Since it is Shabbat Chanukah it is most appropriate to discuss ‘chinuch’ (education). In my humble opinion, one of the biggest man-made miracles in the Torah apart from the G-DLY miracles was the spiritual survival of Yosef and his children in the very foreign, pagan, immoral, alien environment of ancient Egypt, despite being away for many years from family influences for 22 years. How did Yosef survive? His father Yaakov was probably the most successful educator of children among the forefathers, despite some mistakes all his children continued down the path that he and his fathers had forged. How did Yaakov do it?
A Jewish parent should endeavor to transmit the following values in a warm, persistent and joyful way:
- Belief, knowledge and love of G-d from the heart.
- Love of the Torah and love for learning. Inquisitiveness (thirst for learning), exhibiting itself as excellence in limudei kodesh and chol (secular studies), not just knowledge of facts, but also understanding why.
- Pride in the Jewish Heritage including: love of Eretz Yisrael, love of Am Yisrael, knowing that we are all part of a greater whole and responsible for each other’s welfare – kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh; love of the mitzvot.
- Cheerfulness and pleasantness, both in the human and G-d relationship ‘Ivdu et Hashem besimcha’ and in the human relationships ‘vechol deracheha shalom.’
- A feeling of being in a nurturing, loving, secure environment.
- Middot – good character traits, exhibited through Derech Eretz (manners), tolerance, and cooperation with others, and chessed – kindness and giving. Respect and empathy for all humanity who were created betzelem elokim. Love and respect for parents and teachers.
- Spirituality – deriving satisfaction, joy and a feeling of growth from tefillah and shemirat hamitzvot.
Today all of us are busy. Most parents enjoy very little quality time with their children during the week. The only quality time available is on weekends (thank G-d for Shabbat). Teaching and reinforcing good behavior in our children, teaching our children to derive satisfaction, joy and a feeling of growth from prayer and performance of the mitzvot must be applied during this short time that we spend with them each week.
I remember when I was six years old, being woken up by my father or mother every Shabbat and being bundled off to synagogue with enthusiasm - theirs, not mine. Believe me, it took a lot of persistence on their part. One of my fondest memories was sitting close to my father, of blessed memory, enjoying the warmth and security of his presence, his continual pointing to the place in the siddur and telling me to follow the prayers. On Shabbat afternoons, he was my teacher who used to ‘corner’ me and teach me to chant the ‘zemirot’ in the synagogue on Shabbat and my Bar Mitzvah portion. Needless to say my parents’ enthusiasm and warmth was infectious and it wasn’t very long before I became self-motivated and ran to synagogue early on Shabbat morning for the privilege of reading the ‘zemirot’ I am eternally grateful to them for imbuing me with these qualities.
It is a positive commandment to learn and teach Torah. This is learned from Devarim 6:7,
… and you shall teach them (the words of Torah) diligently to your children.”
(Sefer Hahinukh, Mitzvah 419).
The mitzvah to teach Torah to one’s children and grandchildren is derived from Deuteronomy 4:9:
… and you shall make them known to your children and your children’s children.
Sefer Hahinuch gives an interesting minimum for a parent’s obligation to teach a child: “That the child will be able to read from a Sefer Torah and understand the simple meaning of the words.”
The purpose of learning Torah is to enable a person to understand and emulate the ways of the Almighty and to provide the know-how to improve character to make us better, more refined people.