Thoughts on Chinuch

Since this week’s parsha discusses the Tochacha, whose entire purpose is the education of the Jewish people, it is certainly an appropriate time to discuss:

Thoughts on Chinuch

Question #1: Chinuch or Myself?

Is it better to train my children to do hachnasas orchim, or to do the mitzvah myself?

Question #2: Who Pays?

Whose responsibility is it to pay for the Torah education of those children whose parents cannot afford it?

Question #3: Tongue in Cheek

What delicacy should one ideally serve one’s guests?


The Torah teaches that Avraham Avinu ran to his cattle to shecht fresh meat for his guests. According to the Gemara (Bava Metzia 86b), which Rashi quotes, he slaughtered not one, but three animals, in order to serve a delicacy to each of his guests – an entire tongue, prepared and served with mustard. I have been told that there was an old custom to serve tongue as a delicacy for Yom Tov meals, particularly when having guests. (I am disappointed to note that I do not think I have ever been the guest of people who have that custom. Do you know anyone who observes it, and can you figure out how to get me invited?)

In the context of this discussion, Rashi is bothered by a question. Immediately after Avraham Avinu slaughters the bulls, while he is acting with total alacrity to perform the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim, the pasuk notes that he gave them to “the lad.” The question is: Avraham Avinu was a very wealthy man, with many servants who could have taken care of his guests. Obviously, he wanted to perform the mitzvah himself (mitzvah bo yoseir mibeshelucho, see Kiddushin 41a). If this is true, why did he give this part of the mitzvah to someone else?

Rashi, quoting the Midrash Rabbah, explains that “the lad” is Yishmael, and that Avraham’s goal was to train him in the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. How does Rashi know this? The answer is that otherwise Avraham Avinu would not have allowed someone else to participate in the mitzvah. For this reason, even those who can afford household help should make the beds and prepare the meals for guests, so that they can perform the mitzvah themselves.

Rashi’s explanation assumes that the mitzvah of training your children to perform mitzvos is more important than doing the mitzvah yourself, and therefore the na’ar must have been Yishmael.

From this it would appear that we see an important lesson in chinuch. Often we could gain much more spiritually by performing a mitzvah ourselves than by spending time training our children to do the mitzvah. But some authorities rule that it is our halachic responsibility to train our child, even when we seem to gain less spiritually as a result. As we will soon see, not everyone agrees with this assessment.

Chinuch Controversy

When the Gemara in Bava Metzia discusses Avraham’s interaction with the angels, it makes the following statement: “Whatever Avraham did for the angels by himself, Hakodosh Boruch Hu later performed for his children Himself, and whatever Avraham did via an agent, Hakodosh Boruch Hu performed for his children via an agent.” Thus, the Gemara implies that there is criticism of Avraham for not doing these mitzvos himself.

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that, indeed, Avraham Avinu felt that he should include Yishmael actively in the mitzvah. However, the Gemara is teaching that it would have been better chinuch for Yishmael to see Avraham Avinu perform all the chesed himself and not discharge some of the responsibility (Dorash Moshe, new edition).

Chinuch or Myself?

We can now address our opening question: Is it better to train my children to do hachnasas orchim, or to do the mitzvah myself?

According to Rav Moshe, it is better to do the mitzvah myself in a way that my child knows that I am doing it. I should have the child involved when I cannot perform all the chesed myself in an efficient way.

Partners in alacrity

We should note that the wording of the Midrash Rabbah varies slightly from what Rashi writes. The Midrash Rabbah states vayitein el hanaar zeh Yishmael bishvil lezarzo bemitzvos, which translates as “And he gave it to the lad – this was Yishmael – in order to have him treat mitzvos with alacrity.” Whereas when Rashi quotes this, he says simply lechancho bamitzvos, “to train him in mitzvos.” The Midrash adds another lesson. Avraham Avinu was not only training Yishmael to perform hachnasas orchim himself, but he wanted him to learn to do it with zerizus, promptly and with enthusiasm. Avraham Avinu felt that although one usually teaches best by way of example, a child learns the way of his parents not only by observation, but also by participation. When a child becomes a partner in his parents’ chesed endeavors, the child’s learns to become a zariz in chesed.

