Bossewitch Wide

The Essence of Education

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Oct 15, 2010

This week we read about Avraham’s entry onto the historical stage and his covenant with Hashem. In addition to promises of great success and growth, Avraham is also told that there will be periods of persecution and exile for him and his descendants (Bereishis 15:4-16). 

Considering this unexpected reference to future exile – in a covenant we expect to hear of destined greatness, not punishment – the Talmud (Nedarim 32a) asks a provocative question: Why was Avraham punished and why were his children persecuted in Egypt for so many years? Among the suggestions offered by the Talmud, two are based on verses in our parshah

The first answer finds fault with something that Avraham did. When Avraham hears that Lot has been taken captive, “va’yarek es chanichav,” he arms his disciples and gathers his forces together for a rescue mission (14:14).  Rashi explains that the word “chanichav” refers to those students “she’chancho be’mitzvos,” that Avraham had educated in Torah and mitzvos. According the first suggestion in the Talmud, Avraham’s mistake was that he inappropriately took talmidei chachamim, righteous scholars, into battle. 

The second answer finds fault with something that Avraham said. After the rescue of Lot and the War of the Kings, Hashem attempts to reassure Avraham about his future, both with regards to having children and to inheriting the Land of Israel. Avraham, apparently still unsure, shockingly responds by asking, “ba’mah edah ki iy’rashenah,” how do I know – how can I be sure – that I will really inherit the land (15:8)? According to the second suggestion it was this statement, aggressively doubting Hashem’s promise, which was the source of the punishment. 

Perhaps there is a deeper connection between these two seemingly unrelated pesukim which can help us not only understand Avraham’s actions and statements, but also provide a valuable lesson for our own lives. 

Rav Elimelech of Grodzhisk maintains that we must understand Avraham’s question of “ba’mah edah ki iy’rashenah” on a deeper level because it is impossible to believe that Avraham didn’t take God at His word. After all, just two pesukim earlier Avraham is described as “ve’he’emin be’Hashem,” having total trust in God (15:6). Therefore R. Elimelech suggests that the word “iy’rashenah” be understood not as inherit, but rather as transmit or bequeath (from the word “morashah”). Thus understood, Avraham was actually questioning not how he would know that Hashem would give him the land, but how could he be sure that he would be successful at transmitting his values to his children. Avraham was wondering, “How can I guarantee that I will be morish, bequeath, my beliefs to my children? How can I make sure that they too will believe and remain connected?”  

This question is actually the question that Jewish parents have asked themselves – and continue to ask – for generations. We all want what the same thing that Avraham wanted. We don’t just want to have children but we want them to follow in our ways and share in our values. With all of the challenges confronting our children we too want a guarantee and we also ask, “ba’mah eidah?”  

It’s telling, therefore, that Hashem doesn’t respond to Avraham with any direct assurances. Hashem initiates the Beris Bein Ha-Besarim, the covenantal relationship that He has with Avraham, but he offers to guarantees. 

Nevertheless, while there is no “sure thing,” there is an important lesson that we can learn from Rashi’s description of the students that Avraham drafted to fight with him.  

In explaining the etymology of the word “chanichav,” Rashi says that it comes from the same root as the word “chinuch,” education, which is defined as “haschalas kenisas ha-adam le’umnus she’hu asid la’amod bah,” the entrance of a person into his or her future profession.  

Rav Meir Shapiro (Imrei Da’as) points that Rashi is revealing the essential goal of educating our children. Chinuch must be future oriented. As the famous verse in Mishlei (22:6) states, we educate each child according to his or her way so that, “gam ki yazkin lo yasur mi’menah,” when the child matures and is independent, he or she will embrace, what has been taught. The goal isn’t the present, but the future 

There is a saying that, “a mother holds her children’s hands for a while – their hearts forever.” That’s exactly correct. We won’t always be there to make sure our children do the right thing – there are no guarantees – but we can educate them to make the right decisions on their own. We can’t and shouldn’t hold their hands forever. But if we a future oriented now, then even when we can’t hold their hands, we – and our values – will remain in their hearts. 


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Learning on the Marcos and Adina Katz YUTorah site is sponsored today by the Goldberg and Mernick families to mark the yahrzeit of Samuel M. Goldberg, R’ Shmuel Meir ben R’ Eliyahu HaCohen z”l and by Reuben Pludwinski in memory of his father Jacob, Yaakov Meyer ben Yitzchak