How Are We Mechaneich?
Question #1: Chinuch and Chanukah
Dr. Edward Ucater, Ed. D, asks me:
“I know that teaching requires a lot of dedication, but what does chinuch have to do with dedicating the mishkan, chanukas hamishkan?”
Question #2: One School Fits All?
This question was submitted by Dr. Cyrus Kologist, Ph. D:
“Why do so many schools require that you send them all of your sons or all of your daughters? Don’t different siblings sometimes thrive better in dissimilar educational environments?”
Origins of chinuch
Although the word chinuch is used in modern Hebrew to mean “education,” this is not the word’s correct translation. Teaching is limud or shinun — limud is the general word for “teaching” and shinun, which does not have a simple literal translation into English, means teaching something until the student knows it thoroughly. However, the root of the word chinuch appears in Tanach most frequently referring to the dedication of the Mishkan or of its vessels. Since it is difficult to “teach” these appliances, the word chinuch is usually translated in those contexts as dedicated and dedication. This leads us directly to our first question above, that of Ed Ucator. “I know that teaching requires a lot of dedication, but what does chinuch have to do with dedicating the mishkan, chanukas hamishkan?”
Rashi (Bereishis 14:14 and Devorim 20:5) explains that the word chinuch refers to a beginning. Other early commentaries emphasize that chinuch means to become accustomed to doing a particular activity (Rambam, Commentary to Mishnah Menachos 4:4; Rabbeinu Yonah and Metzudas Dovid, Mishlei 22:6). According to the Rambam (ad loc.), the primary meaning of the term chinuch is the training of people, and using the word chinuch in reference to items is a borrowed usage. Just as we say that chinuch is to accustom a person to perform certain activities, we “accustom” the utensils of the Beis Hamikdash to perform their jobs. Rav Hirsch adds that the word chinuch includes dedicating something for a lofty, holy purpose.
Chinuch does not mean book knowledge. It means training. And “training” means doing the mitzvos. Chanukas hamishkan and chanukas hamizbei’ach mean to use them for the first time.
Only twice in Tanach is the word chinuch used in reference to people, and only once in chumash. That place is in parshas Lech Lecha, where the Torah refers to Avraham’s followers as chanichav, “Those he had trained.” The other Biblical place where the word refers to people is in Mishlei, Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko; gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimenu, “Train the young man according to his way! Even when he gets older, he will not diverge from it” (Mishlei 22:6). These are the immortal words of Shlomoh Hamelech explaining the basics of Chinuch. All proper chinuch must be based on understanding the lessons of this pasuk and our Chazal. This verse functions both as a halachic and advisory directive on how to train youth, and also provides a guide to see that a child will develop and mature to fulfill his potential.
Let us see how the traditional commentators explain the pasuk, Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko. Among the classic commentaries, we find two basic approaches to understand what Shlomoh Hamelech was emphasizing.
(1) According to Rashi, the pasuk is simply an observation of human nature.
(2) According to most commentaries, the pasuk also includes a commandment. Allow me to explain the difference in translation:
“However you train a young man according to his way, we know that when he gets older he will not diverge from it” (see Rashi ad loc.) The verse is not an instruction, but an observation, and applies whether one is taught to be good or to be bad. However someone is trained when young, this is the way he will likely act as an adult, provided that he enjoys the direction in which he is going. Rashi points out that at times a person could act inappropriately or even wickedly, as a result of having been given faulty education as a child. As a matter of fact, most people retain some shortcomings in their personality because they enjoyed pursuing undesirable behaviors as children and were not trained to act correctly.
Most authorities understand that Mishlei is providing instruction and not just observation (Metzudas Dovid, Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, Hirsch, Malbim). The word “chanoch” in the pasuk is a command – this is how you are required to train your child! Train the young man according to his way!
What does the pasuk mean by emphasizing al pi darko, according to his way? How do we do this correctly?