His brothers or his sons?

We find a similar lesson borne out in another Midrash Rabbah. The pasuk in Bereishis (31:46) teaches that to make a covenant with Lavan, Yaakov told “his brothers” to take stones. Midrash Rabbah (74:13) points out that Yaakov had only one brother, and that brother, Eisav, was not with him at the moment. The Midrash, cited there by Rashi, explains that his “brothers” must have been Yaakov’s sons, whom he called his brothers.

The question is, what are the Midrash and Rashi teaching us here? Why does the Torah refer to Yaakov’s sons as his brothers? Let the Torah call them his sons!

Rav Shlomo Wolbe explains that part of chinuch is to have your children become your partners. If a child feels that he is a partner in his parent’s mitzvah and chesed activities, he does not feel that he is being forced to do something, or that his parents are providing for someone else rather than attending to the child’s needs. Quite the contrary, he feels honored by the responsibility (Zeriyah Uvinyan Bechinuch, page 27). Thus, Avraham Avinu understood that the proper chinuch is to make your child a partner in the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim, notwithstanding that otherwise one should perform the mitzvah oneself.

Bear in mind that this does not mean that the child does most of the work. The parent does most of the work, and incorporates the child in a way that the child feels honored to be a partner in the parents’ chesed endeavors. When the child sees that the parent always runs to do the chesed himself or herself, and then involves the child in part of the project, the child understands instinctively that the parent is involving them not because the child is doing the parent a favor, but in order to share the performance of the mitzvah with the child.

Accomplishments of a mechanech

Someone who implements the goals of chinuch accomplishes tremendous things, as we see in the following passage of Gemara (Taanis 24a). Rav went to a place that was suffering from a severe drought. In earlier days, when neither piped nor bottled water was available, a drought was a calamitous circumstance. The lives of all individuals in the community, both wealthy and poor, are endangered. One cannot live without water, and one needs water not only for drinking, but also for crops and livestock, without even mentioning the need to bathe and launder clothing.

Rav declared a fast day, which the community began observing, but rain still did not fall, and the fervent prayers of the community did not seem to be having any obvious influence.

The gabbai then asked a particular individual to be the chazzan. When the individual chosen began reciting the repetition of the shemoneh esrei as the representative of the famished and thirsty community, as he said the words mashiv haruach, the wind began blowing, and when he recited the words umorid hagashem, it began to rain, thus relieving the problem for the entire area. Thus, the merits of the prayers of this one individual saved the entire community not only from financial devastation but from almost certain death!

Rav inquired of the chazzan what his occupation was. He answered: “I am a melamed of children, and I teach the children of the poor just like the children of the wealthy.” (In those days, this was not a job in a local school, but it was arranged on an individual basis. Usually, the financially stable members of a community could get together and hire an excellent rebbe for their children. The poor, unfortunately, sometimes had to do without.)

Continued the melamed, “If someone cannot afford to pay my wages, I teach his child without pay. Furthermore, I own fish ponds, and whenever a child misbehaves, I bribe him with fish until I get him to straighten out. I then spend time making him feel good until I succeed in getting him to learn Torah.” Do we have any question why Hashem answered the prayers of the melamed!

The Ben Yehoyada explains in greater depth that this melamed was rewarded and listened to because he treated the poor and the wealthy in the same way. Water is a great equalizer. It provides for everyone equally. In a place without any water, the wealthy will die also. Furthermore, there are machlokos regarding irrigation ditches, because each individual wants more water at the expense of his fellow. This is not so regarding rainwater, since each household receives water directly from Above that others cannot claim.

The Ben Yehoyada notes further the method that this melamed used to encourage his talmidim. In an era when rabbeyim would resort to potching to get a child to learn, this melamed used fish as a positive reward.

