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Lech Lecha: Teaching by Example

Miriam Aflalo

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

 “And he led forth his trained ones [chanichav]” (Bereishis 14:14)

The lofty activity of preparing a child for his future life is called chinuch.… Avraham Avinu had chanichim, trained ones, from his household, whom he cultivated by means of his words and his life example. In the face of an entire world filled with heresy, he saved these people and gave them a life permeated with knowledge and awe of Hashem. He taught them with his deeds, and they did all their actions according to his guidance; therefore they are called his trained ones.…

Today too, each descendant of our father Avraham has an obligation to … raise well-trained students according to his words and his life example. And by means of his guiding his children, in the miniature Mikdash that is his home, he will accustom them to a life of serving Hashem. (Avnei Chinuch — Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch)

This afternoon, the kids were huddled around their desks, “preparing a surprise for me.” Finally, after two hours of surreptitious activity, they presented me with a homemade booklet of thank-you notes from all the children.

 Thank you for the hairdos, Shabbos ice cream, new clothes, for cleaning the house, making sandwiches. For being the best Mommy in the world.

I kissed them with all my strength, but in my heart a silent question raises its head, that all their gratitude was for the very technical aspects of being a mommy: cooking, buying clothes, making food.

Isn’t my true role to guide their tender souls on the true path, to train my children to goodness and purity, to inculcate love of Torah and mitzvos, and to turn them into those who truly fear Hashem?

How simple to wash dishes and go shopping, how easy to spread sandwich fillings, to make birthday parties, even to feed children who are sick and cranky. But to train children? How complex. There is no shortage of books, articles, lectures, and classes on chinuch, but no clear formula of how to or how much.

How shall a Jewish father succeed in educating his child … to a life of serving Hashem, and how is it possible to awaken him to this purpose from the dawn of his childhood?

Exactly as he’s taught to stand. The father doesn’t explain to him all the details of walking or make speeches to him about the great value of walking. Rather, he learns to walk by walking. By the same method, the father will teach him good middos, as well, and all the mitzvos — by doing them, and only by doing them.

Just as it’s not by celebrating the dedication of the shul (chanukas habayis), but rather by the first public prayers there, that we sanctify the building and transform it into a shul. Thus it is with raising our children [chinuch] to a life of holiness and purity. Only actions, habit, and tests will strengthen them and establish the road that will lead them to be people of good character, strong throughout their lives. As it states, “… also when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (ibid.)

Chinuch is mainly what I do, what I say, how I respond. If my daughter sees my tears falling into my siddur, then I’ve been m’chanech her in davening.

Plain and simple.

If I suffer a terrible, burning loss, and they see me say, with trembling lips but deep sincerity, “This too is for the best,” then my children are being trained to have faith.

If I’m unimpressed by fancy things and choose what’s good and plain, not because, “we don’t have money,” but because, “this is what we want,” then I’ve trained them to value simplicity and to hate grandeur.

There’s no need to train children; our children become trained by themselves. Their young eyes are raised to us, scrutinizing our every word and gesture. Explanations are nice, and warnings are sometimes necessary. But don’t try to train a child who sees his father furious at some slight to his honor, about the beauty of humility and calm.

As long as children are in our domain, it’s in our hands … to teach them to bear and overcome all manner of difficulties, and mainly, to master themselves. To become accustomed to filling their roles in their future as independent people. They need to be trained in these qualities when they’re yet young. (ibid.)

Lofty words pale before small deeds. Everything they read is erased in one moment of our true, spontaneous response.

Be better, more honest, choose the good — for their sake. You leave a deep impression on their souls.

A day will come, with Heaven’s help, when they’ll be wonderful people. And we won’t understand exactly when we managed to train them so well.

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