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Parshas Vayeira (5777)

The Two Obligations of Chinuch Habanim

There is a rabbinical obligation on every Jewish parent to train his children to fulfill the mitzvos (commandments) of the Torah even before they reach the age of Bar- Mitzvah/Bas-Mitzvah. This is referred to in Halachah (Jewish Law) as the obligation of Chinuch HaBanim, “training the children”. The age at which this obligation begins varies according to the mitzvah. [To learn more about this important Chinuch obligation, click on: Aish.com]

We find an example of Chinuch HaBanim in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Vayeira, where Abraham and Sarah are engaged in the mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim (hospitality), inviting three guests into their tent for some food and drink, and a little rest (see Genesis 18:1-8).

The Torah tells us that Abraham ran to the cattle, took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the youth who hurried to prepare it. Rash”i quotes the Midrash Rabbah which explains that the ‘youth’ referred to in the verse is Ishmael who was given the calf by his father Abraham in order to ‘train’ him in the mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim at a very young age.

One question discussed by the Poskim (Halachic authorities) is at what age does the obligation of Chinuch HaBanim end… when the child becomes Bar-Mitzvah or at some later point? On the one hand, the blessing that the father traditionally recites after the Bar-Mitzvah boy completes his first Aliyah (getting called up to the Torah), “Baruch Shepatrani Mei’onsho Shel Zeh … Blessed is the One Who has freed me from the punishment due this boy”, seems to suggest that the father’s obligation and responsibility to train his child in mitzvah observance ends once the child becomes 13 years old.

As the Chafetz Chaim explains in his seminal Halachic work Mishnah Berurah (225:7), this blessing recited by the father of the Bar-Mitzvah boy expresses the idea that whereas until now he was to be held liable and punished for the sins of his son because it was his responsibility to train his son properly and he failed to do so, now that the son is Bar-Mitzvah he is obligated to take care of himself.

[The Mishnah Berurah adds that even though the obligation of Chinuch HaBanim is no longer in force after Bar-Mitzvah, the father is still held responsible to some degree for his son’s actions because of the general responsibility of Tochachah (reproach) that obligates a person to stop his fellow Jew from committing sins if he is in a position to do so – see Leviticus 19:17 - and a father is certainly in such a position with regard to his son, even after he becomes Bar-Mitzvah.].

On the other hand, we find a passage in the Talmud in Kiddushin 30a which states quite clearly that the obligation of Chinuch HaBanim extends long after the age of Bar-Mitzvah.

In discussing the appropriate age at which to give spiritual guidance to our children, the Talmud quotes a verse in Proverbs 22:6: “Chanoch La’naar Al Pi Darko …Train the youth according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not swerve from it”, and explains that it refers to the obligation to train one’s child and to give him spiritual guidance while he will still accept it – either from the age of 16-22 or from the age of 18-24 (there are two Talmudic opinions). We see from this Talmudic passage that the obligation to train our children does not end at Bar-Mitzvah.

To answer these two seemingly contradictory sources, we need to ask a few more questions:

First, we know that according to most Poskim, women are not obligated in Chinuch HaBanim. But how can it be that the mother who is described by our Sages as the Akeres HaBayis, the “Mainstay of the Jewish Home”, and who truly contributes more than anyone else to the child’s physical and spiritual growth, is not obligated at all in the chinuch of her child?

Furthermore, how are we to understand the idea that the parents’ obligation of Chinuch HaBanim ends at Bar-Mitzvah? Can it be that the child is a finished product at 13 years old and is no longer in need of any guidance from his parents?

The answer could be that there are two separate obligations of chinuch from parents to their children - both of which our Sages based on the abovementioned verse: “Chanoch La’naar Al Pi Darko ...”

One obligation we’ll call the chinuch of hisraglus (lit. “becoming accustomed”), i.e. of training the child to become ragil (regular) and accustomed to doing the mitzvos. The other obligation we’ll call the chinuch of hadrachah (lit. “guidance”), i.e. of guiding the child in Fear of Heaven, ethical character refinement, and a proper Torah derech (approach to life).

The obligatory chinuch of hisraglus obviously applies only when the child is under Bar-Mitzvah, when he can be trained by his father in the perfunctory performance of mitzvos and to make them a part of his daily life routine. Based on the concept of hisraglus, the verse “Chanoch La’naar Al Pi Darko…” can be easily understood to mean: “Train the child and get him accustomed to doing the mitzvos when he is young and he will continue to do so even when he gets older”.

The obligatory chinuch of hadrachah, on the other hand, applies primarily once the child is post Bar-Mitzvah and more mature, and is ideally suited to a son of age 16-22 or 18-24. At this age, he can properly absorb from his parents a Fear of Heaven and a proper derech in life, which are critical for his spiritual growth. Based on this concept of hadrachah, the verse “Chanoch La’naar Al Pi Darko…” can be interpreted to mean: “A [Torah] approach that he can follow his entire life shall you give him when he’s younger”.

Support for this obligatory chinuch of hadrachah can be found in Shulchan Aruch HaRav in Hilchos Talmud Torah, who writes that “[the father] should guide his son in the derech of mussar (ethics) and Yiras Shomayim (Fear of Heaven) while he still has some control over his son until 24 years old, as it says ‘Chanoch La’naar Al Pi Darko…’”

[The chinuch of hadrachah might even be a Biblical obligation, unlike the chinuch of hisraglus which is certainly only Rabbinic in origin. In fact, Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (1843–1926) in his Bible commentary Meshech Chochmah, and Rabbi Nissim Karelitz in his Halachic work Chut Shani, both suggest that the verse in this week’s Torah portion in which G-d praises our forefather Abraham: “Ki Yada’ativ L’maan Asher Yetzaveh Es Banav… For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of G-d…” serves as a Biblical source reflecting the will of G-d that we must educate our children with Fear of Heaven and proper Torah values, thus ensuring that they “keep the way of G-d”. Rabbi Karelitz writes further that certainly women are also obligated in this most important chinuch of hadrachah and maybe even more so than men.]

According to this, we can say that there is really no contradiction between the two sources mentioned above, because they are talking about two different obligations of chinuch.

The Mishnah Berurah, in explaining the father’s recital of the blessing Baruch Shepatrani after his son’s Bar-Mitzvah aliyah, is referring to the obligatory chinuch of hisraglus, for which the father is punished if he does not accustom his young child properly to keep the mitzvos, and which ends according to all opinions once the child turns Bar-Mitzvah and can take care of himself.

However, the Talmud in Kiddushin is referring to the obligatory chinuch of hadrachah. Even the Mishnah Berurah would agree that this obligation does not end at Bar-Mitzvah but continues until the son is 22 or 24 years of age. This is because even though the father is no longer punished for his son’s sins after he becomes Bar-Mitzvah (except for situations in which the mitzvah of Tochachah applies, see above) because his son is no longer totally in his control, he still has an obligation to guide his son spiritually and to provide him with a proper Torah derech that he can follow his entire life.

[Sources: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s Dibros Moshe on Kiddushin 30a]

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