Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern
I. The Responsibility
The Mitzva of Chinuch Habanim is one of the foundations of our religion (or Yiddishkeit). The Torah writes that Avraham Avinu was endeared to Hashem because “He will command his children and household to keep the ways of Hashem, doing charity and justice.” (Breishis 18:17-19, Rashi ad loc.)
Rav Elya Lopian comments (Lev Eliyahu ad loc.) that even though Avraham Avinu had already passed ten nisyonos and kept the entire Torah, including the mitzvos d’rabbanan, (Yoma, 28b, Rashi Bereishis, 26:5), nevertheless, the Torah attributes his endearment because he transmitted the Torah tradition to his children.
The first mitzva of the Torah is “Pru u’revu”, (Bereishis 1:28) generally translated as “Be fruitful and multiply” and simply meaning to have many children.
The Shelah Hakadosh (Shaar Ha’osyos ““ Derech Eretz ; cf Shulchan Aruch O.C., # 231) writes that the purpose of the mitzvah is to raise children in Torah and mitzvos, and Chazal term this commandment a “mitzva rabba” ““ a great mitzva, because the more Jews that are in the world, the more mitzvos will be fulfilled. (Tosafos Bava Basra, 13b s.v. Kofin; Sefer HaChinuch mitzva #1. This is also indicated by the halacha that permits the selling of a Sefer Torah to provide financial means for a couple to get married. Shulchan Aruch Even Ha’ezer 1:2)
Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch explains how this concept is actually implied in the words of the Torah. He writes, “Pru simply means to have children, like pri ““ fruit of a tree. However, revu implies something greater. The children are to be replicas not only of the physical and bodily traits of their parents, but also of their spiritual, intellectual and moral selves. Accordingly, parents have to plant the spiritual and moral best of themselves in their children and carefully nurture their development. They must form, educate and cultivate them. Revu demands the founding of the home and the family, the nursery for human education.” (Commentary to the Torah, Bereishis 1:2)
Thus, a child is born into a family not only for his material needs, such as love, food, clothing and shelter, but also to guide and mold his personality. The obligation of parents is to pour themselves into their children by raising, molding and creating a Jewish family.
This responsibility is clearly stated by the Chofetz Chaim who equates the parents’ child raising obligation to the mitzvos of Talmud Torah, reciting Kriyas Shma and davening Shemona Esrei. He writes:
“Just like it is an obligation to learn Torah and daven Kriyas Sh’ma and Shemonah Esrei, and to fulfill all the mitzvos, it is an even greater mitzva for each parent to designate time to supervise the chinuch of their children in order to ensure that they follow in the ways of our forefathers.” (End of Sefer Chomas Hadas)
Due to our very hectic lives, busy schedules, personal involvements and pressures of earning a livelihood, parents sometimes forget that they have to be mechanech their children!
When Hashem gives us the wonderful gift of a child, it comes with a tremendous responsibility of raising him to lead a life of Torah, mitzvos & midos tovos .
II. The Skill of Parenting
Once the parents feel their responsibility towards their children’s chinuch, they must educate themselves how to do it properly & efficiently. By failing to do so, they may innocently make serious mistakes in their chinuch techniques, some of which may actually be counterproductive.
The following contemporary Rabbonim have expressed this concern in their public lectures:
â— Rav Shimon Schwab said, “We need a night kollel for parents to train them how to properly raise and be mechanech their children.”
â— Rav Chaim Dov Keller once remarked, “Instead of teaching child psychology to the parents, we need a course in parent psychology.”
â— A prominent Rav in Bnei Brak once commented, “Parents often ask, “˜How should we deal with a child who is closed, quiet, stubborn, rebellious and is making our lives miserable?’ Some parents may rationalize by attributing certain negative behavioral patterns to the child’s nature. However, the real answer is to reverse the question: “˜How should we deal with a problem child whose parents are”¦?’”; in other words, is it the child’s fault, or is the problem due to improper parenting?
The Rav once took his child to a physician. Trying to become friendly with the child, the doctor asked, “Are you a good child?” The Rav then interjected, “You’re forcing my child to lie. What child would reply that he’s bad?”
The doctor retorted, “Rabbi, you’re mistaken. All children are born good. We are the ones who make them bad!”
This concept is alluded in our morning brachos – “××œ×•×§×™, × ×©×ž×” ×©× ×ª×ª ×‘×™ ×˜×”×•×¨×” ×”×™×…” ““ “My G-d, the soul that you gave us is pure”¦”. This pure soul, when properly nurtured, can be developed into the well-adjusted and balanced child that we are all davaning for.
