A long-time dean of a high school related the following: In the late 1960’s a student entered the ninth grade and in due time it became apparent that the diligent and well-mannered student lacked the intellectual abilities to reach passing grades on his tests.
When parent-teacher conference came around, the dean met with his parents to discuss the arrangement the teachers and administration decided to use to deal with grading their son.
The dean began by telling the parents how delightful, well behaved and hard working their son was. He then showed them the consistent failing marks the student had produced in every subject throughout the term.
The dean then gave the following proposal, “The failing marks are no fault of your son, for we see that he is trying his best. We decided that we are going to pass him on each of his subjects. However, we are going to add an addendum to his records indicating that the marks do not match his abilities so that another educational institution will understand his true academic level.”
The dean expected the parents to be most appreciative of this arrangement. However, he was surprised by their reaction. They basically spoke in unison, “No! We cannot accept this; he is going to become a doctor like our dreams for him.”
The dean respectfully explained that their expectations are too high for their son, and based on his true grades it would be impossible for him to become a doctor.
The parents remained steadfast in their resolve that their son will be a doctor, and the dean sensitively but resolutely told them that there is no way that it will happen. He suggested that they go off to the side and discuss it privately between themselves.
After a few minutes they returned and said the following, “We understand that our hopes of our son becoming a doctor are dashed; we both agree to settle for him becoming a lawyer!”
In last week’s Parsha, the Torah relates that when our matriarch Sara recognized there was no hope for her to have a child, she suggested to Avraham to take their maidservant Hagar for a wife so that he can have a child from her. Avraham did as Sara advised and they had a son named Yishmael.
In this week’s Parsha, the Torah tells us that our forefather Avraham at the age of 100, and our matriarch Sara at the age of 90, miraculously, had a son and they named him Yitzchok.
As Yishmael grew up, his immoral, idolatrous and cruel behavior became apparent to Sara, and she feared Yishmael’s bad influence would rub off on their son Yitzchok. Sara told Avraham to let Hagar and Yishmael go. Avraham felt somewhat caught in the middle. G-d communicated with Avraham and instructed him to listen to Sara and he let them go.
The Torah states the following: “And G-d was with the lad (Yishmael) and he grew up and dwelt in the desert and became a shooter, an archer.”
When Yishmael was sent away by Avraham, the Torah tells us that G-d Himself raised him. We would imagine if one is raised by G-d Himself he would become the greatest in all wisdom and skill. Yet, the Torah tells us that Yishmael became… an archer.
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz o.b.m. extracted the following remarkable lesson from this. King Solomon in Proverbs teaches us, “Educate a child according to his own way.” It is apparent that G-d saw that Yishmael’s potential was in shooting arrows.
The message Reb Chaim conveyed to parents and educators is that we have to appreciate that every child is unique and has different personalities and strengths, and their interests come first, even at the expense of what we hoped they would achieve. Just as G-d did with Yishmael, we are charged with the responsibility to develop our children’s and student’s potential without trying to fulfill our dreams at their expense.
Parents and teachers are to zone in on the child’s personal potential and strengths, however, the Mitzvos of the Torah, both those actions that we are to actively perform and those actions where we are to show restraint, must be viewed as within the grasp of each child and student.
The Torah portion begins with Avraham anticipating the opportunity to entertain guests, despite the fact that he was in pain due to his Bris three days before.
G-d sent three guests, angels disguised as people. Avraham ran to them and then got to work preparing them a sumptuous meal. The Torah tells us, “He gave it to the lad to prepare.” Rashi tells us that this was Yishmael. Avraham involved him to teach him the Mitzvah of entertaining guests.
Likewise, we are all capable of perfecting the area concerning Middos – character development, politeness, consideration to others and having a pleasant tone.
We are ingrained with such conduct by our righteous forefathers who exhibited it throughout their lives!