During our children’s midwinter break this week, we enjoyed an overnight trip at a hotel in the Pocono Mountains.

While the rest of the family was enjoying some of the hotel attractions, I went with our son Avi to transport our luggage from our car to our room. When Avi arrived at our room holding some luggage, he asked me where the key was. I told him that the key was on his wrist. When we checked in, we were all given plastic wristbands that would allow us to use the hotel attractions. Inside the wristband was a thin computerized thingamajig (that’s the scientific term) that was preprogrammed to digitally unlock the door to our room.

I informed Avi that my bracelet would only open the door of the second room we had reserved. Only he could get us into the room we were standing in front of. He was skeptical until he held his hand next to the door, which immediately activated a green light, unlocking the door.

The Chovas HaTalmidim (The Student’s Obligation) was written by the Piaseczena Rebbe and published in 1932. The Rebbe wrote the masterful ethical work directly addressing the youthful student reader, guiding him on the path to greatness. The sefer contains poignant insights that resonate with any aspiring and seeking individual. Many of the ideas that the Rebbe recorded were very progressive in his day, but are now accepted fundamental ideas regarding contemporary chinuch.

I have had the pleasure of studying the sefer with my students in Heichal HaTorah each morning, before we start learning Gemara. I’m not sure who enjoys it more – they or I.

One of the most powerful ideas that the Rebbe writes is that the most important and significant educator in a person’s life is himself (or herself)! One’s parents, rebbeim, and mentors can only serve as guides and motivators from the side to steer him in the right direction. But ultimately it is only he himself who can foster the greatness within and capitalize on the potential he innately possesses. Essentially, the key to unlocking his inner greatness lies within him alone.

Similarly, regarding marriage, people will sometimes note how much they changed after they get married, adding that their spouse really changed them. The reality is that there is no such thing as changing anyone else. What really occurred was the spouse really wanted to change/improve, and the marriage provided the added fuel or encouragement needed to achieve what was really desired.

The truth is that it even goes beyond one’s personal growth. We all influence our surroundings for good or for better. When we discover the key within ourselves, it helps activate the openings of the heretofore locked doors of others, as well.

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ, Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Looking for periodic powerful inspiration? Join Rabbi Staum’s new Whatsapp group “Striving Higher.” Email for more info.