Check Your Bias| December 27, 2022
For your son’s sake, swallow your pride and choose the relatively weaker place, where he will feel like a success
everal weeks ago, these pages hosted a panel aimed at helping parents — specifically mothers, since the feature appeared in Family First, and no self-respecting male ever reads Family First, right? — navigate the mesivta application process.
The article was both comprehensive and comprehensible, and one sensible and critical piece of advice reiterated by several panelists was that parents should choose the mesivta most suited to their child’s abilities. Their choice should not be influenced by factors like where their son’s siblings went, social status, or other non-essential considerations, but rather what fits this child’s need. This self-awareness may demand self-sacrifice and humility — but what don’t we do for our kids?
I would add something I once read from Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shalmei Moed Pirkei Chinuch). He writes that although Chazal tell us “Hevei zanav l’arayos velo rosh leshualim — better be a tail to a pride of lions than the chief of the foxes,” that applies to adults only and not to children growing up. During one’s formative years, a child at the top of his class will generally grow much more since he feels like a success. Positive self-image produces positive growth.
When choosing a mesivta for your son, don’t send him to a “top” place in which he will hopefully keep up if he works hard enough. This isn’t a time for wishful thinking. If the bochur cannot keep up, or barely can, he’ll feel like a failure. For your son’s sake, swallow your pride and choose the relatively weaker place, where he will feel like a success.
I also want to turn my attention to the rebbeim, principals, and mentors who advise their talmidim as to which mesivta they should attend. They too must exercise self-awareness and be prepared to make a decision based on the individual talmid’s needs, not allowing any other considerations to interfere with their judgment. And they have to be perfectly honest with parents as to what is driving their decision.
Full stop. Before I continue, let me make it clear that our current crop of mechanchim are overwhelmingly sincere people who are completely dedicated to their talmidim’s growth. I merely mean to point out something that a) may cloud their judgment because negius always impacts upon our decisions, and b) they may be unaware of.
Yeshivos, whether elementary schools or mesivtas, are to some degree a business like any other, and therefore must protect their brand. While that may sound crass and incongruous when discussing something as sublime as chinuch habanim, the fact is that parents, too, want their son’s yeshivah to be careful about protecting its brand. When parents send to a yeshivah, they are trusting the institution to screen who they accept and hold all their students to certain standards.
Here, however, is where things get tricky and where rebbeim have to check their negius. Elementary schools may take pride in advertising that they send their graduates to “top mesivtas,” and doing so may in fact promote the “brand” of the elementary school. But that consideration cannot play any role at all in the placement of a mesivta bochur.
Sure, branding is important for a school’s viability, and the schools must be very careful with whom they accept, but once a school has accepted the student, the only consideration when guiding him toward a mesivta must be what is best for him and not what is most beneficial for the school. If this individual bochur may in fact thrive in a less-advanced yeshivah, the rebbi or advisor should not allow his negius to color his perspective as to what is best for the boy.
There is another point I’d like to bring up, which may be less obvious. Occasionally, a rebbi may feel that a bochur will shteig in his learning by attending a certain mesivta whose hashkafah is inconsistent with what the parents want for their children. In that case, the rebbi needs to share his feelings with the parents. He can try to persuade them that this is the right place for their son. But he must be fully honest and upfront with regard to what the mesivta stands for and where they want their talmidim to end up. In the long run, doing so will avoid much confusion and friction between parents and son. Subterfuge is never the way to go.
By the same token, parents should not delude themselves into thinking that they will send their child to a mesivta that fills their current agenda, while planning to reroute him according to their vision once he graduates. That is really unfair to their child and will cause much angst, since he will be forced to separate from his classmates and from the hashkafah he has absorbed throughout high school.
One last thought: Choosing a mesivta is delicate business, and in many cases it is the final significant decision parents make in determining the direction of their son’s life. Which beis medrash he will attend, whom he will marry, where he will live… all these choices will primarily be his decision… though you and his rebbeim will have varying degrees of influence. As such, remember: the greatest gift you can give your child is trust and respect, so that when later he must make his own decisions, he will be doing so as a wholesome, healthy, self-respecting adult. —
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 942)
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