Chanoch L’Naar — Educating Each Child…With Love

The Nadvorna Rebbe, shlita.

A message from the Nadvorna Rebbe, shlita

We merited a special conversation with the Nadvorna Rebbe, shlita, in his beis medrash in Bnei Brak, in which he enlightened us on chinuch of our children in Torah, yiras Shamayim, and ahavas Hashem. The Rebbe delved into the importance of “yemin mekareves — the right hand draws near” in order to give over simchah in avodas Hashem.

The conversation was given to Inyan for publication by Moetzes Hakehillos of Bnei Brak in honor of Sukkos.

We entered the Rebbe’s room in the Nadvorna beis medrash in Bnei Brak during the week of Selichos. It was close to midnight, and the last Chassidim who had come to the Rebbe to receive his brachos before Rosh Hashanah had left. The Rebbe then devoted close to two hours of his time to this special conversation.

Education, Al Pi Darko

The Rebbe began:

They asked that I focus on chinuch habanim. This is a very extensive matter and way beyond the scope of just one article.

Shlomo Hamelech gives the advice (Mishlei 26:2), “Chanoch l’naar al pi darko — Educate a boy according to his way.” There are many ways to explain this, yet there is a question: There are mitzvos, like tefillin, that every person is obligated to do and there are mitzvos that another person can do them in someone’s place as a shaliach, such as mitzvas milah, writing a sefer Torah etc.

Hashem gave us a mitzvah of “and you shall teach your sons.” This is a mitzvah for every father to educate his children in Torah. Is it possible to say that every father knows how to properly educate his children?

When there is such a powerful question without an answer, the answer must lie within the question. So it must be that every father does have the potential to properly educate his sons.

We say after blowing the shofar: “K’rachem av al banim — As a father has mercyon his sons.” The sefarim hakedoshim write that if Hashem had not put into human nature that a father has pity on his sons, then children would starve to death, chas v’shalom, for a father is busy all day and doesn’t really have time for his children. However, he has rachmanus on his children, so he feels he must buy him things and listen to what he says.

Where does this begin? Hashem created the world with giving: “Derech hatov l’heitiv — the good want to give good to others.” Because of this, parents give their children all they need, which is part of the rachmanus of a father on his children. We inherited it from Hashem, Who is merciful to His sons and desires that we act mercifully to our sons. Therefore, every father looks for the best Talmud Torah and yeshivah for his child. He ensures that he will not be cold in yeshivah, that he will lack nothing! Have you ever heard a father say to his son who complains that his teeth hurt: ‘Sorry, this month I have run out of money — we will wait until next month to go to the dentist’? Even in the middle of the night, for hours on end, a father will try to alleviate his son’s pain. If one finds a father who does not do so, he is either unstable or so addicted to his lusts that he has lost the feeling for his children. And this person, chas v’shalom, is worse than an animal; animals at least tend to their offspring.

Just like this rachmanus is embedded within a parent’s nature, the power to educate one’s children in Torah and yiras Shamayim is as well, which is how every father is capable of educating his children.

With this one can understand the meaning of “Educate your son according to his way” — a parent must learn how to interact with his son. And if a father asks: “What should I do? After all, everyone goes to Talmud Torah. How is my son different from his friends?’ The answer is that the father should calculate what his son is capable of and what he is not capable of, what will break him, chalilah, and what will encourage him to continue to grow, and only in this way is the son brought properly to Torah and yiras Shamayim.

Children are “Mirrors” of their Parents

The Rebbe in his sukkah making a brachah on the lulav.

A child’s soul is shaped according to what his parents give him and the way his parents act. There is a well-known story about two Jews who settled in America after the Holocaust. In those days, Yiddishkeit in America was not a simple matter; they had to be moser nefesh for Shabbos. There were many who had to look for a new job each Monday, because they were fired from their jobs after they refused to work on Shabbos.

One of these two Jews was a great yerei Shamayim and the other was not. The yerei Shamayim’s sons were talmidei chachamim, while the other Jew’s sons were not following in his ways. These two men asked the Posek Hador, Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, why this was so.

Rav Moshe explained that when the man who was a yerei Shamayim was fired from his job, he would come home and, instead of complaining about his situation, happily announce that he had been fired. He would tell his children:, “He Who has helped me find work in the past will help me again in the future!” The children understood that Shabbos was the source of brachah and simchah. The other Jew, on the other hand, would return home depressed. Instead of singing zemiros at the Shabbos meals, he would be downtrodden. What did his children see? That shemiras Shabbos brings sadness and troubles. So when they grew up, they did not keep Shabbos at all.

Indeed, if a father transmits to his child that Torah and mitzvos are difficult, that they are a heavy burden, then the child will also see things this way as he grows up.

