Shabbat Parashat Vayetzei | 5763
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Nature of the Mitzva to Educate Children (I) - Condensed from Amud Ha’mini, siman 54
Tosafot Yeshanim (Yoma 82a) brings a contradiction between cases where we find the obligation of chinuch (to educate minors in mitzvot) and the rule that beit din is not obligated to stop a minor from violating a commandment (Yevamot 114a). Tosafot assumes in his question that it is more critical to prevent violations than to educate to fulfill. Tosafot’s second answer is that only fathers are obligated in chinuch, which is the discussion in Yoma, whereas the rule in Yevamot, removing adults’ responsibility for a minor’s actions, refers to others. Tosafot assumes that the father’s special role in chinuch is even to the exclusion of the mother, a claim which seems to be the subject of a dispute between R. Yochanan and Resh Lakish (Nazir 28b). We can ask several questions.
Why does Tosafot stress the questionable claim that a mother is not obligated in chinuch, if they needed only to distinguish between a father and beit din? Why can’t both parents be obligated and beit din not be? While assuming that preventing violations is more pressing than positive education, why was it sufficient to demonstrate that only a father is obligated in chinuch, when it is still possible that mothers and others are obligated in prevention of sin?
These questions are but one indication that we need to explore the different possible elements of the mitzva of chinuch. One idea is that a child, despite lacking full, halachic da’at (understanding), still has enough da’at to be trained cognitively. Another possibility is that mitzvot have a certain positive, spiritual influence on a person, including a child, even when he does not or is not capable of recognize its value.
The mitzva of hakhel (the sept-annual congregating for public Torah study), which includes children, is an example where both of these elements of chinuch seem to play a role. The gemara (Chagiga 3a) says that children are brought to enable reward for those who bring them. The Maharsha (ad loc.) asks that the Torah gives a different reason, that they are brought to learn (Devarim 31:12). The Maharsha answers that the gemara’s reason is needed for those who are too young to learn. But if they are so young, then what is there from their presence, which justifies reward for those who bring them?
Apparently, different elements of chinuch apply, depending on the child’s level. Those who are capable of learning benefit from the cognitive form of chinuch. The younger ones are affected by the non-cognitive, spiritual nourishment, which serves to enhance their future ability to perform mitzvot. The younger child himself is a passive participant in the mitzva of hakhel, and so the reward for exposing him to the experience goes to those who bring him. We can understand why R. Yehoshua was so enthusiastic about this explanation (Chagiga, ibid.). The Yerushalmi explains the statement that she who gave birth to R. Yehoshua should be praised by relating that from infancy, his mother used to bring him to the beit midrash to be influenced by the atmosphere.
[We continue next week.]
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