The Chofetz Chaim writes that parents should daven for three things for their children – that they should be oskim baTorah, yarei shamayim, and have middos tovos. This statement of the Chofetz Chaim informs us of the goal and purpose of mosdos hachinuch – that after the eight or so years in yeshiva the child should come out imbued with ahavas haTorah, yiras shamayim and middos tovos. To this end, there is a partnership between the home and the school, each doing its part to ensure that the children acquire these three fundamental elements of a Torah Jew.
The importance of ensuring that a child absorbs these lessons at a young age cannot be overstated. There are many problems and challenges that arise with children as they get older, such as a lack of cheshek in Torah or not enjoying learning. I spent Shabbos here in Lakewood and I was approached by many bachurim asking for brachos. Almost all of them requested a bracha for cheshek in learning. This is clearly a challenge for many. And very often the root of the problem is that they did not absorb the yiras shamayim and hashkafas haTorah in their younger years – when they were five, six, or seven years old. I will explain what I mean.
When a boy gets older, his main focus is learning gemara. Learning gemara means learning Torah in its breadth and its depth. This requires ameilus, toil and dedication. Many boys do not understand why they have to do this.
I once addressed a gathering for the Lev L’Achim organization in Eretz Yisrael regarding the subject of boys who were struggling or falling through the cracks in the yeshivos and how to deal with it. In the course of my remarks, I mentioned that some of the boys who are struggling don’t appreciate learning Torah because they lack the hashkafah, the perspective and understanding of why they are doing what they’re doing. After I spoke, one of the attendees, who is a great expert on this subject, approached me and told me that I was wrong. It isn’t just some of the boys – most of the boys who are struggling in yeshiva it’s because they don’t understand why they should work so hard on learning Torah and learning gemara.
Recently, a boy from a good home – a Torah’dik home, a healthy home with happiness and shalom bayis – came to speak to me. He was a yeshiva bachur, he had been learning gemara for a number of years, and he wanted to know, “Why do I have to learn gemara? What is the purpose?” I discussed it with him and explained it to him. When we were done, I mentioned that I hadn’t expected this question from someone like him. He responded that at some point you have to ask and understand what you are doing, and he never had it explained to him before. It is hard to ask a boy to invest so much effort in something if he doesn’t understand why he is doing it.
It is therefore crucial that at a young age the boys should be imbued with the basic hashkafah so that they can be successful in their learning later on. Children must be taught first and foremost what it means to be a Yid and to understand the difference between a Yid and a goy. A Yid’s life has a completely different purpose.
Children should feel tremendous pride that they are Yidden, they are the Am Hashem. They should understand to feel lucky and fortunate that they live with a closeness to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and that they live for the purpose of bringing themselves and the rest of the world closer to Hashem.
We live in a world surrounded by others who say that the purpose of life is to enjoy yourself. Children need to have the clarity to understand that it is not so. That is a goy’s life. Our purpose in this world is to become closer to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and through that to reach Olam Haba, where we will experience – in the words of the Mesillas Yesharim – התענוג האמיתי והעידון הגדול מכל העידונים שיכולים להמצא the true pleasure and the delight that is greater than any delight that can be found. The Rambam states that there is no greater pleasure in the world than “knowing Hakadosh Baruch Hu,” something that we cannot fathom properly in this world. This is the purpose of our lives. And the only way to experience this great pleasure, enjoyment, and delight is through Torah and mitzvos. These bring a Yid to Olam Haba.
But of all the delights of Olam Haba, there is none that can compare to learning Torah, toiling and hureving in Torah, in all its depth and breadth – the iyun and the bikiyus – learning gemara – the truest experience of becoming close to Hashem, of “knowing Hakadosh Baruch Hu”. A boy who understands this in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, that my purpose and goal is to be imbued with Hashem Yisbarach’s Torah, will continue to learn and grow in Torah, and understand why he enjoys learning Torah.
This is the mission that the parents and the yeshiva have in being mechanech children, starting when they are yet young, in the true hashkafas haTorah. A child needs to absorb this at a young age, at a level that is appropriate for each age.
Besides the hashkafah, the understanding, we must also give over to the child the actual ahavas haTorah and yiras shamayim. This cannot be taught as knowledge or hashkafah. The only way to give this over is by example. When a child sees that his rebbi has yiras shamayim, that example will teach him yiras shamayim. When he sees ahavas haTorah by his rebbi, he will learn to have ahavas haTorah as well.
I once spoke to an American bachur who had come to learn in Eretz Yisrael under Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro zt”l. He told me that more than what he heard from Reb Moshe Shmuel in shiur, he was influenced by the way he came in and said the shiurim, with visible geshmak and excitement. This gave him a love for learning Torah.
