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How We Really Educate Our Children

Lech Lecha (Genesis 12-17 )

by Rabbi Jared Viders

Come Friday morning, all the children in Mrs. Weinberg’s first grade class eagerly look forward to the highlight of the school-week -- The Shabbos Party. The classroom is transformed into a Shabbos home amidst great fanfare. The toys and games are neatly put aside while the desks are re-arranged for the lavish and festive meal. Smocks are swapped for more elaborate Shabbos clothes. Finally, the make-shift Shabbos table is adorned with warm challahs, a Costco-size bottle of grape juice and plenty of nosh to keep the natives happy.

To preside over this esteemed event, one student each week is tapped to play the role of the “Shabbos abba” and another as the “Shabbos mommy.” Today is little Yoni’s turn. He dons the classroom’s disheveled Shabbos hat and confidently hoists his silver(plated) goblet to make Kiddush for the class. He pauses. Exhales. Sighs. “What a week it was. I can’t get over how the market took such a downturn. We got creamed. Creamed. Absolutely creamed. Oy veismeir. Okay… what can you do …” and proceeds to belt-out the appropriate blessings while the class looks askance wondering what in the world Yoni was talking about.

Despite being a seasoned elementary school teacher, Yoni’s remarks catch Mrs. Weinberg off-guard, so she runs the whole episode past her colleague, Mrs. Goldstein. Mrs. Goldstein remarks, “That’s so interesting. Today I had a similar event at our Shabbos party. Before little Moshe made his Kiddush for the class, he paused, exhaled, smiled and said, ‘And of course, I want to thank Mommy for putting together such a beautiful table. I am so happy that we are altogether for Shabbos.’”

The contrast speaks volumes about the Shabbos atmosphere that permeates the two children’s respective homes.

“And Abram heard that his brother [Lot] was taken captive, and he armed his initiates who had been born in his house… (14:14). Rashi comments on the word “initiates” (Chani'chav) and explains that the “root of the word chani'chav stems from that of chinuch, i.e., the beginning of the entry of a person … into a craft in which he is destined to stay.”

One of the hallmarks of a Jewish home is the emphasis placed upon education. The shelves are lined with volumes containing timeless wisdom. People of all ages and stages are perpetually seeking to deepen their understanding of the Torah in any one of dozens of contexts (from macro-philosophy to micro-halacha, a greater clarity in davening, a deeper appreciation for the holidays, history, character development etc.). Teachers and educators are held in high esteem and portraits of legendary Rabbis possessing sterling character grace the walls.

In this universe where knowledge (not just what one knows, but the sincerity with which one pursues knowing what one knows) is the coin of the realm, we refer to the education of our children as “chinuch.” As Rashi explains, the notion of chinuch is much broader and more multi-dimensional than a mere education or accumulation of facts and figures. It’s about creating and sustaining and instilling an orientation to life and to Torah “which one is destined” to hold onto for life. It’s an all-encompassing outlook. One that, (as Rabbi Lam puts it) is often “caught; not taught.”

Along these lines, Rabbi Rokowsky once offered what he considered to be the single, most fundamental consideration in parents’ approach to chinuch, education. “You should know,” he told me, “that children are very attuned – not to what their parents are doing, but to what their parents’ wish they were doing.” When they sense that Daddy truly enjoys his time davening in shul. That Mommy’s sincerely excited about the opportunity to do a kindness for someone in need. That the parents really looks forward to Shabbos together. It all feeds into an environment of love, positivity, enthusiasm and joy.

On the other hand, when Daddy’s participation in homework is distracted by the cell phone that he’s fidgeting with every three minutes. Or Mommy’s morning routine is one unpleasant string of tasks – get dressed, eat breakfast, pack your lunch, make the bus – it’s no wonder that we’ve done a disservice to our long-term goal of chinuch, i.e., of creating an orientation to life and Torah which our children will be “destined to stay.”

As Jews, we are all expected to be educators. Whether we are on the faculty or not, we are all in chinuch. Sometimes we teach young children. Sometimes those much to our senior. On other occasions we teach by example. Who knows what others may glean from our conduct. In this capacity, life presents not shortage of “teachable moments.” May we merit to capitalize on all of them and inspire many “initiates” who will happily and confidently carry the torch of Avraham’s legacy.


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