While it may be possible to give some type of general idea in explaining what it feels like to eat chocolate, the only real way for another individual to fully comprehend what we’re talking about is to simply try some chocolate himself.
One who tasted, enjoyed and savored a piece of chocolate needs no more convincing, explanations, or exhortations. He knows now what it feels like, and his body will automatically crave more of the same.
(Okay, if you are one of those rare specimens who do not enjoy chocolate, simply substitute any other food or drink you enjoy in the above paragraphs.)
Suppose, for whatever reason, that you very badly want your son to have a future in the coffee-tasting industry. Not only do you need him to become a coffee drinker, but if he is to land a job as a serious coffee taster, he needs to develop a deep and multi-sensory appreciation for the coffee beverage. Once he reaches that point, his opinions and observations on the various types and flavors of coffee will be respected and, hopefully, worth remuneration.
How would you get your son into coffee? Would you speak to him about the drink, try to describe what it tastes like, and hope he’ll decide to try it one day? Or would you bring him the freshest brewed coffee in various strengths and flavors for his senses to savor?
If we want him to have a future in the business badly enough, we would surely ensure that he experiences the wonders and flavors and pleasures of coffee drinking first-hand. In that way, we might hope that it ignites in him a lifelong passion for the drink.
Where are we going with all this? Surely the intent of this article is not merely to express the author’s appreciation for chocolate and how badly he would have liked a future in coffee tasting rather than writing. Rather, the topic we wish to focus on is chinuch.
Where do chocolate and coffee fit in with chinuch (other than the fact that chocolate makes for great incentives and coffee often keeps rabbeim and teachers functioning!)? The fact is that Yiddishkeit – Torah and mitzvos – is a far more incredible and rewarding experience than savoring chocolate. Our Torah and mitzvos are wonderful, are fulfilling, and can bring pleasure to every last physical and spiritual component of our beings.
More than any person might desire a future in coffee-tasting for their child, every Jewish parent fervently hopes and prays that their offspring carry on the torch of Yiddishkeit for eternity. Hashem chose Avrohom to be the forefather of the Jewish nation because, as Hashem Himself tells us, “Ki yoda’ativ lema’an asher yetzaveh es bonov v’es beiso acharov veshomru derech Hashem – Because I know that he (Avrohom) will teach his children and his household after him so that they will observe the way of Hashem” (Vayeira 18:19).
How do we pass on the rich heritage that is ours? Do we merely tell our children that they have a wonderful treasure that can bring them pleasure and fulfillment? Do we try to describe to our offspring the feeling of doing true chesed, the excitement of learning Torah, and the peace of mind that comes with having a Creator to talk to, lean on and cry to in any situation?
Can we describe any of this in a meaningful way? If one can hardly describe the taste of chocolate to one who has never tasted it, can we even begin to express the breadth and depth of feelings inherent in every single mitzvah? Surely that is impossible.
The solution, though, is simple. There is nothing like tasting chocolate or drinking coffee to get a person to feel , without any long-winded drashos, the pleasures to which we had referred. By the same token, and even more so, there is nothing like experiencing a mitzvah, a tefillah, a class or a seder in learning to give a person a feel for the potential inherent in that action.
All this should be elementary. Nobody would go and waste years attempting to describe or explain a taste or sensation when he or she could very well deliver the actual taste or sensation to the other person. Similarly, chinuch has always been about bringing up our children surrounded by the sounds, sights, highs, feelings and sensations of Yiddishkeit to the best of our abilities.
There is a big world out there. The yeitzer hara does not rest for one second in his efforts to distract us from what is really good in life. Bringing up our children so that they not only understand the good of Torah and mitzvos intellectually, but rather feel it and identify with it from their formative years and on, gives them the best fighting chance against the distractive wiles of the yeitzer hara.
Of course, the yeitzer hara is never one to give up easily. In fact, he has come up with an ingenious method of preventing us from bequeathing to our children as thorough a grounding in Yiddishkeit as we can. He comes to us in the form of enlightened and progressive thought, telling us that we’re smarter and have come a long way in understanding things better than in the old days.
