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Posted on February 19, 2004 By HaRav Chaim Halpern | Level: | Tag: Parenting

Adapted from two public shiurim recently given by Rav Chaim Halpern shlita,
rov of Beis Hamedrash Divrei Chaim, London

What is Chinuch?

It is obvious that before embarking upon any mitzvah, one requires
preparation to translate knowledge into practice: approaching Bar Mitzvah,
a boy learns the halachos of tefillin; upon becoming engaged, one attends
choson classes etc. Unfortunately, not very much is taught or learnt
regarding the obligation and the privileges of chinuch. In this regard, let
us revisit some principles involving the practical applications of chinuch.

When approaching this all-important topic, it is noteworthy that there is
no specific section dealing with chinuch within our Shulchan Aruch. While
there is a clear and designated procedure discussed in 70 simonim
(sections) for the full preparation of rendering an animal glatt kosher, in
matters of chinuch however, there is no one course of action, no single
formula when dealing with the most precious of commodities, the moulding of
pureYiddishe neshomos. Instead we are taught “Chanoch lana’ar al pi darco”,
“train the youth according to his way” (Mishlei 22:6).

It is a daunting task; an awesome responsibility and challenge that parents
cannot shy away from. To be sure, chinuch needs to be approached with due
diligence and with reverence appropriate to the task at hand. It is worth
bearing in mind an interpretation of the posuk “This is the book (sefer) of
the descendants of man” (Bereishis 5:1). Rearing a child is equated with
the writing a sefer torah. From the opening word “Bereishis” the beginning
of creation and life up until the last words of the Torah that documents
the end of Moshe’s life, every word has to be written with the utmost care,
attention and preciseness. Chinuch similarly starts at the beginning of the
child’s creation, preparing the human being to cope with life and all its
complexities, up to the very end. And akin to writing a sefer torah, both
are time consuming, require adherence to halachah and involve kedusha,
holiness.

While there is a dispute between the rishonim as to whether chinuch is a
mitzvah min haTorah, a logical outflow from the need to fulfill mitzvos
(Ramban), or if its derivation is from midivrei kabbalah, there seems to be
no disagreement of the implicit obligation for parents to raise children to
follow the true Torah path, educating and imbibing them with good midos. We
have to discuss, what exactly are the obligations of chinuch? And how is
this accomplished?

Groundwork: Self-education & By Example

The Chazon Ish used to say that the obligation of chinuch commences years
before having children and even before someone begins to contemplate
marriage! It begins with the person himself, with a self-realization as to
how he must behave and conduct his own life as a mentsch. Only once a
person has mastered the technique of self-education, is he then in the
suitable position to attempt to educate his own children.

The behaviour of children bears an uncanny resemblance to the conduct of
their parents. The home is the bastion of chinuch. And children’s most
immediate and powerful role models are their parents. They establish the
Torah framework to the home. They can enthuse their children of the
pleasantness and beauty of Torah living, and ensure that their enthusiasm
rubs off onto their offspring to follow in its ways. Hashem said about
Avraham, “For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his
household after him [written in the future tense] that they keep the way of
Hashem [written in the present tense].” (Bereishis 18:19). The latter part
of this pasuk could refer to the parents, hence where a person himself
“keeps the way of Hashem” [in the present], this lays the groundwork
whereupon he is well placed to “command and instruct his children” to act
likewise.

Parents must act by example, advertising before they children to “do as
they see and not just to do as I say”. Only where our children witness the
enactment of the good midos that the parents wish them to emulate, only
where they regularly sense their parents’ joyous approach to mitzvos and
pursuing a Torah life, can they be expected to follow suite. This truly
leaves an ever-lasting impression.

Take the following scenario. In one day of the holidays, your family goes
and takes a boat trip, where the price for children over twelve is £10, and
half-price for children under twelve. As your child is just a few days over
twelve, there is the urge to say that he is under age and pay half-price.
While you may indeed get away with it and cut your costs, nevertheless you
have lied and shown your children that one may lie to gain money. How can
parents impress youngsters never to utter a sheker if they themselves speak
falsely in the presence of their young where it suits them? Parents should
continually stress and demonstrate that emes, honesty in every
circumstance, is a midah that must be sought after, whatever the cost or
set of circumstances.

