Yakov Danishefsky
Rabbi, Therapist, Speaker, and Author

Days of Praise and Gratitude

In the bracha, Al HaTzadikim” – “For the Righteous ones,” we speak laudably of a group referred to as “Pleitas Sofreihem,” but it is unclear who this phrase refers to. Pleitas means the remnants of something. It indicates that we are referring to a small group of people. Sofreihem refers to scribes or people with some relation to the written Torah. But again, quite ambiguous.

Rav Schwab ZT”L suggests that this phrase refers to grade-school teachers of Torah. In his words,

Sofreihem refers to people who teach children the sefer, meaning the written Torah. However, in its extended form it refers to all teachers of Torah. Those select individuals who choose to teach Torah are called Pleitim, the few remaining ones, because most people do not become Torah teachers since their task is usually not appreciated and it does not pay well. Nevertheless, the sofrim, the Torah teachers of the Jewish nation, are of such importance that without them we would cease to exist as Am Yisrael.

The last time you went to a Shalom Zachar, I imagine the room stood up when the Rav of the local shul walked in. I also imagine he was asked to speak at some point. The last time you went to a community event, the head of a local community organization was likely sitting in a chashuve seat or table. And outside your shul’s beis medrash there’s probably a plaque with the name of a generous donor. But when’s the last time you saw a room full of ba’al habatim stand up and make a seat at the head of the table for a third grade Rebbe? When’s the last time you saw the name of a ninth grade Rebbe on a shul plaque and when’s the last time he was given the impromptu kavod of being asked to speak at a local event?

Everyone wants to feel that their work is valued. Of course, the true value of our work is between us and our Creator, but most people also need to feel valued by their community and the people they serve. One way to feel valued is with monetary compensation. Other jobs, are valued via respect and kavod. The shul Rav stands in front of a crowd of adults just before tekias shofar and at all the most glorified moments of the year. He is called up under the chuppah to be the mesader kiddushin or eid kiddushin and he’s front and center at all the big events. The maggid shiur in beis medrash delivers high level shiurim to capable bochurim and is treated with the respect deserving of a Talmid Chacham. People in these positions often go above and beyond their calling, and they are, at times, life-saving. They sacrifice more than we’ll ever know in order to provide us the care, concern, and inspiration we need. They deserve all the respect they receive, and more.

But compare that with Rabbeim and teachers of younger ages whose congregants have dirty fingers and smudged shirts after a messy snack-time. These Rabbeim don’t get called up under the chuppah but instead hand out siddurim and pekelach at the siddur party. Year after year, they teach our children the same basic, unglorified skills and knowledge needed at the beginner level.

These individuals teach our children at the most developmentally impactful stages of their lives, and they provide them with the most foundational aspects of how to live as a Jew. They teach them what it means to daven, to learn Torah, to believe in Hashem, to be kind, respectful, and sharing. Everything our children become is built upon the foundational years they spent with these Rabbeim and teachers. You can always give a house a new paint job or carpet, but to fix the foundation is an entirely different story. No one is more important than our teachers.

Chanukah is a time of hoda’ah, appreciation. Every one of us can do something to help give rabbeim and teachers a little bit more of the appreciation they deserve. We can compensate them with gratitude and respect. We can make every opportunity possible to thank them with words and to show them how valued they are. At times, our gratitude and respect can also take the form of gifts.

For some people, who have the capacity, this might mean larger gifts before yomim tovim, at the end of the year, or anytime you know your child’s Rebbe or teacher is making a simcha. But small, modest gifts can also go a long way. If you are at a restaurant and you see a Rebbe there, find a way to discreetly and respectfully pay for his dinner, dessert, or even just a drink. At the end of the year, classes often pool together to buy a gift for their teachers, but are you really giving the amount you can give, or just enough to participate? Before mid-winter break, send a little gift-card for something as small as a coffee or a new sefer.

Aside from money, maybe we can start standing up for first grade rabbeim when they walk into a room the way we do for other Rabbanim. We can be mechabed them at events and we can look at them with more respect. And as we get older and reach life milestones, perhaps we can remember them, reach out to them, and honor them in some way.

The word Chanukah shares the same root as the word chinuch, education. On Chanukah, we light tiny little flames. In fact, if one lights a torch for their Chanukah candle, they have not fulfilled the mitzvah. Let us take this time to reflect on those who dedicate their lives to lighting the hearts, minds, and souls of those whose flames are still ever so tiny and small. And in the merit of our dedicated Rabbeim and teachers, may we see all the little lights grow into the ultimate Light, speedily, in our days.

About the Author
Yakov is a clinical therapist specializing in trauma, sex-addiction, and couples therapy. He is also a public speaker and Jewish educator with a unique blend of spirituality, philosophy, and psychology. He is the author of Attached: Connecting to Our Creator, A Jewish Psychological Approach. His podcast, "Attached" can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Youtube.