“What’s the kuntz of spoon-feeding Yiddishkeit to your child?” he asks. “He’s just a robot then. He does things because that’s how he was brought up, not because he chose to serve Hashem. Worse, he may even throw it all away once he’s not being forced to do things out of habit or discipline. Why not let your child choose on his own to serve Hashem? Don’t push him. Don’t pressure him. If Judaism is as good as you say it is, why not let the child choose it himself? Then it will be meaningful to him and remain with him forever.”
Sounds convincing, doesn’t it? Many of us, too often, sadly fall for this twisted logic. Twisted because it relies on us forgetting the fact that while we may take a break from pushing what is good and proper, the yeitzer hara has no intention of taking a break from pushing everything that will bring the child far away from a good and rewarding life.
Choosing between what is good for us or the opposite is far more than a simple intellectual endeavor. Anyone who has ever tried to stay away from certain foods for health reasons, for example, knows that it is a struggle. Often, it is not until a person, Rachmana litzlan, feels the ill effects of their weight or health issues that they suddenly discover the drive to curb their unhealthy eating habits.
Why wait until then? Does not the intellect clearly tell us what is good for us? Why would a person choose to act in a way that is not good for their own selves?
The answer, of course, is that Hashem created us in a fashion that requires us to struggle to choose what is right. Our desires always cloud our pure intellect and push us down questionable paths. We must actively overcome our internal and external pulls to choose what is good. In this way, we are rewarded for our positive choices.
This is the crux of chinuch. Chinuch is training our children or students for a lifetime of good choices. We do this by recognizing that no matter how wonderful, fulfilling and proper a Torah life is, there will always be influences – often powerful ones – pulling even the best, most learned and most well-meaning individuals (yes, even us!) in the opposite direction. The yeitzer hara never takes a break. The pull of our desires, of what everybody else is doing, of this or that gratification, especially in today’s day and age, often seems virtually impossible to overcome.
By giving our children (and ourselves) wonderful experiences in Yiddishkeit and in making proper choices, we are giving them at least a fighting chance in overcoming their lesser inclinations. Just as a coffee drinker will have to develop his own personal taste, preferences and true appreciation for the drink as he grows and matures, so will our charges – even after we’ve exposed them to and inculcated in them the beauty, excitement and depth of Yiddishkeit – have the rest of their lives to develop, enhance and deepen their own personal relationship with our Creator. Still, we owe it to them to at least give them the tools to fight the lifelong enticements of the yeitzer hara by making Torah, tefillah, middos and mitzvos enticing for them as well.
What of those who maintain that pushing Yiddishkeit, davening, mitzvos and proper standards on our children will give them a bad taste and make them rebel or want to stop as soon as they are free from our influence or apron-strings?
Well, have you known anyone who grew to hate chocolate because his parents allowed him to eat it as a child?
People do not generally reject positive experiences of their youth. Obviously, were a child’s parents to tie him down, bind him hand and foot, and force chocolate down his throat, having him practically gag on it, he might never wish to look at chocolate again, no matter how creamy or delicious it is. So, like everything else, there must be a healthy balance.
In a warm and loving home, parents can discipline their children to share their toys, daven, speak nicely, bentch, and otherwise behave properly, and, in normal situations, these things still remain positive experiences and will give the child a healthy grounding and a proper direction for life. Most of us were not traumatized forever when our mothers made us share. Rather, we learned a good middah for life.
Of course, an unhealthy mother who might wrench away her child’s toys, yell at him, put him down and embarrass him in front of friends will usually not see positive results in the long run. Done properly, though, disciplining a child to live a proper Jewish life is what will expose him to the actual depth, meaning, excitement and myriad other aspects of Yiddishkeit. None of that could be accomplished by speaking, preaching or elaborating on what Yiddishkeit should be while waiting for the child to decide to experience it on his own.
The yeitzer hara won’t be waiting around to entice our children to heed his less-than-proper directives and ignite their excitement to his superficial rewards. We owe it to our children to at least give them a fighting chance by bringing them into adulthood having already experienced the positive rewards of self-control, middos tovos and as many of the rich and meaningful aspects of true Yiddishkeit as we can.