In addition, fish are concealed from the eye — no ayin hora controls them. Rain is similar; it absorbs into the ground, so no ayin hora sees it, and it always flows to a lower place, reflecting humility. This is again similar to the humility so obvious in the behavior of this melamed that we are not even told his name. Such recognition would run counter to his way of serving Hashem.

Where was the community?

There is a question germane to this story: The Gemara states that the melamed involved was teaching the children of the poor of his own volition. No one in the community was making sure that they had a rebbe. However, this story took place hundreds of years after the days of the great tzadik, a kohein gadol named Yehoshua ben Gamla, who had created a revolution in Torah education by requiring that communities create yeshivah schools and support them.

To quote the Gemara (Bava Basra 21a): Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav, “Indeed, this man named Yehoshua ben Gamla should be remembered favorably, for, were it not for him, Torah would have been forgotten from the Jewish people. Prior to his time, someone who had a father, his father taught him Torah, and one who had no father did not study Torah”. First, Yehoshua ben Gamla introduced that there be melamdim available in Yerushalayim to teach Torah without charge to the student. He eventually expanded this program until every city and town had Torah teachers available for every Jewish boy, beginning from the age of six or seven. His ruling established this as a permanent requirement incumbent upon Jewish communities: They are obligated to guarantee that every Jewish boy can study Torah. Subsequent to this time, a community that failed to assume this responsibility was excommunicated, and if this failed to alleviate the situation, destroyed (Shabbos 119b; Rambam, Hilchos Talmud Torah 2:1).

So, the question is raised: Why did it fall upon this melamed to provide personally for the poor children in his town? Why did the community not assume responsibility that there be melamdim available to teach them?

We do not know why this community had not made arrangements to have Torah taught to all its students. But we do see that this melamed took the responsibility on himself when he saw that the need was not being fulfilled. Single-handedly, he was the Rav Yehoshua ben Gamla of his town!

At this point, it is appropriate for us to discuss one of our opening questions: Whose responsibility is it to pay for the Torah education of those children whose parents cannot afford it?

Based on the Gemara in Bava Basra, we can answer one of our opening questions: We see that the Jewish community must assume this responsibility.

Many students

The Mishnah at the beginning of Pirkei Avos quotes that one of the three lessons that the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah emphasized was he’emidu talmidim harbei. But the literal translation of the word he’emidu, means to “get them to stand up.” What does that mean?

One early anthology, the Midrash Shmuel, quotes several approaches. One approach is that it is an instruction to the philanthropists of a community: Provide financial support for as many students as possible. Do not rest on your laurels that you have already been a major backer of Torah! As long as there are more potential students, find means to have them supported.

Growth through teaching

The Midrash Shmuel mentions another answer to explain the words he’emidu talmidim harbei. The Midrash Shmuel mentions another answer to explain the words he’emidu talmidim harbei. This Mishnah addresses the rebbe, principal, rav or rosh yeshivah — provide instruction to as many students as you can. The more students one teaches, the greater the rebbe will grow in learning. One grows in Torah by answering questions of students and by learning how to explain the subject matter to different minds, each of which thinks somewhat differently. The Midrash Shmuel understands that this Mishnah is an extension of an idea we find in a different Mishnah (Avos 2:7) — marbeh eitzah marbeh tevuna, the more advice, the more understanding is produced. In this context, this is understood to mean: The more one is placed in a position of providing quality advice to people, the deeper one’s understanding grows. This is something to which any experienced rav, social worker, psychologist or community activist will readily agree.

There is also a halachic side to this lesson, quoted by the Midrash Shmuel. When Rav, the great amora, was asked a question in the very complicated laws that determine whether an animal is kosher or not (the laws of hilchos tereifos), he would show it to and discuss it with many people before ruling on it. Although clearly his level of Torah erudition was far greater than that of the people with whom he was discussing the question, by explaining to them the issues involved, hearing their questions and sharing insights with them, he grew in his own depth of understanding of the topic.