III. THE PROPER APPROACH TOWARDS CHINUCH
Rav Yechiel Yaakovson, , one of the foremost Israeli lecturers and authorities on child-raising and children off the derech, once remarked that when parents speak or complain about their difficulties in child-raising, their intention is how to respond when a child isn’t behaving. Many parents are under the misconception that chinuch is how to react to negative behavior of children, and invest very little time and energy into genuine chinuch and how to apply its principles. This results in the majority of their efforts being directed towards how to punish their children and applying the commonly used methods of anger, screaming, giving rebuke and mussar to assert themselves. Furthermore, parents are constantly telling their children what they are doing wrong, for example, not sitting and eating orderly at the table, or not behaving properly, without taking out the time to explain patiently what, how and why they should be doing them properly. This approach is NOT chinuch as Rav Shlomo Wolbe writes, “How foolish are parents whose thoughts and ideas on chinuch are limited to the question, “˜When should we hit our child?’ Woe to such chinuch!” (Alei Shur Vol. 2 p. 219).This approach is counterproductive since children who are constantly criticized and punished by their parents have a tendency to resist being mechunach from them.
One of the key midos that is necessary to succeed in child-raising is patience. As Rav Wolbe writes, “Only with limitless patience can parents educate their children” (Alei Shur ibid.). Yet, the mindset of today’s hi-tech fast-food society is just the opposite of patience. The microwave and ready-made foods offer meals in minutes; computers and cell phones enable people to communicate across the globe in seconds. People become frustrated if, for some reason, the connection takes a few seconds longer than usual. Although by making life easier, people can accomplish more in less time, nevertheless the big downside of these many conveniences is that people are not trained to face the challenges of life.
Therefore, when parents experience child-raising difficulties, they seek instant solutions. They may read a child-raising book or listen to some shiurim, expecting that they will receive the exact advice necessary for their problem. Sometimes general advice works, but in many instances it doesn’t. Problems in child-raising are not like a headache or infection that can be automatically cured with painkillers or antibiotics. Each situation has many variables that depend on the child’s individual make-up, the parents’ capabilities, the existing parent-child relationship and numerous other factors. Realistically speaking, there would have to be tens of thousands of books on child-raising in order to cover every possible family situation. Parents must know how and when to apply child-raising principles to their individual situation, and patiently wait until their children absorb these principles and put them into practice.
There is an anecdote about a couple who were in the midst of a quarrel, when the husband suddenly excused himself for a moment and took out a book on shalom bayis. He remembered that the chapter dealing with quarreling discussed a similar scenario to the one he was having and gave instructions regarding what to say and do to resolve the dispute peacefully. He quickly memorized the guidelines, returned to his wife and started to repeat and act according to the book. To his surprise, the advice didn’t work.
Rav Wolbe once remarked that the purpose of general guidance is mainly to teach us not to do the wrong thing. Finding the proper way to handle any given situation involves many variables and often requires on the spot decisions. Even when parents seek counseling, their patience will be limited by their expectations of receiving a solution in one or two sessions. They often fail to realize that deep-rooted problems, especially the ones that exist for lengthy periods, need time to resolve.
Lack of patience will cause a person who encounters difficulties in his child-raising to seek instant solutions and become frustrated if these solutions are not readily available. A parent who becomes frustrated will either become a “control freak” to his children order to enforce discipline or let the child do whatever he wants. Either way is harmful for the child’s development.
To summarize ““ the first steps toward successful parenting are:
1. Being aware of the responsibilities of parenting,
2. Realizing that parenting is a skill to be mastered,
3. Putting more effort into training children how and why to do things properly, and
4. Mastering the mida of patience.
|About the Speaker|
|A native New Yorker, Rabbi Morgenstern attended Yeshiva Torah V’Daas, Mesivta Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, and continued his studies in Israel at Yeshivas Torah Ohr, Kollel Brisk and Mir, where he received his smicha. Rabbi Morgenstern has been active in Jewish education and outreach for over two decades and presently is the senior halacha teacher in EYAHT, Aish Hatorah’s College of Jewish Studies for Women. He also lectures internationally in high schools, girl’s seminaries and at Agudas Yisrael conventions in the U.S. and England.
He also does family counseling and lectures extensively in Israel and abroad on shalom bayis, chinuch habanim, family communication, personal growth, shidduchim and dating, and has produced a popular CD and tape series on these topics. His articles on these topics and Jewish hashkafa have appeared internationally in Jewish newspapers and magazines. In addition, Rabbi Morgenstern is part of the Rabbinical Advisory Board of Project D.E.R.E.CH., Toronto.