20 Cheshvan 5782 / Tuesday, October 26, 2021 | Torah Reading: Chayei Sarah
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Instant Genius

Tomer is 17. His parents are highly educated, but he never picks up a book and barely gets by in high school. Suddenly overnight, things started changing...


"Menachem" is a close friend of mine from the south of Israel. American born, he's an Ivy-League applied-science/hitech PhD whiz with platinum-level success in his career here in Israel. I've had the pleasure of watching his step-by-step spiritual growth during the last seven years, and it has been amazing to see someone of Menachem's intellectual caliber work so hard in enabling his emuna to override his prodigious brain. Recently, I received a mind-blowing email from him. Catch this:
Dear Rabbi Lazer,
As I have become more Jewishly literate over the years, I started to have these fears about what awaits me in the Heavenly Court. I have a nasty anger problem and I also worry about not having raised my kids with Jewish knowledge. A father is particular supposed to teach his son Torah. I did not, due to my upbringing in reform Jewish America. During the last year, this reality really started to spook me. Something interesting happened though. My son Tomer started to become more religious on his own.
What scared me though is that after secular high school, he was running to Chabad and Breslev branches in Beer Sheva on the way home from school to study, when he has no patience or desire in school and is barely passing his secular studies. He said a couple of the kollel guys were teaching him. So now, he jumps in the mikvah nearly daily. By the way, Tomer has had ADD since he was five, in other words, for the last twelve years. His performance in school is bad enough. But when my wife and I, programmed in the secular world that requires matric and university education, discovered his Chassidic hooky playing, we were hysterical. I thought that even he might be using the Chabad/Breslev connections as a means for getting out of school work. But I did not say anything to him.
In parallel, I have been steadily channeling the family toward the minimum baseline of observance, namely family purity, kashrut and Shabbat. The first two we accomplished a while ago but I recently convinced my wife not to cook on Shabbat. I started using an electric hotplate and Shabbat urn. I taped certain light switches on or off. I said to my family, do as you like but I am keeping Shabbat. My wife rather enjoyed the idea of not having to cook on Shabbat and having the family together for meals one day a week. And, my son Tomer joins us at the Shabbat table, even though he takes off his kippah and goes out with his secular friends after Friday night meal.
During dinner, last Friday night, my son and I were discussing something about the Torah, I don't even remember what. He went to get a Chumash, thumbed through it, and came to the passage in a minute that explained what we were talking about. I was amazed how he knew more or less where things were in the Torah. You have to remember – this is an ADD kid! He never opens a book. He ususally can't sit still for ten minutes. But, all of a sudden, he's sitting for an hour and a half at the Shabbat table, and discussing Torah with me and singing Yedid Nefesh. My wife was really enjoying it.
Then my 17 years ADD son, who my wife and I worry day and night about whether he will ever finish high school and matric exams so that he'll be able to get a higher education after the army, says Dad, "I want to show you something." He then began to recite shmoneh esreh, shema, and HALF of the siddur by ROTE from memory.
Rabbi Lazer, I was utterly and completely floored. I had to hold back crying. Bear in mind that at my feeble level and I can still barely read Hebrew aloud after living in Israel 18 years although I understand what I am reading and have a few prayers memorized. I also have an Ph.D. from Yale so I don't consider myself stupid (arrogant, yes). Needless to say, I was almost in tears in light of the fact I worry about what I am going to say to the one above about not having taught my kids Judaism. Suddenly my son can recite half of the siddur having grown up in a secular home. While I've been worrying about my neglect in giving my son a Jewish education, Chabad and Breslev rabbis have been picking up the slack!!!
I have too many weird things happen to me in the 18 years I am here in Israel. Like steel marble loaded grad missiles blowing up 50 meters from me and not getting a scratch (B"H). What's happening Rav Lazer? Can you please translate what's going on? I am too freaked out and moreover, I don't know how to relate to my son. I want him to pass high school but yet he absorbed half the prayer book effortlessly. Please share your thoughts with me.
Yours always, Menachem
Dear Menachem,
This is very simple. Tomer does not have ADD - he simply has a very high Jewish neshama (soul). For years, you've been giving his neshama spiritual salt water to drink - no wonder his brain wasn't developing. Teaching Tomer secular studies with no Torah is like giving an race car at the Indianapolis 500 diesel fuel instead of 114 Octane.  These are not my thoughts, Menachem. Rebbe Nachman of Breslev says explicitly that the mind of a Jewish child develops specifically from Torah learning and not from secular disciplines (see Likutei Moharan I:35a).
Now that he has the sweet water - Torah and prayer - he'll take off like a meteor. I implore you not to force him - let him pick his own way and watch him flower. And, as far as the Friday night outings with his secular buddies, he'll end that in time. Give him love and free choice. What do you care if he becomes a Torah scholar? That's your best insurance for this world and the next. By the way, Menachem, the world is becoming more spiritual fast. You saw the miracles happen before your very eyes during the recent conflict with Gaza. A big hug and all the best.
With blessings always, LB

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