More talmidei chachamim

Yet another approach mentioned by the Midrash Shmuel to explain the Mishnah’s statement he’emidu talmidim harbei provides an additional insight to the laws of chinuch. In this approach, the Mishnah is addressed to a lay person whose sons have demonstrated a particularly strong desire to grow in learning. “Do not have the attitude that since I allowed one of my sons to become a talmid chacham I do not need to encourage the others to grow in learning to the same extent. One’s other children should also be encouraged to learn to the extent that they can. And, if they demonstrate a facility in learning, one should do whatever possible to encourage them to continue.


Returning to the story of the melamed whose prayer brought rain on his entire city,we see the tremendous sense of responsibility this melamed felt and demonstrated for all the children in his town. This brings to mind a closely related point, also made by Rav Wolbe, based on the following passage of Gemara.

The Gemara (Makkos 11a) mentions that someone who killed a person out of negligence must remain in the city of refuge (ir miklat) until the kohein gadol dies. The Gemara asks: Why is the length of stay in the ir miklat dependent on the kohein gadol? The Gemara explains that the kohein gadol was responsible for davening that such calamities not occur.

The question is: Where do we find that the kohein gadol is responsible for davening that things don’t go wrong? Rav Wolbe explains that this is a given. Although the Torah never gives us such a commandment, it is understood that if one is responsible for educating people, automatically, this means that he davens for them. Just as  parents do not need to be told to daven for their children’s wellbeing, health, and success, a teacher, rabbi, kohein gadol or anyone else responsible for other individuals does not require to be told to daven for them. It should come naturally.


We have learned the importance of training a child properly in the fulfillment of mitzvos. In prioritizing our lives, we should always place the educating and developing of the future generation at the top of our list, since this is where the future of the Jewish people lies.


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 shinunlimud 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.

Understanding Mishlei

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:

Rashi’s approach

“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!

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.

Tailor-made chinuch

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.

Like father?

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.

Age appropriate

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).

Training adults

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.

Torah chinuch

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.

More on Chinuch

Question #1: His own Lulav?

father-and-son-with-lulav“Am I required to purchase for my son his own lulav?”

Question #2: Three-year old Tzitzis?

“At what age should my son start wearing tzitzis?”

Question #3: Minor Kohanim

“I know that one must be very careful that a kohen, even an infant, does not become contaminated with the tumah of a meis. Yet I rarely see a child under bar mitzvah duchen. Is this consistent?”

Question #4: Kiruv Kohanim

“We are in the process of being mekarev a fellow who is a kohen. He enjoys joining us for our family outings, and we love to visit museums. Could this present potential halachic issues?”


In the beginning of parshas Tolados, the Torah mentions the birth and upbringing of Yaakov and Eisav. In what many consider the most controversial passage in his commentary on Chumash, Rav Hirsch criticizes the education that Eisav received. This provides an opportunity to continue our discussion on some of the aspects of the mitzvos of chinuch that we began a few weeks ago.

In this context, we find the following passage of Gemara:

“A minor who knows how to shake a lulav in the way that halachah requires is obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav; one old enough to put on a talis properly is obligated in tzitzis; if he is old enough to protect his tefillin, his father must purchase for him tefillin; when he knows how to talk, his father teaches him Torah and the Shma” (Sukkah 42a; see also Arachin 2b and Tosefta, Chagigah Chapter 1).

We see from the Gemara that we should begin teaching a child Torah and training him to observe mitzvos at the earliest age possible for him to perform the mitzvah correctly. One of the first lessons of mitzvas chinuch that we see here is that the mitzvah is not simply to demonstrate to a child a few times before his bar mitzvah how the mitzvah is performed. The mitzvah is to train him from when he begins to be able to perform the mitzvah properly, and we then begin to encourage him to observe the mitzvos. Thus, as soon as he begins to speak, we should have him recite pesukim. When old enough to wear a talis properly, we should train him in the mitzvah of tzitzis, and when old enough to perform the mitzvah of lulav properly, we should train him to observe that mitzvah.

Why are tefillin different?

