A letter by Reb Shimon Barsky
In modern society, both Jewish and non-Jewish, teaching is regarded as an honored profession (albeit not an especially lucrative one). In the world of the shtetl (Eastern European village), however, the melamed, or teacher of small children, typically was an impoverished scholar untrained for any other work, to whom an equally impoverished clientele entrusted their youngsters to receive the rudiments of religious instruction. For this inglorious position the teacher was neither trained and paid a reasonable wage, nor even respected by the community. Not surprisingly, many melamdim, frustrated with their lot, showed little tolerance for their students' childish antics. No doubt there is wisdom in Shlomo Hamelech's (King Solomon's) axiom, "Spare the rod and spoil the child"; however, the resort to harshness and corporal punishment on the part of old-world teachers was sometimes excessive, to the emotional detriment of the children and their future relation to religious studies. This is the problem Reb Shimshon Barsky addresses in his letter below.
Reb Shimshon, a descendant of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, was one of the foremost teachers in Uman's Breslov community prior to the Stalinist purges. This letter was written in the early 1930's, immediately prior to the breakup of the community and the murder, imprisonment, or forced exile of its members. After Reb Shimshon passed away in 1935, his family escaped to Poland, and a number of his descendents now live in Eretz Yisrael and in the Chassidic community of Brooklyn, NY.
The letter is one of three such documents printed at the beginning of Reb Shimshon's classic Breslov work, Likutei Eitzos Ivri-Teitch ("Rebbe Nachman's Collected Advice Explained in Yiddish"), reprinted in 1978. A Hebrew translation recently was published as Gevuros Shimshon.
Reb Shimshon Barsky's Letter
May Hashem be blessed,
To my dear son, Noson, and his entire family, may they live:
Please tell me about my precious, esteemed grandson, Yisrael, may he live long: if he now attends cheder (school), if he knows the Hebrew letters and vowel points, and if the melamed (instructor) has taught him the blessings for the varieties of food and drink, and so forth.
No excuses: the melamed should treat him pleasantly in every way, and never frighten or threaten him at all, for any reason. The mind of a child is extremely sensitive. Therefore, one must never frighten a child or threaten him for any reason, so that he should come to no harm, G-d forbid.
Also, tell the melamed that he must never display anger or rage - no excuses!
He must not inculcate fear in the child, neither while teaching him the prayer book nor while teaching him the blessings, etc. Rather, he should relate to the child with a calm, pleasant manner, without anger or harshness, so as not to upset him.
Without any excuses, he should fulfill everything I have written in this letter, and may G-d help you to raise all your children in the ways of Torah and good deeds, with material blessings and emotional gratification (nachas).
I have a question. Or three.
10 months ago