The father’s example and enthusiasm to Torah learning should be passed onto
his children. A father once asked Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach why the
children of a simple Jew became more excited regarding Torah learning than
his own. In his gentle, honest manner, the gadol hador made the following
observation. “When your neighbour comes home from a shiur, he does not stop
commenting to his wife and family on the wonderful Torah material that he
has heard. Naturally, this zeal and gusto seeps through. You, on the other
hand, return from a shiur and proceed to criticise the speaker, content and
presentation. Is it at all surprising that your children adopt your
negative attitude to Torah?”

There is an obligation for a father to teach his children Torah as it says
in the Shema, “You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you
shall speak of them while you sit in your home while you walk on the way.”
(Devarim 6:7). The Kesav Sofer (Eikev) interprets this posuk in the most
beautiful manner. Torah adherence by children should not just be in the
protective environment of the home while under parental supervision. There
is a need to inculcate into children, that to live the life of a Torah Jew
demands a full-time commitment, even beyond their parents’ gaze. The
teaching of Torah to our children while they “sit in your home” should
therefore be later manifest even when they venture outside “while you walk
on the way”.

Tefillah & Chinuch

There is one important ingredient that cannot be overlooked. The successful
chinuch of a child, in the words of the Brisker Rov, is based upon the
“tatta’s lernen und der mama’s treren”, “the father’s Torah learning and
the mother’s tears”. Without placing tefillah into the equation, says the
Alshich HaKodosh, it is impossible to have guaranteed success in educating
our children.

Many have questioned why the shemoneh esrei, that contains a wide range of
human requests from health to sustenance and peace, nevertheless does not
include any reference to chinuch. The tefillah for chinuch is, however,
found within the birchas haTorah, the blessing made on the Torah,
instituted before shemoneh esrei and according to most opinion is min
haTorah: “and let us and our offspring.all know Your Name and learn Torah
for His Name”. This insertion clearly demonstrates how vital a tefillah is,
an integral component of chinuch.

A teacher in one of our local schools was explaining to his class the
importance of reciting birchas haTorah, and how a person should concentrate
in this blessing for the chinuch of his children to follow in the footsteps
of Torah and mitzvos. From the back of the classroom, a child cried out,
“Now I understand! Now I understand!”

After the lesson the child explained his new insight. “Every morning I
watch my father say this brochoh. When he reaches the words “and let us and
our offspring all know Your Name and learn Torah for His Name”, before
continuing, my father stops and counts on his fingers. This had always
puzzled me until now. It has dawned on me that in his concentration of this
brochoh, he is thinking and enumerating each one of his children.” When
recounting this, the teacher added, “Now I understand why this family is
boruch Hashem blessed with such beautiful and refined children!”

Child & Parent: Forging a Link

The focus of religious life is in the bayis, the Jewish home. The home
offers the child the emotional stability as he grows up and the essential
Torah education built upon fostering the relationship between parent and
child. The key to chinuch lies in forging a meaningful and strong link
between parent and child, one that can develop as the child grows up. The
words av and ben, father and son, unite together to form even, a rock-like
foundation (Rashi, Vayechi). How often do children lament, “I have no
meaningful relationship with my father”! The ‘generation gap’ has to be
successfully bridged if the heritage of our Torah is to be enthusiastically
passed on.

Reb Sholom Shwadron recounted how a Yerushalmi Jew observed a large family
trooping to the local store to buy afikomon presents, while weighing up the
best way of economising their expenses. Approaching the parents, he smiled
and suggested “I know of the best present for your children and it will not
cost you much”. Seeing their eyes light up, he continued. “Go home and
spend quality time with your children. There is no substitute to this”.

There is no substitute to an ideal stable home where parent and child long
for each other, and where each long to spend time together. It is worth
highlighting the importance attached to this, as explained by the Chofetz
Chaim (end of Chomas HaDas II). “Although it is mandatory for a father to
designate fixed times for Torah learning.and to perform all the mitzvos,
there is an even greater obligation for each person to sanctify a portion
of his time to cleverly supervise the chinuch of his children so that they
journey in the path of our fathers and teachers”. What more can one add to
these holy words?

There has to be quality time of a spiritual nature, dealing with developing
good midos, Torah and yiras shomayim. As parents are busily engaged in
professional endeavours, chavrusas and communal affairs, the most suitable
‘free time’ for one’s children is at mealtimes and in particular on the day
of Shabbos. Running from one Kiddush to another and socialising with guests
is deplorable where this negates devoting time to each child. Singing
zemiros and allowing children to recount the material and to say over
divrei Torah learnt at school make for a potent aspect of chinuch. Why
deprive our children of the indelible impression and of the ever-lasting
impression of the true beauty enveloping Shabbos? The extension to
“v’shomru bnei Yisrael es haShabbos, the Jewish nation’s observance of
Shabbos”, will be where it is perpetuated “l’dorousom bris olam, extending
for generations an eternal covenant” (Shemos 31:16). Children will then
continue the legacy of their parents.