This concept is mentioned in the Gemara (Sukkah 52b), that a child speaks what he hears at home. The language spoken at home is what the child learns to speak. If they speak Yiddish, he will speak Yiddish; if they speak Hebrew, he will speak Hebrew. If the parents speak with an American accent, even if they immigrate to Eretz Yisrael and the children go to school there, the children will still speak as the parents do.

Likewise, if the parents speak calmly, the child will speak calmly — and vice versa, chalilah. The child will become expert in understanding what the father and mother think and what they really mean to say.

Parents should realize that everything they say and do is being ingrained in their children, as is evident in a child who has come with an accent from a different country. All the more so in matters of chinuch. Sometimes a father orders something important and it does not arrive. His child sees how he reacts, and via the father’s language or subtle acts that is how the child grows up. Such a child grows properly both in yeshivah and after his marriage. These are little acts that will affect his shalom bayis in day-to-day life.

Children Are Sensitive!

The Rebbe referred to our current circumstances, with the children at home more due to COVID:

We are now in a difficult time. In recent months, the delicate souls of our young children have been shaken and overturned. People may think that children are like house plants: You can place them in the dining room or you can move them to the kitchen….But that is not so. A child’s soul is very sensitive. We must be careful during these unconventional times to be gentle. Invest more time in being connected to your children and their feelings. Some children grow up with pain because their fathers do not know how to communicate properly with them, and years later, as grandparents, they still carry the pain.

Much can be elaborated on this difficult subject but I will relate one case, which shook me to the core. A Chassid came to me after the birth of his fourth daughter to ask what name to give her. I asked him whose turn it was and he replied that it’s his wife’s turn, but she did not wish to give the baby her mother’s name because she could not forgive her mother! Do you comprehend this? A mother who raised her daughter, who was already in the Olam Ha’Emes, yet her daughter could not bring herself to name her daughter after her because she couldn’t forgive her! This is unbelievable, but look how much damage can be wrought, chas v’shalom, if one does not understand the soul of a child.

Punish With Compassion

Another issue is how to punish a child. There are times when a father loses his temper when a child does not behave properly, or a mother is filled with anger. This can be very damaging if the parent does not think about what is happening to the child’s soul at the time. Even if you are angry at a child, precisely at that moment it is necessary to decide carefully what to do and how to do it.

There are parents who think before punishing and properly calculate how their child will react to the punishment, whether he will be able to handle it or be shamed because of it. When a father does not consider what is going on in the child’s mind and just gives orders, then the child will carry out those orders because the father will shout at him if he doesn’t. However, he will eventually look for ways to escape from him.

A parent must observe the weaknesses of the child so that they can be corrected in his youth when it is still easy to change. However, a child needs to be loved, even if he does not behave properly. If he deserves punishment, the father must know how to give the punishment properly and be careful not to embarrass him.

Gezerias Chachamim for One Jew

The Rebbe during the conversation. On the right, the Deputy Mayor of Bnei Brak, Rabbi Shlomo Kostelitz, and on the left, the writer, Rabbi Tuvia Freund.

The Rebbe added another idea, connected to Sukkos:

This year, Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos fall on Shabbos, and as we know, no shofar is blown and no arbaah minim are taken on Shabbos because of the fear that one will carry them four amos in the reshus harabbim without an eruv.

Now, when Yom Tov falls on a Friday, everyone is reminded to make their eruv tavshilin on Erev Yom Tov. Why is it not possible to similarly remind everyone to take care of the shofar and lulav on Erev Shabbos as well? The answer is that this gezeirah was not decreed for the talmidei chachamim, but for the simple Jew living in a remote place. All he knows about Rosh Hashanah is that we blow the shofar and eat an apple dipped in honey. It is for this Jew that Chazal enacted that all of Klal Yisrael should not blow the shofar and that the lulav and esrog should not be taken on Shabbos. It is all so that this Jew should not carry on Shabbos. While this may be difficult to understand, we must bear in mind that it is part of the mitzvah of v’ahavta l’reaicha kamocha and it teaches us how precious each and every Jew is in the eyes of Chazal.

That is also part of our message of Sukkos, how to value every Jew — and how much more so, one’s children.

There is a well-known letter written by Hagaon Harav Akiva Eiger, zt”l, at a time when cholera broke out and he warned the community about it. There were policemen and regulations, and the leaders went to help and were moser nefesh. Today, we may not need to take people to hospitals, but the least we can do is realize the value of every Jew and take out a Tehillim and daven for all of Klal Yisrael in these trying times as part of our v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha.

This mitzvah can at times cost you just one good word. Yes, there are people who can give a lot of money, but real ahavas Yisrael is to find a good word and with that, you can really save a person. This is ultimately the job of each and every one of us, to increase the honor of Heaven.

The Rebbe Concluded With a Brachah

“May Hashem help us to learn, daven and do His will with peace of mind and with simchah. May we be privileged to educate our children in Torah and mitzvos, and may we all be spared from all obstacles in ruchniyus and only hear besuros tovos.”