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Vayelech: Bringing the Children

Published on Friday November 12th, 2021

Devarim, 31:12: “Gather together the people – the men, the women, and the small children, and your stranger who is in your cities – so that they will hear and so that they will learn, and they shall fear HaShem.”

Rashi, 31:12: sv. The young children: Why did they come? To bring reward to those who bring them.

Once every seven years, on the first day of Chol HaMoed Sukkos, the entire nation was commanded to perform the Mitzva of Hakhel, whereby they come to the Beis HaMikdash to listen to the King read the Book of Devarim.  The Torah instructs the people to even bring their children.  The Gemara understands that even the very young children are included in this command.  Accordingly it asks; what is the purpose of bringing such young children?  It answers that the purpose is to give reward to the parents for bringing them.[1]  Yet the Gemara’s answer gives rise to a new question; if the children get absolutely nothing out of coming, why should the parents receive any reward – what benefit is gained in bringing them that merits reward?

Rav Yitzchak Berkovits Shlita answers that there is indeed some small benefit in bringing young children to Hakhel.  Even though they are too young to consciously learn from the experience, nonetheless they will imbue a certain level of Yiras Shamayim from seeing such a large gathering for the sake of a Mitzva.[2]  However, that small benefit in and of itself would not necessarily be enough of a reason to command the parents to go the extreme difficulty of bringing such young children.  The most important aspect of bringing the young children is that the parents are demonstrating great mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice) in striving to provide their children with a slightly beneficial spiritual experience, and it is for this supreme effort that the parents receive reward.

This teaches us a fundamental lesson in chinuch: The process of bringing up children is essential to the spiritual growth of the parents’ themselves. One of the main ways in which a parent is challenged is in the extent to which they are prepared to go to ensure the spiritual and physical well being of their children.   Accordingly, when a parent exerts great effort in bringing his young child to a unique spiritual event such as ‘Hakhel’ he demonstrates his devotion to this key feature of chinuch.

This lesson has numerous applications in determining our attitude towards bringing up our children and the way in which we bring them up.  In terms of attitude, it is inevitable that difficulties arise in the course of bringing up children. Moreover, at times, the children develop in very different ways from how the parent envisaged.  When this happens, the parents’ attitude towards their role is essential.  Rav Noach Orlowek Shlita, notes that there can be a tendency for parents to view their children as ‘nachas machines’. That means that to some extent, they see their children as a way of feeling good about themselves.  This expresses itself in a more extreme fashion in the secular world where some parents push their children to succeed in areas, such as sport, where they failed.  The negative consequences of this approach are apparent – it can lead to the parent bringing up the child in a way that is not best for the child’s growth, rather is a reflection of the parents’ selfish desires.  In the Torah observant community this flaw may be less pronounced but it can still be present.  If a parent reminds himself that the purpose of having children is to bring them up in the most ideal way for them and that this is for the sake of the parent’s own growth, then he can have a far more positive approach when things do not go as planned.

In the practical sense when a parent recognizes that chinuch is a tool for his own growth, his lifestyle is positively affected in many ways.  When, for example a child causes the parent to get angry, the correct approach would be for the parent to work on his character traits so that he doesn’t react with anger in the future.[3]  Moreover, it is well-known that he most effective way of positively influencing children is through one’s own example.  Therefore, improving one’s own Avodas HaShem and character traits is the best way to positively influence one’s children in these areas.  Thus, even if a father is unable to motivate himself in his own Torah learning for instance, he should recognize that if he wants his child to learn Torah then he needs to provide an example for the child to emulate.

The following story encapsulates this point.  A Rav would give a Torah shiur every evening.  There was one man who consistently attended the shiur, and on an equally consistent basis, managed to fall asleep night after night through the majority of the shiur.  Finally the Rav asked the man why he kept attending if he gained nothing from the shiur.  The man explained that the reason he kept coming even though he was unable to stay awake was so that his children will see that their father valued Torah to the extent that after a hard day at work he exerted himself to attend a Torah shiur.  Needless to say it would be far better if he would actually learn something himself, but the dedication he demonstrated for the sake of his children’s growth shows how he realized that mesiras nefesh is an essential requirement in parenting.

We have seen how the purpose of chinuch is as much for the sake of the growth of the parents as for the children.  In that vein the mesirat nefesh expressed my parents in bringing their young children to experience Hakhel is in and of itself worthy of great reward.

[1] Chagiga, 3a.

[2] Also see Ohr HaChaim, Devarim, 31:12.

[3] This is not to say that the child may need discipline if he behavior is unacceptable, rather that responding with anger is never the optimum way to react and will not help the child in the long-run.

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