Vayeishev- Chanukah 5775

December 11, 2014

The Netziv on Chanukah

The Netziv ruled that children are always to be taught to observe mitzvot and customs in the same manner that they will observe them as adults.

If we add this to Rashi’s position that a parent cannot fulfill the mitzvah of chinuch through a shliach – either because a child must see his father first-hand observing mitzvot and emulate him or because a parent must directly observe his child’s progress in performing mitzvot.

It would seem that children should not light their own menorahs.

The Mishnah Berurah in his Biur Halachah (Orach Chayim 675), citing the Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 677:8), notes that minor children are exempt from the contemporary Chanukah custom of everyone lighting his or her own menorah, lighting an additional candle each night.

His rationale is that the mitzvah of chinuch only applies to practices that are biblical or rabbinic law in nature. Lighting an additional candle each night, however, is not an obligation (a true chiyuv) but a hiddur mitzvah. Chazal never required parents to ensure that their children fulfill hidurei mitzvah.

But what about the Netziv’s position that children should fulfill mitzvot exactly as they will as adults? Doesn’t this position require children to light menorah just like adults do? If so, it would seem that the Mishnah Berurah disagrees with the Netziv.

Perhaps the answer is that the Netziv would agree that children sometimes should not perform mitzvot. What he is saying is that if a child performs a mitzvah, he should perform it as if he were an adult.

Interestingly, the Mishnah Berurah rules that if a child owns a home, he should light one candle each night of Chanukah. Even this ruling, however, may not contradict the Netziv. The Netziv perhaps only objects to children performing mitzvot in a non-halachic manner. He may not, however, object to a child lighting menorah contrary to the accepted custom as long as he does so in a halachically acceptable manner.

Hence, the present custom of children lighting Chanukah candles follows the ruling of the Netziv rather than the Mishneh Berurah.

In this, the Netziv is consistent. The Talmud (Sukkah 42a) states that we give a lulav to a child only after he knows to shake it properly. The Netziv questioned why this is so. We know that simply picking up a lulav and etrog correctly is good enough to fulfill the mitzvah. Why, then, should we wait until a child knows how to properly shake the lulav if he can already fulfill the mitzvah simply by picking it up?

The Netziv answered that, as a general principle, one does not teach children to practice mitzvot in a way that they will abandon when they grow older. In other words, we teach children practices that they will observe as adults. Since adults shake the lulav in a prescribed fashion when doing the mitzvah, so must children. If they are not old enough to know how to, we wait until they mature.

A most surprising example is education in the mitzva of keriat shema!

The Netziv follows Rashi (Berachot 20a) and contends that there is no mitzvah of chinuch obligating a father to ensure that his child says Keriat Shema in the morning and evening of each day. Rashi explains that fathers leave for work in the morning prior to their children awakening and come home at night after their children are already asleep.

The difficulty with this ruling is that the father’s presence should seemingly have no bearing on his obligation to ensure that his child observes the mitzvot. If he isn’t home mornings and evenings when his child is awake, why can’t he can ask someone else to make sure his child says Shema?

Perhaps Rashi is suggesting a novel interpretation of the mitzvah of chinuch itself. Perhaps the essence of mitzvah is not about children learning to perform the mitzvot, but rather about children observing their fathers because observation inculcates the father’s minhagim and procedures into the child. The true mitzvah is for the child to watch his father perform mitzvot and copy him. Copying one’s father perform a mitzvah creates a more intense emotional attachment and commitment than simply being told to do something.

Another solution is that Rashi believes chinuch requires a parent to see the progress of his child with his own eyes. Receiving progress reports is not enough, and therefore, the mitzvah cannot be performed by a shliach. Parental observation is a form of guarantee that the child will actually perform mitzvot correctly.

Both interpretations suggest that the mitzvah of chinuch requires a higher level of supervision than the general obligation to have others teach our children the basics of mitzvot observance.

Chanukah is the festival of Chinuch ( education) and although circumstances have changed since the time of the Netziv, nevertheless, the message is clear, we must be more involved in our children’s education whenever at all possible. Or as my late Rebbe zatza”l used to say ” education is like the measles, you have to get very close to it to catch it!”

Chanukah Sameach!

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