The requirement is to assess the specific strengths and needs of each particular child and to train him to serve Hashem in a way that fits his nature (Rabbeinu Yonah, Malbim, Hirsch). Thus, this adage establishes the most important criterion of Torah education – that each child is a different world – and that he must be trained and directed in his avodas Hashem keeping that in mind. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that darko means his unique path – and that the mitzvah of chinuch is to get him used to this path. Train him to follow the proper midos and practices that fit his personality, to develop and improve himself by doing things that are easy for him because they emphasize his tendencies and personality and they utilize his strengths (Rabbeinu Yonah). Darko means that these are things that come naturally to him and that he learns to do them because he wants to, not because he is forced (Meiri). Train him to do mitzvos that fit his nature and his desire (Meiri). This means that he does mitzvos without being disciplined, and the behavior pattern therefore becomes part of his nature (Meiri).
Based on the Gemara (Shabbos 156a), the Gra explains that one should identify the child’s personality traits, his mazel, and train him to use them for Torah. If you force him to squelch his mazel, to repress his natural penchants, the result is that, as soon as no one is watching, he will do what his mazel inclines him to do, without developing it to use for Torah. One whose mazel inclines him to bloodshed can be trained to become a mohel or a shocheit; these inclinations are trained to be used for mitzvos and other positive purposes. This makes him an oveid Hashem. However, if he is not trained to use these inclinations for mitzvos, he will use them for the opposite. The Gra compares this to Dovid Hamelech, whose nature was inclined toward violence, yet, because he was taught when young to use his nature to serve Hashem, he became the poet of Israel.
How to train
Some early authorities emphasize the following: If the child is gifted with skills important in Torah learning, do not train him in other things. However, if he is not a “learner,” train him in an appropriate trade (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz). Again, this way he will learn to use “his way” in a Torah framework.
On the other hand, if you attempt to train a child for something that is against his nature, it will not last (Malbim; Hirsch). He may go through the motions of keeping mitzvos as long as an adult is supervising him closely. But once he is old enough to free himself from supervision, he will likely use his talents in a non-Torah or an anti-Torah direction.
Clearly, there is no “one size fits all” approach to education. One must first identify the appropriate way to educate this particular child, and then provide it.
At times, I have been told that these rules apply only to parents, but not to schools and other chinuch mosados. Unfortunately, this is an error. These cardinal rules of chinuch apply to all chinuch situations without any exceptions. Chinuch must be tailored to the student or child, or it is not chinuch. Obviously, a school cannot create 500 learning programs for 500 students, but insisting that a child attend an educational program not suited for him or her violates chinuch and constitutes abuse of authority. No single method of education is suitable for all children. An education system that assumes that all children should be educated the same way is destined to fail for a large percentage of its students.
A parent should recognize that, usually, a child shares the same interests and inclinations as his parent — but not always. Recognizing this requires much judgment and analysis (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz). Even when the child’s approach to serve Hashem manifests itself in a different way from that of his parents, the goal of Torah education still remains that our children follow the example of their parents’ commitment to Torah values (Hirsch, Devorim 21:18).
It goes without saying that one should not pressure a child to follow the educational or life path of an older sibling. For those who disagree with me, I refer you to Rav Hirsch’s excellent essay at the beginning of parshas Tolados and also to Volume VII of his Collected Writings.
Life without luxury
Some extend the lessons of chanoch lana’ar to other areas. For example, even if one is fortunate to be wealthy, train your child to live without luxuries, since luxuries quickly become necessities (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz). One very great talmid chacham praised his mother for having been careful not to buy him more than he needed. Although his parents were financially comfortable, and able to purchase him whatever he wanted, she was careful not to spoil him, though it would have been only natural for them to do so, all the more so since he was an only child. When, in adult life, he was faced with serious challenges, he was able to meet them and grow as a person and a talmid chacham, only because his parents had trained him to use his own strengths and not to rely on outside help when he was young (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, quoting the Maharam Chagiz).
A child should be taught to observe mitzvos out of joy and not out of fear of punishment. All this is part of the education that children should receive and see in the example provided by their parents (Hirsch, Devorim 21:18).
The most important part of chinuch is training in ahavas Hashem, loving G-d, and yiras Shamayim, fear of Heaven. The parents, themselves, must manifest these qualities. One can educate properly only by example.
