Monday, June 07, 2010

Some Thoughts on Chinuch

Last Thursday night, I attended my daughter's graduation from the Azrieli Graduate School. The guest speaker was the always inspiring Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski. I would like to share some specific points that he elaborated, as well as my own ruminations during his presentation.

1.He cited the Gemara (Sanhedrin 19b) that anyone who teaches his friend's child Torah, Scripture "places upon him" (ma'aleh alav ha'kasuv) as if he brought this child into the world (k'illu yelado). He explained that once a person accepts upon himself the mission of teaching Torah to the children of his fellow Jews, he bears the same responsibility for them that a father bears for his own child. The statement is thus not just a promise of reward (as it is customarily understood), but an assignment of acharayus.

2. Accordingly, he asserted, just as the main role of a parent in imparting the legacy of Torah to his or her children is the instruction of the message of the ultimate Simchas Ha'Chaim that is inherent in a life of Torah and mitzvos, so too the Mechanech's main role is the instruction of the message of the ultimate Simchas Ha'Chaim that is inherent in Talmud Torah.

3. He expounded upon the level of that simchah. He based it upon the phrase in davening that we frequently recite but rarely consider: Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu u'mah na'im goraleinu. He highlighted the term goraleinu, and its intrinsic connection to the word goral and its permutation as hagralah - a lottery. The Simchah of a Torah life and of Talmud Torah must be at least on a par with the Simchah of winning a lottery! Anything less than that level of Simchah falls short of the acharayus of both parents and Mechanchim.

4. He bemoaned the prevalent lack of such Simchah and the accompanying lack of Mechanchim who impart such Simchah. He identified the following specific phenomenon as a manifestation of this problem: Seventy years ago, when his brothers were learning in Torah Vodaas, were you to ask them where they were learning, they would reply, "by Reb Shlomo [Heiman]." Similarly, were you to ask a bachur learning in Lakewood where he was learning, he would reply, "by Reb Aharon [Kotler]; a bachur learning in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan would answer, "by the Rov." Today, the same bachurim would answer, "in Torah Vodaas," "in Lakewood" and "in YU." Teaching and learning was once personal and experiential, whereas today it is largely impersonal and institutional. This change is reflected in the "by-in" change in expression. The Simchah that is generated by, inherent in, and imparted by Hiskashrus is no longer prevalent. Yet that is the core of Chinuch and of our role as Mechanchim.

5. Although the connection may not be obvious, as he was speaking there flashed in my own mind the derivation of the term chinuch. The shoresh of chinuch is ches-nun-chaf. The ches-nun is the word chen. It seems to me that this refers to the chen that Torah imparts to those who learn it (Eruvin 54a; Kesuvos 77b). Much more important than imparting the data, and perhaps even the skills, of Torah is the imparting of the chen of Torah - the same essence that is at the core of the Simchah of Talmud Torah. This is accomplished by the Chaf Ha'Dimayon - the Mechanech modeling that Chen and that Simchah, for the Talmid to acquire by Hisdamus - assimilation and emulation.

[6. I think that many three-letter shorashim that are built on the ches-nun combination can be explained in a similar vein. Just one example: ches-nun-peh, chanef, a sycophant is someone whose chen is only b'peh and not b'lev.]

7. In a search for sources, I came across this beautiful passage in the Kav HaYashar (Chap. 58) that expresses these ideas succinctly:

ספר קב הישר - פרק נח
והנה ישכיל הנבון איך הקדמונים היו פנוים לשמוע דברי תורה אפילו מן התינוק מאהבת התורה כדי לקבל חידושי התורה שהוא אורך ימינו והיא אילת אהבים ויעלת חן על לומדיה, ועל כל אדם מישראל מוטל לאהוב התורה ולחבב התורה בפני בני ביתו ובניו ולהזהירם תמיד על קיום התורה ומצוותיה

יתן הי"ת שנזכה לקחת את הדברים אל לבנו, לחיות אותם ולהחיות על ידם, וכשיצאו בהדברים מלבנו באמת בעז"ה יכנסו ללבות תלמידינו


  1. er... What's 'the "by-in" change of expression'?

  2. Learning *by* a person vs. learning *in* an institution.

  3. One of the biggest problems teachers have in educating their students is in evaluating their actual knowledge and grasp of the subject. A good result on a multiple choice test means you memorized the material. You might not have understood it but you remembered enough catch phrases and chose the "c" options enough times to do well. There aer better ways to test students, like essays and personal discussions on the subject but who has time for that?
    Has this infected the yeshiva world? Who is the "better" bochur: the boy who memorizes 30 blatt of Shas a month but can't do more than repeat it word for word, or the boy who struggled and struggle and finally understood 2 blatt really well? When the shadchan goes to present them to potential matches, which is going to come off as the bigger scholar, Mr 30 pages or Mr 2 pages?
    And kids know this. They know it's about what you can repeat and how much knowledge you can pretend to have accumulated, not how the knowledge has changed you as a person or made you a better Jew. And this shows in the way you described.

  4. I'm glad the graduation speech here was worth listening to. I do not really look forward to the upcoming graduation, as the last one I attended was painfully boring.

  5. The problem is, just like ve'ahavta, how can you be metzaveh avodas Hashem besimcha? And to "contemplate what a great gift we received" answer doesn't turn me on. The answer has to be that irrespective of how we might feel, we need to act as if we're happy, so that our kids see it as a privilege, not a burden. As Reb Moshe used to say, never ever say "es iz shver tzu zain a yid."

  6. I've never heard of the "by-in" contrast before, and many new insights go in and out of my aged head these days -- but this one is going to stick!