“If you want to get him an ice cream on the way home, I would not protest”
The seventh-grader had a difficult time in school.
Even the best schools have talmidim who don’t quite fit in the box, no matter how big the box is.
Our young friend began in the local yeshivah and tried a new school for a few years, and by seventh grade, he ended up in the same school he had begun in.
He preferred the great outdoors over the confining classroom. As someone who understood firsthand the pain of often being the outlier, he honed an acute sense of compassion for the nirdaf — the underdog. He felt for those more vulnerable and susceptible to ridicule — because he knew what it felt like to be on the fringe.
One winter day, the principal, Mrs. Perlman,* called the mother of our seventh-grader, and explained that she must come immediately to pick up her son.
“What did he do?” the mother asked, sure she would be forced to discipline him.
The principal explained that the yeshivah had recently adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward any student raising a hand against another student. Any child who did so would be suspended immediately, even in the middle of the school day.
“Unfortunately, your son hit another boy today, and I must follow protocol and insist you pick him up now,” said Mrs. Perlman.
The mother of our seventh-grader sighed. This was not the first time she had received this call, and her sigh was audible over the phone.
“I understand,” the mother said. “I’ll be over to pick him up in a few minutes. I assume he’ll be sitting in front of your office?”
“Yes, he will,” replied Mrs. Perlman.
Mrs. Perlman hesitated momentarily, contemplating how to phrase her next sentence. Perhaps it was prompted by the mother’s sigh, or maybe it was her sense of fairness.
Whatever the reason, Mrs. Perlman then said, “Yes, you have to pick him up. However, please don’t punish him further. In fact, if you want to get him an ice cream on the way home, I would not protest.”
“What do you mean, buy him an ice cream?” the mother asked incredulously. “I thought he was being suspended for hitting another boy.”
“He did raise his hand against another boy. However, besides the fact that no one was hurt and it was a normal occurrence in the seventh-grade classroom, there is another bit of context you must know. There is another boy in the class named Tzvi Aryeh Rackoff. He’s a wonderful boy who enjoys learning. However, Tzvi Aryeh often gets picked on.
“Your son warned the boy who was picking on Tzvi Aryeh to stop. When the boy did not stop, your son raised his hand to protect Tzvi Aryeh. No one was hurt, but policy dictates that he must go home. However, the reality is that he did a great mitzvah standing up for a boy who had no one to stand up for him. If I could have, I would have rewarded him myself.
“So please, pick him up, but realize the great mitzvah that he did.”
After that day, Tzvi Aryeh Rackoff was no longer picked on. He went on to learn in kollel, and when he passed away at the young age of 27, he left behind a wife and daughter.
And who was the boy who stood up for Tzi Aryeh? He is my son Tuvia, who is serving proudly in the IDF, along with all of our brave soldiers.
He is still standing up for others.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 997)
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