Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Starting With the Best Materials
Parshas Va'eschanan, aside from containing a review of the Aseres
Ha-Dibros (Ten Commandments), also includes one of the most
fundamental paragraphs of Judaism - the first paragraph of the
Shema. Significantly, although the Shema begins by telling *us* what
to do ("Hear O Israel... And you shall love Hashem, your G-d... And
these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart,"
[6:4-6]) it does not stop there. One of the most basic tenets of our
religion is the education (chinuch) of our children. They, after all,
provide the continuity without which Judaism would stagnate and dry-
up, not unlike so many other religions that have not withstood the
"test of time." Therefore the Shema continues [6:7], "And you shall
teach them thoroughly to your children," for only by providing our
young with a thorough, insightful, and exciting chinuch, will we
ensure success in raising generations of upright, G-d fearing Jews.
Even the most cursory examination of the Torah reveals that the
mitzvah (commandment) of chinuch seems to have been placed
upon the shoulders of the *parents* - not the *teachers*. "And you
shall teach them thoroughly *to your children*, [6:7]" - "And you shall
teach them *to your children* to discuss them [11:19]." Yet it seems
that ultimately, it is the teachers that provide our youth with the lion's-
share of their education. The (responsible) parents' role has been
more-or-less relegated to reviewing with their child that which they
have learned in Yeshiva/school, and whatever "chinuch" they can
provide while seated around the Shabbos table. Nor is this merely a
contemporary phenomena. Indeed, even in the times of the Talmud,
and perhaps earlier, boys were for the most part taught by their
rebbes. So why does the Torah place the emphasis on the parents'
seemingly secondary role in their children's education?
I apologize to all the teachers and educators who are reading this
week's Olas Shabbos, because to them the answer to this question
is obvious and self-evident. A teacher can only work with what he's
given. Imagine bringing a second-grade polyester remnant to a dress-
maker, and telling her to sew with it an elegant gown. Ask a
contractor to build you a palace - with a pile of crumbly, broken up
bricks. Any craftsman will tell you - it all begins with the raw materials.
With quality fabrics, the skilled seamstress can create clothing more
elegant than the customer could herself ever have envisioned. Give
an artist superior paints and papers, and watch him work his magic.
But if forced to start with materials that aren't top-grade, even the
most skilled artisan will usually struggle to produce quality work.
It is in this vein that the holy Alshich explains the first paragraph of
the Shema. Chinuch begins at home. The parents - by example of
their own behaviour and priorities - provide the "raw-materials" with
which every teacher hopes to begin creating his or her "masterpiece"
student. First off, "Hear O Israel" - the parent must demonstrate his
own interest in the Torah and halachah observance. "And you shall
love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and
with all your resources. And these matters that I command you
today shall be upon your heart." It is only after these conditions have
been met; only after the parent - a child's primary and most
predominant role-model - has demonstrated his own sincere
commitment to all facets of the Torah, that the mitzvah of "And you
shall teach them thoroughly to your children," (which indeed Rashi
(ibid.) sees as a command primarily to the educators ["students", say
Chazal, our Sages, are often called "children"]), can successfully
It is written (Mishlei/Proverbs 13:24), "One who spares his rod hates
his child, but he who loves him disciplines him with rebuke." So
what's better - "the rod" or "the rebuke?"
The Bobover Rebbe zt"l explains (Kedushas Tzion, parshas
Be'shalach pp. 104) that the child who has reached the point that he
needs "the rod," refers to a child who is beginning in small ways to
rebel against his parents and/or his Torah education. The parent
wonders why his "gentle rebuke" has little effect on his child. Perhaps,
were he to examine his own behaviour, he might find that many of
the good things he would like to see in his child, are absent (in a
more adult way) in him. At any rate, this child, having in some way
begun to reject his chinuch, needs "the rod" to steer him back.
Rebuke at this stage will not be enough, for he has lost a degree of
respect for his parents due to their lack of commitment to the
standard of Torah observance they seemingly desire to see from him.
But, "he who loves him, rebukes him." One who truly loves his child -
who dearly wishes to see him going in the derech ha-Torah (path of
the Torah) - will be sure to conduct himself in a manner congruent
with the chinuch his child is receiving, so that his rebuke will be
meaningful, and his discipline will hit its mark.
Ultimately, chinuch is an extremely delicate and complicated issue.
Even given the best materials, not even the most skilled dress-maker
will succeed every single time. But at the very least, we owe it to our
children (and to ourselves) to re-examine our own lives, and make
sure that in every way (seriousness of our tefilah, dedication to our
own limud ha-Torah, importance attached to those who learn Torah,
laws of lashon hara, honesty, deeds of kindness, etc. etc.) we are
living-up to the standard with which we desire to educate our
Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.