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Sending Away a Piece of My Heart

Barbara Bensoussan

Every Rosh HaShanah, we read of Chanah’s agonizing years of childlessness and her famous, heartfelt prayer at the Beis HaMikdash. She held her baby, Shmuel, close for only a few short years, before she gave him over to the care of Eli HaKohein, “for Hashem.” Chanah’s act — giving up her only child for the sake of his future — is one that mothers through the centuries have emulated, as they press honey cakes and kisses on their beloved sons and tremulously raise their hands to wave goodbye.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Rabbi Yoel Kramer of Brooklyn
still remembers the goodbyes.

He was only five years old when his
mother put him on a train from their little town of Plymouth,
to go off to yeshivah in the Big City of Brooklyn. “I don’t know that I cried
the first time I left, but once I understood what those partings entailed, I
used to get very upset,” he remembers. What he didn’t see — but his siblings
remember — is that when the train pulled away, his mother would break into
tears as well.

Rabbi Kramer’s mother had a
compelling reason to send him away so young; she wasn’t in good health, and her
son needed a Jewish education. The year he turned five, she was in the middle
of a pregnancy so difficult her doctor had ordered complete bed rest.
Fortunately, when her newly wed brother and sister-in-law came to visit for Succos,
they saw that little Yoel was “wandering around like a waif” as she tried to
rest, and offered to enroll him in the yeshivah they worked for. In the end,
Yoel’s aunt and uncle became like parents to him, and he thrived under their
care — so much so that he continued in yeshivah in Brooklyn
for the next twenty years, until he got married.

Jewish history is replete with
examples of boys who were sent from small villages to far-off yeshivos to
benefit from the highest levels of Torah scholarship. Rav Elazar Menachem Man
Shach ztz”l left home at age seven to learn in Ponovezh, some 38
kilometers from his home town of Vaboilnick;
a few years later, he moved on further to Slabodka (he reportedly had a “bar
mitzvah” by simply putting on tefillin for the first time, all by himself, with
no other fanfare). In those times, when communication and transportation were
severely limited, many of them left home not knowing if and when they would see
their families again.

Behind each little boy who stood
gripping a battered leather suitcase at a railroad station, was a mother,
surreptitiously wiping away tears. And behind each tear was an act of spiritual
heroism: a decision to put a child’s — and a nation’s — spiritual future above
her own maternal instincts.

In recent years most mechanchim,
including Rav Shlomo Wolbe ztz”l and Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, have advised
against sending young children away to yeshivah, unless there are truly
compelling reasons to do so. Emotionally healthy children blossom in a secure,
loving family environment. But at times, there’s no alternative; a parent may
be sick, or the family may live in an area where there are no appropriate
yeshivos for the child.

Whatever the reason, going away to
school is often a child’s first step toward real independence, as he enters a
new world in which he will create new friendships and learn to depend on other
adults for day-to-day guidance. The experience is transformative — for parents
and children alike.

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