This particular student was a successful graduate of the Israeli, charedi yeshiva system, and currently a teacher at a well-known baal teshuva yeshiva in Jerusalem. Although he had excelled in his yeshiva studies, he repeatedly stressed that they had been devoid of emotional content. Torah study had been an intellectual challenge and a mental exercise at best, which had not engaged his heart and emotions. Furthermore, he stressed that many of his fellow students had experienced the same problem.
I raised this issue in class, and the discussions that we had, and the Torah sources that we found, became the new basis for the course.
One of the students, R. Menachem Steinharter, told a personal story about a teenage boy he had been working with, who was on a steep downward path away from Judaism. No one seemed to be able to help him; neither his father, nor his rabbis. However, after learning about "emotional intelligence," R. Menachem tried a new approach: to speak with the young man openly, warmly, without expectations or judgment. What he discovered -- as he relates in the video below -- was that the young man's attitude drastically changed for the better. All because someone spoke to him from the heart.
It is a moving and encouraging story; however, I heard something in it that also upset me.
How is it possible, I asked myself, that this simple approach -- to speak to a young person non-judgmentally, with love and acceptance -- should be so novel that one needs to learn it from a course or a book? Shouldn't this be one of the first approaches that an educator tries?
Obviously, taking that approach is not so simple, especially when it comes to our own children; for it's almost impossible to look at them without laying over them a screen of our own expectations and demands. I certainly don't blame the boy's parents, as I myself have gone through this with one of my own children, and I know how hard it is to adjust one's expectations. But what about the boy's rabbis? Were they so invested in the "system" that they also could not step back and see him for who he really was? To be honest, I did not speak to them, and so, my questions remain unanswered.
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What follows is the video of R. Menachem's final class presentation (in Hebrew), followed by his reflections on the incident.
Rabbi Menachem Steinharter
Rebbe in Yeshivat Yedidiya, Petach Tikvah
It was with real blessing, then, that I took the summer course in "Emotional Intelligence," at Michlalah College. I learned many new concepts and tools, which helped me change my approach. Thank G-d, in a very short time, with the simply application of the tools I learned on how one connects to one's emotions, the student began to feel that someone truly loved and appreciated him, and he began to improve in a remarkable way. He again sat with his family at the Shabbat table and went back to praying in synagogue. I received an emotional call from his father, who told me about all these positive developments.
I learned from this an important lesson: that if a student is to relate positively to his teacher, in order to work with him and learn from him, the teacher must show the student that he loves and understands him, with all his imperfections. This alone causes the child to want to improve, in order that the teacher will be proud of himself -- and that he will be proud of himself. It's incredible to see that a student can change so much, in such a short period of time, when one knows the correct approach to education. Of course, as my wife says, it's all with G-d's help.
From the stories related by the other students in our course, I learned that when instructors do not believe in their charges, and constantly point out to them areas that they can improve, it actual causes the students to fail in their studies. However, when the teacher supports and believes in the students, and uplifts them, they can actually grow into true Torah Scholars.