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Thought for the Day: Chinuch -- Utilizing Nature/Mazal

Shlomo HaMelech tells us, Mishlei 22:6:
חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר, עַל-פִּי דַרְכּוֹ -- גַּם כִּי-יַזְקִין, לֹא-יָסוּר מִמֶּנָּה.
Education/train/nurture the child according to his way; also when he grows older/wiser he will not turn away.
The Gr'a explains why it has to be according to the child's way.  Everyone is born with certain innate character traits, which the Gr"a says is the meaning of "mazal".  For example, a person born under the mazal of m'adem will have a nature to spill blood.  He is born with that, neither he nor anyone else can change it.  Trying to change it will only be a futile exercise in frustration.  Worse, he may do what you want while he is under your control, but as soon as he out from under your control he will throw off the training.  Truthfully, this is powerful advice even for an adult trying to work on himself.  You must know that you have a certain "hard wired" nature.  You can try to fight it, and you may win many battles, but in the end the war will be lost.

The chinuch, therefore, must be done in such a way that it uses the nature of the person.  This really shouldn't be such a surprise.  If you try to train a duck to stalk and a cat to swim, you are setting yourself up for failure.  We don't think of our nature, though, as that fixed, but prefer to think that we just need to curb our "tendencies".  We are wrong.  So what should a person do?  Is he doomed to be a murderer?!  Obviously not; while we have no choice about our natures, we have complete freedom of choice as to how we utilize that nature.  A rasha will choose to be a murderer, an average person may choose to be a butcher, the tzadik will chose to be a mohel.

According to this, the pasuk could equally have read "al pi tivo"/according to his nature.  Rabeinu Yona explains that chinuch is a derech, a pathway; constantly moving, constantly changing, constantly requiring decisions.  The beauty of that is that one should never feel he is stuck; "This is the way I have to act; I'll never change!"  The mistake is to confuse one's nature (which is out of his control) with what he can do with it (which is completely in his control).  You can't choose whether you are a '57 Ford or an '89 Ferrari.  You can and must choose which road to take, and you can turn off any time.

Parents provide chinuch; there are better and not so better parents.  Teachers/rebei'im provide chinuch; there are better and not better teachers/rebei'im.  Ultimately, you are your own m'chanich, and you can be as good as you want to be.

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