December 17, 2020
We all know the story of Chanukah. We are familiar with the fact that after winning the battle against the Greeks, theChashmona’im returned to the BeisHamikdash, and among all of the destruction and devastation, searched for pure oil, not giving up until they found the one sealed, pure flask which miraculously lasted for eight days. The Acharonim discuss the need for searching for pure oil. The halachah states that when all of Klal Yisrael is tamei, we rule that tumah hutrah b’tzibbur—the avodah can be done regardless of the status, tumah or taharah. Why, then, the need for pure oil?
The answer given serves as a guide to our overall outlook on chinuch. The Chashmona’im were about to renew and reinstate the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash, and they wanted to guarantee that the beginning would be pure and pristine, unsullied by any imperfections whatsoever. They needed to safeguard the untainted, unspoiled beginning to ensure a strong, undiluted continuity to the future and nitzchiyus of Klal Yisrael.
The Chanukah lesson, in essence, mirrors how to be mechanech our children which Hashem gifted us. These beautiful, untarnished neshamos were given to us to grow and nurture, and it is our responsibility to keep them pure and holy. For our children to follow the correct Torah path, we must ensure that the beginning of that path is straight and firmly rooted in pure, undiluted Torah.
The Gemara states that Rav Yehoshua benChananyah’s mother brought him in into the beis midrash so that he could imbibe the Torah of the holy Tanna’im. The Tolna Rebbe pointed out that several times, the Gemara quotes Rav Yehoshua as saying “Shamati—I heard.” In those instances, he does not attribute the quote to a particular person. This is because he is referring to a Torah thought that he heard as an infant, while in the beis midrash.
The Navi in Sefer Shoftim relates that when Mano’ach consulted the malach regarding how he and his wife should conduct themselves with their future “wonder” child, the malach responded that his wife should be careful with what she eats and that she should maintain her purity. Rav Elya Meir Bloch asks, how was this a response to the posed question? Mano’ach asked the malach how they should care for the child, and he answered by giving instructions about what the mother should eat? Rav Elya Meir explains that hidden in this response are the underpinnings of chinuch. Provide proper role modeling and create a holy environment, and the child will absorb through osmosis.
A 25-year-old father of small children once approached the Steipler and asked him when he should begin to be mechanech his children. The Gadol’s reply was that he was 25 years too late! Parents’ behavior is the most influential and demonstrative component in the lives of their children.
As such, parents are mechanchim. It is what we eat and say and do and read and listen to that gets etched deeply into the hearts and souls of our precious children. What pictures are hanging in the baby’s room, which songs are we singing to them, and which books are we reading to him? Chazal teach us that the first words that our children should be taught to say are “Torah tzivah lanu Moshe.” Surround and envelope children from the time they are born with the values that embody what you aspire to for them. Saturate them with an aura of kedushah so that they can imbibe it and soak it in. It is how one reacts to a situation and how one conducts themselves with neighbors, friends, and chavrusas inshul or in the street, in private or in public, that will ultimately pattern a child’s behavior. Our conduct, both active and passive, creates the culture in the home and shapes the future of who our child will become.
Additionally, it is not only what children see or hear in their parents’ conduct that impact them; children sense the feelings and attitudes that lie beneath the surface. The Chasam Sofer so beautifully explains the pasuk in Ki Savo “Tachas asher lo avadeta es Hashem Elokecha b’simcha u’v’tuv leivav,” which states that Hashem’s anger is aroused when Klal Yisrael fails to serve Him with joy and happiness. He explains that this means that it is not sufficient to perform the commandments; how we perform them is of utmost importance. What is my frame of mind while doing a mitzvah? Am I happy to have the opportunity to serve Hashem? Do I embrace the mitzvah with positivity, or do I approach the opportunity begrudgingly? Does my child see my intent when I make a bracha? Does my child sense my sincerity when I daven? Does my child see how carefully I say each and every word of Asher Yatzar—while looking in a siddur? Does my child see that I never miss an opportunity to answer amen, and mean it? Do I involve my children in all the fun (yes, even with all the hard work that being a Torah Jew entails) and beauty of each mitzvah? Let children taste the sweetness of Hashem’s world; let them experience the geshmak of Shabbos and Yom Tov. Am I creating a home that breathes “I want to do mitzvos”? Am I generating excitement in ruchniyus which will propel my child to independently crave a relationship with Hashem and develop ahavas haTorah and simchas hamitzvos?
Chinuch is intended to permeate the home with all the kedushah and taharah and simcha that we want our children to absorb, to allow them to grow into happy, healthy yerei Shamayim. Remember, it must start with the very first pure, perfect flask of oil.