Last week’s Hamodia/Inyan Magazine had an article by one of my favorite columnists, Rabbi Fishel Schachter entitled “Guided by Tale Winds.” While today Rabbi Schachter is well-known in the Torah world for essays and presentations for adults about the weekly Torah portion, parenting, and other subjects, he first gained popularity as a rebbi and storyteller to students in Jewish day schools.
Rabbi Schachter explains in the article that one of the adults in his audience told him many years ago that he had to choose between teaching grown-ups or kids — and he indicated that the natural choice for a man of Rabbi Schachter’s talent and intelligence was to teach adults.
Turning to his own rebbi for guidance, Rabbi Schachter asked if teaching kids was really beneath him? Were all the silly voices and so on undermining his stature?
The rabbi told Rabbi Schachter that if his concern is for his own dignity and stature, then he should cease the storytelling for children, but that so long as his concern is for the Almighty, he should continue and feel that his work is not only far from beneath him, but truly important.
A serious business
This essay really spoke to me. Writing for children earns writers less money. Teaching children earns less money than virtually every other job that requires similar levels of education and responsibility. Both professions contain less prestige than the equivalent jobs that serve adults. Once, an acquaintance told a mutual friend that my interest and attentiveness to children meant I was immature (don’t ask why the friend thought it was appropriate to share this with me).
More than once, I’ve thought about quitting writing for kids altogether. The pay is shvach (terrible). Some people think I’m cute instead of a serious professional.
But then something happens…
When I see what an enormous impact a story can make to a child, it makes all the difference.
Back to the essay by Rabbi Fishel Schachter: He relates that once he made a storytelling visit to a particular school, and his usual stories, which usually mesmerized the students in the audience, fell flat. Praying for inspiration, he decided that rather than delivering a reprimand, he’d change tactics. Instead of playing for laughs, he told a devastating story about a child who was seriously ill.
The audience fell silent. But later, Rabbi Schachter worried that he’d made a mistake telling such a dark story to the children, albeit a story with a meaningful insight into what makes a meaningful life. His concerns lifted when he received a phone call telling him that one of the children in the audience had desperately needed to hear the message in the story.
Some jobs look “light.” They’re “cute.” Fine. But if you are doing your work not because it’s fun, not because it’ll make you money, and not because of YOU, but because of a desire to serve those around you, G-d will send you the means to make a serious difference…no matter how silly the people around you might think your job is.