When the Gemara mentions that a child should begin to observe mitzvos, it teaches that his father is obligated to purchase tefillin for his son, but it does not say that the father is required to buy either tzitzis or a lulav for his son. This implies that only in the case of tefillin is the father required to make a purchase, but not for the mitzvos of tzitzis or lulav. Why are tefillin different?

The answer is that someone cannot observe the mitzvah of tefillin properly without owning his own pair, and it is obvious that a child would not have the means with which to purchase tefillin. Therefore, the mitzvah of chinuch requires the boy’s father to purchase a pair of tefillin for him.

However, Chazal did not require the father to purchase the four species or tzitzis for his son. Why not? In the case of the four species, the son should be able to perform the mitzvah by using his father’s, and it is therefore unnecessary to require the father to purchase his son a set (Tosafos, Arachin 2b).

What about tzitzis?

Regarding the mitzvah of tzitzis, Tosafos rules that, even for adults, Chazal did not require one to purchase a four-cornered garment in order to fulfill the mitzvah. Rather, someone wishing to wear a four-cornered garment is required to have tzitzis attached to it. In the days of Chazal, one did not purchase a garment with tzitzis, or even purchase tzitzis threads to place on a garment. Clothing was made at home, and tzitzis threads, which require being manufactured for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah, were spun at home. Therefore, there was no requirement to purchase tzitzis for a child, but, that when the household provided all its members with home-made clothing, it provided the men-folk, including those under bar mitzvah, with four-cornered garments and spun tzitzis to attach to them (Tosafos, Arachin 2b).

“Protecting” tefillin

The Gemara rules that when a child is old enough to “protect his tefillin,” we should purchase for him a pair of tefillin. What does it mean that he is old enough to “protect his tefillin”? Some understand this to mean that he understands that he should not bring his tefillin into the bathroom (Rashi, Sukkah 42a). Others understand this to mean that he can keep a guf naki, meaning that he is old enough to be careful not to release flatulence while wearing tefillin, which is prohibited because of bizuy mitzvah, treating mitzvos with disdain (Rashi, Brachos 5b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 37:2). There is obviously a major difference between these two approaches: A fairly young child can be entrusted not to bring tefillin into a bathroom, whereas someone considerably older may still have difficulty maintaining control and awareness to remove his tefillin when he feels that his stomach is somewhat unsettled.

Contemporary practice

Following the second approach mentioned above, which is the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, common practice today is that we do not have a child wear tefillin until he is almost the age of bar mitzvah. This is because we are concerned that he will be unable to keep a guf naki. Therefore, we wait until the child is almost the age that he is required min haTorah to wear tefillin, and only then do we train him how to wear tefillin.

Minor kohanim

At this point, let us address one of our opening questions.

“I know that one must be very careful that a kohen, even an infant, does not become contaminated with the tumah of a meis. Yet I rarely see a child under bar mitzvah duchen. Is this consistent?”

This question needs to be dealt with as two different headings. The first topic is the prohibition of causing someone to violate a halachah. The second topic is understanding how the mitzvah of chinuch applies to the specific mitzvah of birkas kohanim. I will first discuss the topic of causing a minor kohen child to become tamei.

Causing someone to violate the Torah

It is prohibited min haTorah to be the direct cause of a child violating a prohibition of the Torah (Yevamos 114a). For example, providing a child with non-kosher food or bringing a minor kohen into a house that contains tumas meis causes the child to violate what the Torah says. The Torah prohibits doing this, even when the child himself is too young to be responsible to fulfill the mitzvah and is not commanded to observe it. As a matter of fact, this law applies min hatorah even to a newborn (Magen Avraham 343:2). It also applies even when a child is, unfortunately, being raised in a non-observant way. Therefore, it is forbidden for someone who has a babysitting job to feed a Jewish child non-kosher food, or to serve non-kosher food to a Jewish child in a school cafeteria. Similarly, it is prohibited to dress a baby in a blanket or clothes made of shatnez (Shu”t Beis Yehudah, Yoreh Deah #45).

