Educating Our Children
Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16 )
Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg pointed out a very interesting insight. The verse says, "And in order that you should tell into the ears of your son and your son's son that which I did in Egypt and My signs that I placed in them and you will know that I am Hashem (10:2)." Note, said Rabbi Weinberg, that the verse does not simply say you shall tell your son, rather it says you shall tell into the ears of your son. This teaches us that even when the child is not yet old enough to comprehend the account of Yetzias Mitzrayim, you should nevertheless say the words into his ears. If you get him to simply hear the words, you have achieved a great accomplishment.
In a similar vein, the Aruch Ha'Shulchan(1) explains the following injunction of Chazal which we find in tractate Sukkah (2): As soon as a boy reaches the age when he is just beginning to learn how to talk, one should immediately teach him the following two verses, "Moshe taught us Torah, the inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov; and "Hear oh Yisrael, Hashem is our Lord, Hashem is one."
The obligation is to teach the child these verses so that his very beginning to learn how to talk will be through these verses. But what is the point of teaching such a young child these verses? Explains the Aruch Ha'Shulchan, (3) by doing so you are implanting the foundations of conviction in Torah and its Giver into the child's heart.
This is a fundamental concept in chinuch, education. Children's minds and hearts are like sponges and they readily absorb whatever you put into them. How careful, then, we must be to ensure that our children are only exposed to sounds and sights that will fill them with a great desire to follow the Torah - to be a moral, good, and kind person; and children must be guarded with the utmost of care from any and all negative influences.
In this context, it is important to mention that many negative influences may ostensibly seem innocuous and, perhaps, even cute. A video game or comic, for example, whose content includes violence or immodesty, creates an impression of those evils on the child's heart and mind. The fact that they may be "packaged" in a cute or seemingly innocent manner is irrelevant. The underlying "message" will, unfortunately, not be lost on the child. This is one of the pernicious wiles of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, in the world and one must be very alert and on the lookout to safeguard against it. And, aside from this type of more obvious negative influence, there are many, many other, far-more-subtle forms of negative influence that are inherent in the various and sundry products of the outside world. For this reason, many people completely reject any and all like things, and they are to be commended and emulate.(4)
By the way, as Rabbi Weinberg so aptly pointed out, in truth we must guard ourselves from negative, evil influences just as much as we must guard our children. It is just that since children are so obviously impressionable, we are much more readily able to understand and accept the need for prudence. If one thinks honestly about the issue, though, one will realize that the only reason why one may be more permissive with oneself than with one's children is merely that one wants to excuse one's own inappropriate indulgence of desires whereas for the child - who is so clearly impressionable - one remains unwilling to make such allowances (and the fact that the child's desires are not felt as his own also makes it easy to discount them). This is an extremely important point to contemplate.
Another fundamental we must take note of in this context is that education is a gradual, deliberate process. Sure, your child doesn't understand this lofty concept or involved topic right now, but you'll keep repeating the statements and ideas to him over the course of many years and eventually he will indeed get it.
A certain individual decided that he wanted to introduce the concepts of permission and supervision to his two year old. So, he began using the terms in appropriate contexts, and repeated the words at every opportunity. Of course, when the child was first introduced to the concepts, there was not the slightest bit of comprehension thereof in the child's mind. But, after hearing it so many times, the child eventually began to absorb the ideas and understand them, albeit on a two year old level.
One cannot expect to make a mensch out of a child overnight. Children require great patience and consistency. They need ongoing instruction in order to be educated properly, and that process must begin at the earliest stages of their development. This "head start" will ensure that their minds and hearts will be influenced from the outset to be formed and shaped into minds that will think good thoughts and hearts that will foster good desires.
Even though they do not yet understand, say it to their ears - again and again and again - and with Hashem's help, they will eventually understand; and the message will be deeply rooted and bound in their minds and hearts for their entire lives.
1. Classic halachic work written by Rabbi Yechiel Michel Ha'Levi Epstein (1829-1908).
2. מב. ומובא בשו"ע יו"ד סי' רמ"ה סעיף ה
3. שם, באות א
4. There is another reason to avoid computer games and the like - even if they contain no objectionable content - and that is that it tends to cause children to lose their innate abilities of creative thinking, diligence, and application. See Brachos 28b where the Gemara states that one must keep his children away from "higayon" and Rashi's explanation thereof.