged the secret of the change of atmosphere. He revealed that every morning when he went out to take his pill and make a tea for rebbe, instead of taking the medication himself, he dropped the calming pill into the rebbe’s tea!

This story floated back into my mind this last week when I heard of another story in which a child had been expelled from school. Each of these cases is tragic. There are instances when medication is called for when handling situations where there is a proven medical need. This should be done only after assessment by professional practitioners who understand matters beyond the frustrations of teachers. However, in some cases we have allowed these little magic pills to become a crutch for ineptitude and with this we are crippling children who suffer nothing else but a case of youthful exuberance.

Rebbes aren't worthy of the title if they believe their only tool to control their class is by dampening down the spirits of young neshomas.

Are we really ready to accept the consequences of such a debacle? Don’t you see those teens on the streets? Where do we think all this pain stems from?

On my desk is a small sign that says, “The biggest disadvantage of old age is that you can’t outgrow it.”

I have worked for close to fifty years with children who for whatever reason have not found mainstream education suitable for them in one capacity or another. I can’t escape the many years of witnessing tears and heartbreak suffered by loving parents at the end of their tether.

There are communities who accept that the system is broken and needs fixing. Gedolei HaTorah are already starting in turning things around. Our generation needs so much more than many of us seem ready to offer, but if we don’t change our attitude towards acceptance and realising what individuality is, then we can sadly only expect many more tears and heartbreak.

In Parshas Emor we learn that in the case of a meis mitzvah, a dead body for which no one claims responsibility, then even the Kohen Gadol is meant to become tumah for it.

A child with no school is a child facing spiritual death; it is imperative that we all do our utmost to save him before it is too late.

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