Tumah is worse

In the particular instance of causing a kohen to become tamei, there is an additional violation, specific to this mitzvah. The Rambam rules that it is forbidden for someone to make an adult kohen tamei and, at times, this may involve violating a prohibition min haTorah (Rambam, Hilchos Aveil 3:5). The Rambam rules: “If the kohen is unaware that what he did is forbidden, and the person who made him tamei knows that it is, then that person violates the lo saaseh. If the kohen knows that it is forbidden, then the other person violates only lifnei iveir lo sitein michshol, do not place a stumbling block before a blind person (Vayikra 19:14).” Chazal interpret this pasuk to mean that one may not give someone bad advice, nor cause him to violate a prohibition.

Kiruv kohanim

Thus, we can now also address another of our opening questions. “We are in the process of being mekarev a fellow who is a kohen. He enjoys joining us for our family outings, and we love to visit museums. Could this present potential halachic issues?”

In a different article published in this column many years ago, I discussed at length the shaylos that exist concerning whether a kohen may visit a museum. (A copy of that article, entitled Finding a Compatible Place for an Extended Family Outing, is available on the website Based on our current discussion, we are now aware that the same issues exist if I cause a kohen to enter a museum. Thus, taking a nephew who is a kohen on a family trip to a museum may involve the same halachic problem, and I should consult my rav or posek. Bringing our friend the kohen involves the same halachic issues, notwithstanding the fact that he, himself, has no concerns about the matter. As we saw above in the Rambam, it is actually a more serious problem for me when I know that the kohen is not concerned about the prohibition.

What if the child does it on his own?

The Gemara (Yevamos 113b-114a) relates that Rav Yitzchak bar Bisna lost the keys of the beis medrash in a reshus harabim, an area into and from which it is prohibited min haTorah to carry on Shabbos. Thus, there was no way to unlock the doors and use the beis medrash on Shabbos. Rabbi Pedas suggested that Rav Yitzchak bar Bisna bring some children to play in the area where the keys were lost, hoping that one of them might find the keys and bring them to the beis medrash. According to Rabbi Pedas, one is not obligated to prevent a child from violating a mitzvah of the Torah, provided that one does not ask or enable the child to do so. In other words, although it is prohibited to cause a child to violate a mitzvah, we have no obligation to prevent the child from violating a mitzvah, nor are we prohibited from placing a child in a place where he may choose to violate a mitzvah on his own.

The rishonim ask why the mitzvah of chinuch does not require preventing the child from violating Shabbos. Here I will present three widely-held approaches to answering this question.

Under age

One answer is that Rabbi Pedas’ rule that we are not required to prevent children from choosing to violate prohibitions applies only when they are very young — meaning that the child is below the age of chinuch, when we are required to educate him about the mitzvah (Tosafos, Shabbos 121a, s.v. shema). Thus, Rav Yitzchak bar Bisna brought only fairly young children to play in the area where the keys were lost. It would be prohibited, according to this approach, to cause older children who understand that we do not carry on Shabbos to carry the keys in a reshus harabim. This approach is quoted by the Rema (Orach Chayim 343).

Mitzvos Asei

A second approach to answer this question is more lenient, contending that the mitzvah of chinuch applies only to positive mitzvos, but does not apply to prohibitions (Rabbi Eliezer miMetz, the author of the Sefer Yerei’im, quoted by Tosafos Yeshanim, Yoma 82a; the same position is quoted by several rishonim to Yevamos 114a). According to this understanding, there are three levels:

  1. We are prohibited min haTorah from directly causing a child to violate a prohibition.
  2. We are required miderabbanan to train a child to perform mitzvos.
  3. There is no requirement at all to prevent a child from performing violations of the Torah that a child is doing on his own.

Isn’t this counterintuitive?

Is this approach not counterintuitive? In general, prohibitions are treated more strictly than positive mitzvos, and the punishments for violating them are usually more severe (Terumas Hadeshen #94). Why, in this instance, is the positive mitzvah being treated more stringently than the prohibition?