Parents should demonstrate attention and concern to all their children and
not just to those successful, instant ‘nachas-giving’ children. Where
parents do grant attention to the under-developed child, it is possible for
him to excel and advance far greater than his above-average siblings (see
Kli Yekar, Vayechi). For chinuch to be potent, however, it is necessary for
the parent to strip away all the various barriers and impediments, to reach
out and touch the child and thereby develop his potential.

Problems In Chinuch

As with every endeavour, involvement in the field of chinuch recognises
that some problems will occur, and should this happen, that they be
sincerely acknowledged and addressed in turn.

Denial is the worst thing possible since this negates any serious attempts
at confronting the dilemma head-on, so as to find a satisfactory solution.
In much the same way that a person will be encouraged and applauded through
consulting specialist doctors when dealing with a physical ailment, it is
essential to know that there is no shame whatsoever in discussing
situations with mechanchim and asking advice from experts.

The author of the Chovos HaTalmidim was an eminent mechanach in pre-war
Poland. In the excellent introductory to his sefer (that is recommended
reading for every parent and mechanach), he notes that when dealing with
any form of rebellion, it is important for parents to immediately shift the
blame off their children and onto themselves. Far from deflecting
responsibility, parents should undertake a detailed chesbon hanefesh
(critical self-analysis) so identify whether they might have not devoted
sufficient attention, love and time of their children and thereby seek to
rectify the problem.

Protecting Our Children

Our children are very impressionable and their cause is not helped by the
attraction of Western culture that forcefully invades the sanctity of the
Jewish home. This takes on various forms from unsuitable reading material,
to television and the Internet. The negative impact upon our children
warrants much cause for concern. From my discussions with youngsters and
their mashgiachim, it is clear that the impression forged in their youth is
not easily forgotten ten and fifteen years later.

Our children are so vulnerable to the yetzer hara’s web and trail of
destruction. Teachers are immediately able to observe which children have
been exposed to the harmful and corrosive influence of television, violent
computer games, CD’s, DVD’s, the Internet, and mobile phones with all the
accompanying gadgets. And what about the dangers of the Internet? I know of
a youngster, who at the same time as having a daf yomi shiur playing was,
with one click of the mouse, being exposed to poisonous immoral material.
The shiur was, of course, merely a cover up.

In his commentary to the prohibition against murder, immorality and
stealing in the Ten Commandments, the Targum Yonasan (Shemos 20:13) notes,
“in the house of a Jew there should not be seen any murder, immorality or
robbery”. Regarding the latter, is this exhorting a Jew to ensure that all
the doors are bolted with extra locks while doubling the home security and
alarm system? The message is where a child is exposed to any action of
robbery or misdemeanour, this cannot but leave a negative impact upon him.
A Jew should therefore ensure that his impressionable youngster not be
exposed to any action that opposes the Torah law.

While it is not possible to block out the immoral world environment
completely, at the very minimum, it is incumbent upon a parent to know the
behaviour of his children and to regularly check and effectively monitor
their welfare. An integral part of chinuch is instructing our children of
what forms of behaviour are unacceptable. One who is not careful about this
and is not in control of his household, is himself deemed a sinner
(Shulchan Aruch, Even Ezer 178:21). The responsibility lies with the
parents to be fully alert and aware. Parents have to earn their children’s
trust and remain sufficiently in touch, such that the children will not
conceal anything from their parents. This does not, however, call for
parents to become detectives, cunningly scrutinising the actions and
behaviour of their children.

Where children are chas vesholem mixing in bad company, parents have to
tactfully make the child aware, “As your parent, I understand that this
child is not a good influence upon you.” The Torah relates that Sarah acted
in such a manner when she saw Yishmael acting inappropriately in Yitzchak’s
presence (Bereishis 21:9). While the parent must not speak detrimentally
about a child’s friends, the child should be made aware that while ‘one has
to be good to everyone, one does not have to be good with everyone’. To
preserve a child’s spiritual growth, it is necessary for the parent to
intervene to ‘cleverly supervise’ for the child to part company with those
having a negative influence upon him.

In the next shiur we will iyh discuss teaching our children Torah,
disciplining our children while imbuing into them timeless Torah values.




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