I once enjoyed the privilege of attending the 50th anniversary weekend celebration of Kibbut Yahel in the southern Negev. During the musical presentation of the smallest children in the kibbutz’s school, they sang a song with such cuteness, verve, and joy that the audience clapped and clapped until the students came back to sing an encore of the same song. As they entered the stage again, one little boy said to another in Hebrew, “We better not sing it as well this time so they won’t insist we come back again!”
That thought stuck in my mind as one possible position to take: it is better to stay put and secure rather than excel and be expected to excel further. Surely the ten scouts of the twelve who reported to Moses about the land of Israel felt that way. They said, “We cannot attack that people for it is stronger than we.” (Nu. 13:31) Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher rebbe, asked a good question: why did the ten scouts fear invading Israel when they had already seen what God had done for them already? God had worked the miracles of the ten plagues, the crossing the Sea of Reeds, the gift of manna every weekday in the wilderness, and ample water, so why did they become so defeatist? The rebbe’s answer was surprising. He said the scouts were not afraid of defeat, but rather they were afraid of success. Why leave “the security of wilderness”?
We ask a lot of our children and grandchildren to persevere through S.S.D.S. with its demanding curriculum in both Hebrew and general studies. And then we will ask for similar excellence in high school and college. Surely, there is nothing wrong with asking them to be all that they can be. (A ship can stay in harbor, but it is built to sail out to sea.)
Nevertheless, let us monitor our kids’ academic success very carefully, and judge their “bad stress” and their “good stress”, and distinguish their “excellence” from their “good enough.”
— Rabbi Donald Splansky, Rabbi Emeritus Temple Beth Am, Framingham, Schechter grandparent