Masks in Education

In addition to recognizing the tremendous trials our children are faced with in our time, we must take into account the differences in individual personalities that exist within today's world.

People today are no longer strong and confident; many of them are soft and fragile, and they have a desperate need to be understood. Even those people who appear tough on the outside — especially children — are usually only wearing a mask.

The following composition was published anonymously: 

Don’t be fooled by me. Don’t be fooled by the mask I wear. For I wear a mask, I wear a thousand masks, masks that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them is me. Pretending is an art that is second nature with me, but don’t be fooled. I give the impression that I’m secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without; that confidence is my name and coolness is my game; that the waters are calm, that I’m in command and I need no one. But don’t believe it; please don’t. I idly chatter with you in suave tones.

I tell you everything, but really nothing, nothing of what’s crying within me. So when I’m going through my routine, don’t be fooled by what I’m saying. Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying; what I’d like to be able to say; what for survival I need to say, but I can’t say. I dislike the hiding. Honestly I do. I dislike the superficial, phony games I’m playing. I’d really like to be genuine, to be me; but you have to help me. You have to help me by holding out your hand even when that’s the last thing I seem to want or need.

Each time you are kind and gentle and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings. Very small wings. Very feeble wings. But wings. With your sensitivity and sympathy and your power of understanding, I can make it. You can breathe life into me. It will not be easy for you. A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls. But love is stronger than strong walls, and therein lies my hope. Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands, but with gentle hands. For a child is very sensitive, and I am a child. 

The Purim season is an appropriate time to apply this understanding. One Purim I witnessed a phenomenal shedding of a mask. 

I have known Chaim for years. He is considered a wayward boy, who has been bounced from yeshivah to yeshivah. Ostensibly, he seems exceptionally tough, and apathetic where religious matters are concerned. On Purim, though, when he became very drunk and I caught a glimpse of his real self, the self he keeps carefully hidden behind a mask. 

That Purim, Chaim was pleading desperately for love of Torah. “Ani lo shaveh klum — I’m not worth anything,” he cried. “I want only love of the Torah; that’s all there is. I want Hashem to give me desire for learning Torah. That’s what’s important.”

And so he went, crying and screaming through the streets. It seems that he is not as wayward as people think. If only his teachers could recognize who he really is. Chaim has always been a daydreamer and has a difficult time organizing himself and his things. In school he was constantly berated for his daydreaming and his lack of orderliness. Eventually all the criticism took its toll. Yet on Purim (when so many others put on masks), Chaim’s mask came off.

It is extremely important to keep in mind that as educators, we must be able to break through the masks that our students wear in order to truly teach them the ways of the Torah. In today's world there are many different kinds of people and each individual will always have different needs in order to be a successful student.

Reprinted with permission from ArScroll/Mesorah Publications

Rabbi Dov Brezak is a world renowned parenting and teaching expert.

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