The Key to Success in Chinuch

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

Rav Yitzchak bar Bisna was the gabbai in charge of opening the doors to the beis midrash. He did his job without fail, until one fateful day when he lost his keys. He realized on Shabbos that he had dropped the keys in a public thoroughfare. He could not carry the keys to open the doors because that would violate the melachah of hotza’ah, transporting items. Rav Yitzchak approached Rebbe Pedas for advice. Rebbe Pedas advised him to take some children to play in the vicinity of the keys and then lead them back to the beis midrash. Inevitably, one of the kids would pick up the keys and bring them there. The Gemara (Yevamos 114a) uses this incident as a starting point to discuss whether one has to stop minors from performing an action that is forbidden for adults. The Rambam opines that even if an unrelated individual does not have to stop a minor from “sinning,” the father certainly does. The father has a mitzvah of chinuch to teach his children how to perform mitzvos and how to refrain from sinning. The above incident does not refute the Rambam’s opinion, because we can surmise that Rav Yitzchak bar Bisna was unrelated to the children who would carry the keys on Shabbos. Nevertheless, in the Gemara’s ensuing discussion, there was a scenario that seemingly involved the father. The Gemara discussed a scenario where a child was holding rabbinical terumah that was tamei. Such terumah is rabbinically proscribed from consumption, but a father does not have to take away such food from his child. This seems to demonstrate that even a father does not have to train his child not to perform aveiros. The Ritva therefore concludes that the Gemara must be speaking about a child that is not old enough for the mitzvah of chinuch to be applicable. A child of that age has no concept of mitzvos at all. Indeed, the Mishnah Berurah writes (343:3), “And know that the age of chinuch for every mitzvah depends on the child’s acumen and knowledge. For example, with a child who knows about Shabbos, one is obligated to accustom the child to hearing Kiddush and Havdalah. This applies to positive biblical commandments and rabbinical ones. However, the mitzvah of chinuch as it relates to negative precepts applies to every child who has understanding, meaning he understands when it is said to him that this is forbidden to do or eat. But a child who has no understanding, the father is not obligated to refrain from violating the laws of Shabbos.” Rav Neuwirth (Kuntres Chinuch HaBanim) writes that this latter age extends until the age of two or three. A homiletic interpretation of the incident with Rav Yitzchak bar Bisna was suggested. He was concerned that the beis midrash wasn’t producing gedolim, men of outstanding scholarship, and he was looking for the keys to success in Torah learning. Rav Pedas answered that the key is starting with proper chinuch when the children are young. He told Rav Yitzchak to seek out young children and lead them to the beis midrash. The pasuk in Vayikra (21:1) states, “And Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Tell the kohanim the sons of Aharon and tell them, “None shall defile himself for any person among his kin.” The Gemara notes repetition in the verse: “Tell the kohanim The sons of Aharon and tell them.” The Gemara says this indicates that the adults should make sure the children keep the mitzvos. Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that the Gemara’s question is clear, but the answer seems to be pure conjecture. How does the repetition of the verb “tell” indicate that the verse is directing parents to educate their children in mitzvos? Rav Moshe answers that chinuch involves two statements from the parent. The first is to educate the child as to the nature of the mitzvah he is expected to perform. The second is the statement regarding how much the parent enjoys that mitzvah. A child who hears a parent complain how hard a mitzvah is to keep will be discouraged from observing that mitzvah. The child will reason that the mitzvah is beyond his capabilities, surmising that he lacks the fortitude of his parents. On the other hand, if a child hears from his parents how enthusiastic they are about a mitzvah, he will be motivated to make the effort of keeping the mitzvah. The enthusiasm will be contagious. This is the key to success in chinuch.

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at

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