The Mitzva of Chanukah is a candle, (Ish U Beiso) each man and his household… Tractate Shabbos 21B
Of all the important tasks of life almost nothing is more important and significant on both an individual and a national level than raising children. It’s not an exaggeration or cliché’ to say so. It’s no mistake that the verse which describes the Jewish People’s descent into Egypt mirrors the Talmud’s primary prescription for the Mitzvah of Chanukah, “These are the names of the Children of Israel who came down to Egypt, Yaakov (Ish U Beiso) each man and his household.” Rav Hirsch points out in his Haggadah that when it came time for the grand exodus the Jewish People were configured as families around the hearth of the table eating the Karbon Pesach, as we sit ever since on that same night. We came down as families. We left as families. The survival unit and basic building block of the nation is the family. We are a nation of families.
It is no mistake that Chanukah is a family centered, child focused Yom Tov. The expression, the name Chanukah has as its roots in the world Chinuch, education! You would think that since Chinuch – Educating children is such a critical task then like every other activity in Jewish life there would be a handbook, a Code of Jewish Law with precisely defined “dos and don’ts”, but there is not. We have very few detailed instructions. King Solomon penned these words, “Educate the child according to his way, and so when he grows older, he will not depart from it”. This is one of the only general instructions we have to chew on, focused on this subject. There can be no monolithic approach. Every child has his way!
The Piaseczna Rebbe writes in his introduction to Chovos HaTalmidim, which is a must-read for parents and teachers, “Each and every parent and teacher knows that the small children and young students who stand before them today will not remain small and young forever.” This beautiful phrase reminds the parent and teacher to see the child, not only as he is here and now but to see him as he will be in the future. It helps emphasize the second part of the famous verse, “educate a child according to his way…”. That “way” must take into consideration the future of the child.
Rabbi Kalish from Waterbury told our teachers years ago that we too often forget that vital second part. He said that for example, two boys missed Davening in the morning. “I have enough leverage to get them to come to Davening tomorrow but more importantly I want them to come in 30 years. Educate the child according to his way so that when he grows old, he will not depart from it. It may not be worth winning a battle if the war will be lost in the end.
Just learning to consider the future slows down the response time of the adult and changes the education task from a management job to a leadership role. What’s the difference? A child spills a glass of milk. A manager is upset and lectures the child about not being so clumsy and reminds them to be more careful next time. This may or may not work in the short run but it will likely have no lasting, long-term value. The child may be a little scared for now but he or she has not learned or really changed. A leader sees the future and realizes that this 8 year-old will be in our house for the next 10 years and we have that amount of time to teach them in a non-confrontational and reactive way, and to train them about where to place a glass of milk on the table so it will not spill. A manager is reactive to past events. A leader sees the future. He sees the future in the present.
The Piaseczna Rebbe further writes, “Parents and teachers have to be aware that their mission is to discover and nurture the children of HASHEM and Gedolei Yisrael. They must view their children and students as great Neshamos that are still immature – and themselves as responsible to help them flourish and grow.” Implied in this statement is that education is less about pushing information in but mining out latent talent out from within, not teaching children what to think but how to think.
And so, we declare when lighting the Menorah, “These candles are holy and we have no permission to make use of them, but rather only to see them in order to give thanks to Your great name for Your miracles, and Your wonders, and Your salvations!” The children we have are not ours. They are not for us! They are here to express, in their own way, the great wonders of HASHEM and Chinuch may just be the essence of Chanukah!