Certainly, all chinuch must be appropriate to the age of the child (Meiri; Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz). Expecting a child to sit at the Shabbos table when he is too young to do so is clearly a violation of chanoch lana’ar al pi darko, as is any other expectation that is unrealistic for a child of his age. One should start the training process slowly and gradually get a child in the habit of acting with the proper midos that are appropriate for his personality. He will learn to internalize these midos, and they will become part of him. Gradually, one can increase the requirements and lessons, and he will grow to absorb them (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz).
Mishlei emphasizes that we are educating a na’ar, a young man. Habits are easier to change when one is young, and training a child accomplishes a lot in his proper moral and ethical development. Speak to your child softly, and make sure that you are teaching him in a way that is appropriate to his temperament and to his age (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz).
If we examine the halachos of the ben soreir umoreh in parshas Ki Seitzei, we see a very important lesson. As Rav Hirsch explains, the Torah regards the first three months after a boy turns thirteen as the critical age that determines his moral future. The Torah expects a young man to obey his parents and turn to spiritual values. For this reason, he is called a bar mitzvah — the son of the mitzvah duty assigned by Hashem. The Creator of man ordained that this period awaken within a child a spirit that inspires him to do enthusiastically what is morally noble (Commentary to Devorim 21:18).
Notwithstanding that one should begin training a child when he is young, we should note that the word chinuch includes the training of adults. As we noted above, the one example of the use of the word chinuch in Chumash refers to those individuals whom Avraham Avinu developed and educated, who were adults when they came under his influence.
Chazal also refer to the obligation to train and influence one’s adult children (Kiddushin 30a).
When he gets older…
The entire pasuk in Mishlei reads, Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimenu, “Train the young man according to his way! Even when he gets older, he will not diverge from it.” Having figured out the best approach in training each child for his goal, the long-term results should be that one sees the child develop into an adult who makes the decisions that are consistent with Torah values.
Although most of our discussion has revolved around explaining the pasuk in Mishlei, one should not think that the ideas of chinuch were first invented by Shlomoh Hamelech. Indeed, there are numerous places where the Torah itself teaches these lessons. For example, the mitzvah of the Hagadah on Seder night, transmitting the experience of yetzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, is mentioned four times in the Torah, each time in a variant way – because different children have different needs. As the compiler of the Hagadah demonstrates, offering alternate approaches teaches that we are to take into consideration the individual needs of each child.
I will share with you that, upon this basis, I recently answered a question that had bothered me for years. Four different times, the Torah describes the mitzvah of Hagadah, teaching your son about the Exodus from Egypt on the night of Pesach, and this detail is explained during our Seder with the story of the four sons. Yet, there is very little halachic literature explaining how one should fulfill this mitzvah. Compare this to other mitzvos for which there is extensive discussion among the halachic authorities defining the responsibility of the mitzvah.
My suggested answer is that there cannot be rules for the mitzvah of Hagadah. Since it is a mitzvah of chinuch, it must be tailor-made to the needs of the child involved and, therefore, formal rules are downplayed.
Ben soreir umoreh
We mentioned above that the purpose of the Torah’s parsha of ben soreir umoreh is to teach many of the rules of education. In this context, I encourage our readers to read Rav Hirsch’s comments on the parsha and his essays on education in Volume 7 of the Collected Writings. There, he analyzes many of the halachos of ben soreir umoreh, and, in his typical style, he develops brilliant insights into proper Torah education.
This teaches a very deep lesson in education: “These words hold the key to the secret of proper child-raising. A father and a mother united as one in their love for their child and in complete agreement on the principles by which he should be raised… But such unity can be achieved only if the child’s father and mother are united also in their own subordination to the Will of G-d. If they view the sacred function of child-rearing as their most sacred task, to be performed for Hashem and in keeping with His holy Will… If His judgments serve as a matter of course to resolve any disagreements” (Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Volume 7, Page 348).
It is incumbent on any educator to study the commentaries to the pasuk and practice them. I find it highly surprising that many people who consider themselves educators have never bothered to study the verse Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko with the classic commentators. In fact, one does not require the classic commentators; but a simple reading of the pasuk sets every parent and educator on his or her way.