Some explain that the reason is because performance of a positive mitzvah usually requires more effort, and these mitzvos will be more difficult for him to observe when he becomes an adult. Therefore Chazal required the father to make certain that his child is habituated to perform mitzvos. They did not require chinuch on lo saaseh prohibitions, since they are passive (Terumas Hadeshen #94).

Only the father

I promised that I would share with you three approaches to explain how Rabbi Pedas permitted placing children somewhere where they will likely end up performing melachah activity on Shabbos. Is there not a mitzvah of chinuch?

A third approach to answer this question understands that when Chazal introduced the mitzvah of chinuch, they obligated the father, but no one else, to train a child to perform mitzvos. Since other people have no obligation of training a child to perform mitzvos, they are permitted to place a child somewhere where he may, of his own volition, violate a prohibition (Tosafos Yeshanim, Yoma 82a; Rambam, Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 17:28). This last approach is the one followed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 343:1), who writes: “If a child is eating non-kosher, beis din is not commanded to prevent him, but his father is commanded to rebuke him and prevent him.” The Rema cites this opinion also.

Remember, as we taught above, that all opinions prohibit directing a child to violate a prohibition. What is permitted is placing him in a position where he will, of his own volition, violate a prohibited activity.

In conclusion, we are prohibited from causing a male child to become tamei from contact with a corpse. According to the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, you are not obligated to prevent a child from making himself tamei, unless the child in question is your son.

What about duchening?

At this point, let us return to the question raised above: “I know that one must be very careful that a kohen, even an infant, does not become contaminated with the tumah of a meis. Yet I rarely see a child under bar mitzvah duchen. Is this consistent?” Now, that we have explained the background to the first part of the question, let us discuss the second part: Our questioner reports not seeing many minor kohanim perform the duchening.

The Mishnah (Megillah 24a) states that a child does not duchen, which Rashi explains is  because it is not respectable for a congregation to have a child bless them. Our question is whether the Mishnah means that a child should never duchen, or does it mean that he should not duchen when he is unaccompanied by an adult kohen? The issue being debated is whether the lack of dignity for the tzibur is any time a child is blessing the congregation or only when he does so by himself.

This issue is the subject of a dispute among early rishonim. Rashi (Sukkah 42a) rules that a child should never duchen, whereas Tosafos contends that it is fine for a child to duchen, as long as he does so together with adult kohanim (Tosafos, Megillah 24a s.v. Ve’ein). According to the latter opinion, it would follow that there is a mitzvah to train a minor kohen to duchen, just as there is a mitzvah to train him to perform other mitzvos. However, according to Rashi, since Chazal ruled that it is not a kavod to have a child duchen, then, clearly, there is no mitzvah of chinuch to train him to duchen. There were many places in Europe where the custom was to follow Rashi in this law. This is why our questioner has rarely seen a minor duchen. However, this is by far not a universally held practice. I have been in many places where I have seen kohanim who are under bar mitzvah duchen alongside adult kohanim.

Conclusion – Avraham and chinuch

We now know that there are specific halachic rules directing us how to educate and train  children in the observance of mitzvos, and also about our interactions that might cause an adult to violate a prohibition of the Torah. It is interesting to note that the only verse in the Torah that uses the word chinuch in relation to people is in parshas Lech Lecha, and there the verse refers to training and teaching adults to perform mitzvos. There the Torah teaches about Avraham that, in order to save his nephew Lot, vayarek es chanichav, literally, he emptied out those whom he had trained. As Rav Hirsch points out, the situation of saving Lot required Avraham to change direction from what he had been doing heretofore to develop his following to serve Hashem. Prior to this point, Avraham had taken his following, his disciples, and moved them away from civilization, into the mountains, so that they would not be influenced by the nearby social environment of Canaan, which was antithetical to proper values. Avraham’s previous chinuch had involved isolationism to grow the spirituality of his students. At this moment, serving Hashem required Avraham to expose his following to improper mores, albeit only temporarily, for the sake of saving Lot.