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Thought for the Day: How The Mitzvah of Chinuch Works

Halichos Shlomo, when discussing the topic of children making brachos on tzitzis that are smaller than the requisite shiur, takes up the topic of how the mitzvah of chinuch works in general.  The mitzvah of tzitzis is itself interesting, as the Torah allows us to wear kilayim (sha'atnez) due to the principle of "asei doche lo sa'ase" -- a positive commandment pushes off a negative commandment (some restrictions do apply, see Torah sh'ba'al peh for details).  Basically, since I am fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis with the self-same action as violating the issur of sha'atnez, I am good to go.  If there were no positive mitzvah, there would be nothing to push off the issur.  So, asks the Halichos Shlomo, how does the mitzvah d'rabanan of chinuch allow the child to transgress the specific Torah prohibition against wearing sha'atnez?  (The transgression itself, of course, is d'rabanan because he is a koton.)  We certainly wouldn't allow someone to transgress the prohibition against stealing -- even if it were only stealing d'rabanan (such as gambling) -- to fulfill the mitzvah d'rabanan to light chanuka candles!

The Halichos Shlomo concludes that the mitzvah of chinuch is really a "meta-mitzvah"; a mitzvah to create mitzvos.  Because of the need to m'chanich a child in mitzvos, Chazal have instituted a rule for creating mitzvos d'rabanan for children.  The rule is to consider the status of the child when he becomes a gadol and then treat him now with that same status, albeit d'rabanan.  For our tzitzis case, when a male child grows up he will be fulfilling a positive mitzvah d'oraisa by wearing tzitzis, so we look at him now as fulfilling a positive mitzvah d'rabanan by wearing tzitzis.  That creates the positive mitzvah needed to push off the issur that would otherwise be transgressed.

For me this answered another question I have had for years.  The gemara in brachos asks who should lead bentching when everyone in the group is obligated only at a rabinic level.  For example, a gadol who has eaten only a k'zayis and a koton who has eaten a k'beitza.  I was bothered by the question itself, because (I thought) that this was comparing apples and oranges!  One has the mitzvah d'rabanan of bentching and one has the mitzvah d'rabanan of chinuch.  From this Halichos Shlomo, I now understand the question and the answer.  The gemara answers that the gadol can motzi the koton because the gadol is only one d'rabanan, while the koton is two d'rabanans.  Now it is clear, the mitzvah d'rabanan for the child is a product of the mitzvah d'rabanan of chinuch.

One more thing... people think we don't m'chanich children in aveilos for the beis hamikdash.  I think that is not accurate.  While it is true that were the child a gadol on Tisha b'Av, for example, he would fast.  But we don't consider him as that age now, we ask what will be his obligations when be becomes a gadol.  I"YH, by the time he becomes a gadol, we will have all returned to Yerushalayim.  We are not neglecting chinuch at all; rather, we are being m'chanich him in tzipita l'y'shu'a -- waiting expectantly for the salvation.  An area where we could all use some extra chizuk.

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