Q. My son’s rebbe called me up regarding an issue with my fifth-grade son. Apparently, the rebbe believes that my son has been taking some prizes from his desk without permission, and although he has no proof, he’s “confident” it was my son. My son told me that the rebbe yelled at the class while staring directly at him. I don’t think my son steals, and he’s adamant that he’s innocent. What do you think?
A. What do I think? I don’t know your son. Here’s what I can tell you. While I was learning L’Chanech B’Simcha* with R’ Meir Yaakov Ackerman, an exceptional rebbe in the Yeshiva of South Shore, we came across a similar question. The response given was in the form of a story.
Many years ago, while officiating at a wedding, Rav Avraham Pam, zt’l, saw that the chassan was crying, and these tears didn’t seem to be tears of happiness. Rav Pam pulled him over and asked why he was crying. This was his response.
“Many years ago, when I was a young boy, a boy in my class brought in a small toy that I really liked. When no one was looking, I took the toy for myself. A short while later, the boy noticed the toy was missing and told the rebbe. Immediately, the rebbe called the boys in and asked if anyone took the toy. I wasn’t going to admit what I did in front of everyone, so I was quiet.
“My rebbe then told us he was going to search our knapsacks. While everyone was distracted, I took the toy and slipped it into a different boy’s knapsack. When the rebbe found it, the boy insisted that he had not taken the toy, and he didn’t know how it got in his knapsack. The rebbe called him a thief and a liar and sent him home. His parents were equally dismayed and told him that he was ruining the family name. One thing led to another, and this boy ended up developing serious issues. He ended up doing many things wrong.” (I will not list them in this article.)
The chassan then asked Rav Pam, “How can I start my married life knowing that I ruined someone else’s life?” Rav Pam replied, “What you did was wrong, but you’ve done teshuvah. The blame for this boy’s downfall lies solely on the rebbe. He is the one who caused it to happen and he needs to rectify this situation.”
Rav Pam was one of the gedolei ha’dor and was known to be an advocate for rebbeim. Additionally, he believed that being a rebbe required a certain sensitivity, and he could not comprehend how a rebbe could treat a talmid like this.
I would like to take this a step further. I understand that, unfortunately, there are certain rebbeim who should not be in a classroom. Baruch Hashem, in our generation, behaviors like this are not tolerated, and the yeshivos understand that rebbeim need to teach with love. Years ago, the rebbeim were a bit harsher. I personally had some rebbeim of whom, to put it mildly, I was not very fond.
What I can’t understand about the above story is the reaction of this boy’s parents. Surely, they must have known their child’s personality. How could they not defend their son? Yes, the rebbe was completely wrong, but he obviously did not love his talmidim. What the parents did, however, was inexcusable.
Getting back to your question, there is no way I can offer an opinion. He’s your son. Children are fond of saying to their parents, “You don’t understand me!” It’s not true. Parents understand their children better than anyone else does. If your son has never taken something that doesn’t belong to him and is generally honest, you need to defend him. Tell the rebbe, “Unless you have any proof, please don’t accuse our son. If you do have any proof, we would certainly be willing to give him a serious consequence.”
On the other hand, if your son does have a history of saying things that aren’t true, you need to have a talk with your son. “The issue we have is that you haven’t always been truthful. Therefore, we don’t really know what to believe.”
There are two other points I would like to make.
- No matter how this turns out, you need to let your son know that you love him. Whether he’s guilty or not, he needs to hear that, whatever happens, you love him.
- Although your son said the rebbe yelled at the class while looking directly at him, I wouldn’t necessarily hold that against the rebbe. If the rebbe already accused your son privately, your son might have felt that he was staring at him even if it wasn’t the case.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly e‑mails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.
*This sefer has many questions that were submitted to Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, shlita, with his responses. I highly recommend it for every rebbe.