When a child sees ahavas haTorah and yiras shamayim in his parents’ home, he will learn from their example. A child has an antenna to detect real yiras shamayim. When a boy sees how his parents daven and how they are medakdek behalacha he will absorb these lessons in yiras shamayim.
When a boy sees that whenever a question arises his father will take the time and effort to open the Mishna Berurah and figure out the proper halacha – rather than just summarily decide, “It’s probably mutar” – he will learn yiras shamayim. And so with everything else.
There is also another aspect of parental involvement in the development of a child’s ahavas haTorah and yiras shamayim. In this week’s parsha we read that Moshe Rabbeinu as a baby refused to nurse from an Egyptian wet-nurse. Chazal tell us that the reason was because he was destined to speak with the Shechinah and the mouth that would converse with the Shechina should not suckle from a non-Jewish woman. What is the meaning of this Chazal?
The gemara in Chagigah (דף טו.) relates the tragic tale of Elisha ben Avuya. Elisha was one of the tannaim who entered the pardes, the inner sanctum of the Torah, before he was adequately prepared and as a result his emunah was disturbed and he left the fold. The great tanna Rabi Meir had been a student of his, and even after Elisha forsook the Torah Rabi Meir still kept a connection with him, taking what he could learn from him and disregarding the rest.
Tosafos (ד”ה שובו) quotes the Talmud Yerushalmi which relates the following. Once, Elisha asked Rabi Meir to explain the pasuk (Koheles 7:8), “טוב אחרית דבר מראשיתו”. Rabi Meir explained that it means that the final result is most important. Sometimes something – children or talmidim – doesn’t work out so well in the beginning, but ultimately it can be successful.
Elisha told him, “Your rebbi, Rabi Akiva, explained it differently. ‘When will the end result be טוב, good? When it’s properly executedמראשיתו , from the very beginning.’
“I am a proof to this teaching,” Elisha continued. “My father was one of the wealthy citizens of Yerushalayim. A large crowd attended my bris, including the great tannaim Rabi Eliezer and Rabi Yehoshua. At the meal, the people were singing and dancing in honor of the occasion. Rabi Eliezer and Rabi Yehoshua were sitting in their own corner and they were speaking in Torah. A fire came down and surrounded them.
“My father came running over. ‘Have you come to burn down my house?’ he asked them.
“’Not at all,’ they responded. ‘We were just speaking in Torah. The fire that is surrounding us is the fire of Sinai that descended from shamayim with the Torah.’
“When my father heard that, he decided that if such is the power of Torah, he will send me to learn Torah as well. His intention was improper, as he only desired the pomp and honor that comes with the Torah but he wasn’t seeking for me to fulfill the will of Hashem and to learn the Torah of Hashem. Because of that, my Torah didn’t endure and I became who I am.”
In the physical, natural order, what Avuya’s intention was in sending his son to yeshiva has no bearing on how great he will grow in his Torah learning. But Torah is not a physical branch of learning. It is a ruchnius wisdom, the connection of man to the word of Hashem. In the spiritual world, the father’s intention and his devotion to the Torah of his son are a primary influence on his son’s success and growth in Torah. The ראשית affects the results, the אחרית דבר.
One often sees two boys of similar backgrounds and similar talent in the same yeshiva, and yet one vastly surpasses the other in his success in learning. Often the reason can be because when his mother sends him off to yeshiva she thinks, “Baruch Hashem, my son is learning Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s Torah,” or “I hope he is zoche to understand Hashem’s Torah.” This creates a solid and productive ראשית, while the other boy’s mother just sends him off, or wants him do well in school and to be a good student. The difference is immeasurable.
Therefore, besides the example a parent sets for their child by their dedication to his learning (as previously mentioned), they also affects his learning directly by the way they relate to his learning and going to yeshiva. If their desire is for their son to be a true oveid Hashem and a true talmid chacham, if they sincerely want it, then besides that their son will feel it, it will min hashamayim directly contribute to his success as well.
Parents have a duty to work on themselves as part of the chinuch of their children so that they will be proper examples of ahavas haTorah and yiras shamayim. They must also work on themselves to truly desire that their sons should grow up to be ovdei Hashem and learned in Hashem’s Torah, (and not for the honor and recognition of having good children, good students) and in this way they will profoundly affect the hatzlacha of their children.
I believe that these are, in short, what is necessary for the chinuch of young children: the development of their hashkafah, being a role model of yiras shamayim and ahavas haTorah, and a true desire for our children to become talmidei chachamim and ovdei Hashem. Then, with much tefillah and siyata dishmaya, we will be zoche that all of our children will develop into true talmidei chachamim and ovdei Hashem, and see much hatzlacha throughout their lives.