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Thought for the Day: Chinuch HaBanim -- Education Is Preparation

My granddaughter was doing something she was not supposed to do and had been told (at least once or a million times) not to do.  That's not lashon ha'rah because that's what four year olds do; in fact, it would be a cause for concern if she didn't do anything she wasn't supposed to do (and had been told that at least once or a million times).  Her mother (my daughter) told her to stop.  My granddaughter (her daughter) told her, "Don't tell me to stop; I'm only four!"  Her brother parroted, "Don't tell me to stop; I'm only three!"  While my enjoyment of my daughter's predicament may be construed as n'kama/revenge, I am sure there is an exemption for grandparents.

We Torah observant Jews have a lot of things to do and rules to observe.  Obviously, an infant fresh from the womb cannot be expected to say a sh'he'chi'yanu on being born; he is still working out breathing and whatnot, after all.  On the other hand, a (non-yechi) bachur, is expected to say a sh'he'chi'yanu on his new tallis; he is a gadol b'yisrael, after all.

There are two steps between new born and gadol -- gil chinuch and gil havana.  Gil havana/age of understanding is usually pretty easy to determine.  My four year old granddaughter certainly understands her environment and understands what she should and should not be doing.  Her three year old brother, on the other hand, is pretty much just focussed on himself as center of the universe.  (Though he has learned that copying his old sister is usually beneficial to him.)  Gil chinuch/educable age, on the other hand, is trickier.  Chinuch is not "training to task"; chinuch does mean explaining the situation well enough that the child can appreciate the logic of the expected behavior and even reason it out himself.  Gil chinuch depends not only on each child, it also depends on the topic.  Gil chinuch for Shabbos is different than gil chinuch for brachos is different for gil chinuch for fasting.

For brachos the issue is understanding to whom one is addressing the praise/thanks.  The gemara relates that Abaye was asked where HaShem was when he was about five years old; he went outside and pointed to the sky.  That was good enough for his parents to start teaching him brachos.

A young father was once discussing an issue with R' Eliyahu Lopian, ztz"l, on Shabbos and his three year old son kept picking up a rock.  The father repeatedly admonished the child to put down the rock and telling him "muktzah!"  R' Lopian finally told him to stop; he was not giving his child a lesson in muktzah, instead he was giving him a lesson in disobeying his father.  That child was gil chinuch for Shabbos and muktzah; presumably the father was gil chinuch in learning how to be a parent.

Our four fasts mourning the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash -- May it be rebuilt soon and in our lifetime -- present an unique challenge in chinuch.  We don't have our children fast until they are mamash g'dolim.  After all, we don't want to m'chanich them in mourning for the Beis HaMikdash; G-d Willing, it will be rebuilt before they reach the age of majority.  On the other hand, when they reach gil chinuch they should only be fed simple foods (ie, no "treats"), because once they are gil chinuch it is certainly appropriate to train them to join in the sorrow of the community; each at his own level.

I once heard a parent complaing to a rav about the "tza'ar gidel banim"/distress of rearing children he was experiencing.  The rav replied, "That's not tza'ar gidel banim, that's just gidel banim."  Rearing children, especially Torah observant children is no easy task; but look at the jewels you get out of it!  Just ask any grandparent.

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