Friday, July 6, 2012

Of bonsai trees and effective chinuch

A few weeks ago, Neil Harris mentioned that near my school there was a cool store that sold bonsai trees, and that it was worth checking out. I had always had a mild appreciation for bonsai because of its prominence in The Karate Kid; as I grew older, I realized that its art was a facilitative form of mindfulness and concentration. One day on my way to school I took a short detour to take a look. 

When I asked the proprietor about the bonsai trees, he launched into a whole explanation of how bonsai is really a generic term for any scale-size tree - a bonsai tree is any tree that looks completely developed in a miniature form. He showed me the different types, and elaborated on how - dependent on the particular species and the care, attention, and creativity of the owner - a bonsai tree can be shaped into magnificent forms.

I walked away from the experience inspired.

In his preface to Chovat HaTalmidim, Reb Kalonymos Kalman exhorts parents and educators to understand that they have to have the proper perspective concerning their young charges. One of the major mistakes that people tend to do is try to raise "good kids"; the Rebbe insists that to merely focus on the child as a child is fallacious. Rather, one must appraise the child as the adult he can grow up to be, and work towards that goal. It's really raising adults, not raising kids.

To a certain degree (and this is reflected by Chazal and the seforim hakedoshim), the human is compared to a tree, and this is most apparent during childhood. Like Rav Wolbe's aptly titled handbook for parenting tells us, a child must be nurtured in the same way as young saplings - they need to be protected from the elements, given suitable air and nutrition, and enabled to maximize their potential to the fullest.

The bonsai tree seems to me to be a perfect example.


Micha Berger said...

Speaking as a serial bonsai murderer...

There is great value to the rigors and imposed ritual. That's a big part of their culture from bonsai, to Go, to the Tea Ritual, Zen Sand Gardens, etc... For our stressed out times, there is much to be said for these things.

But as someone who is supposed to be finding those moments in frequent religious rituals, I wonder if wanting to find it in arbitrary rites just means I'm not doing Judaism right.

Neil Harris said...

Firstly, the was a awesome post and I love the message you got from the visit to the store.

Regarding what Micha wrote, I think that, taking a Hirschian and Kelmer view, we have to look at the world and find messages in it.