On The Essence of Chinuch:
The foundation upon which all else is built

Part I


Based on a presentation by Rabbi Nochem Kaplan,
Director of the Merkos Chinuch Office,
At the Kinus HaShluchim 5774


Mechanchim are a wonderful breed. We are perpetually in a "continuously improving" cycle; we all strive for continuous professional growth and development. It is well known that in recent years major resources have been invested in our professional enhancement; our schools and educational agencies sponsor lectures, workshops and conferences. We work hard to improve our instruction practices so that our students will be able to learn better and maximize their potential. New ideas and insights naturally excite and motivate us.  

There is a growing movement within all Mosdos toward greater professionalism. There is a great deal more individualization and we employ a wider range of instructional techniques to be able to reach children at either end of the spectrum- the gifted, the eccentric, and the challenged learners. Mechanchim are using more and more technology to make their lessons more effective. One might say that there is a great movement in our Mosdos Chinuch toward a blending of "state of the art" educational ideas into the world of Jewish education. 

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 As good as all this progress is I feel compelled to raise some concern. I fear that in this general movement toward professionalism, we may lose sight of what we know to be the educational essence of all essences. We must make sure that all this progressive work does not overshadow our need to be constantly aware of the greatest imperative of all Chinuch Objectives. That is the fostering of Yiras Shamayim, each child's personal commitment to Torah and Mitzvos, and the continuous development of Midos Tovos-the refined personal character of our students and their ethical and moral fiber.   

One year in the mid-70s I was privileged to have been seated at the dais, at a Yud Tes Kislev farbrengen in Boston MA, near the revered Rav. J.B. Soloveitchik, OB"M. At that Chassidic gathering, he spoke of his personal history with a Chabad melamed in Krislaveh, where his father became Rov. When he, Reb Yoshe Ber, was a youngster, he attended the private Cheder of a Chabad Chassid who prepared his students throughout the month of Elul for the coronation of the KING on Rosh Hashanah, for Yom Kippur, and then for Succos. He said "whatever Yiras Shamayim I have to this day is attributable to that melamed". This story has since been published.

When he finished his talk and returned to his seat, he described the melamed at greater length and said to me that he carries with him to this day, the anticipation and excitement which he felt for that Rosh Hashanah.    

Historically, when people thought in terms of Chabad Chinuch they understood that there are certain attitudes and values inculcated in talmidim which made Chinuch in a Chabad educational institution quintessentially different. Warmth and "chayus" characterized Chabad melamdim. They taught Torah but reached the hearts of children; they inspired and excited their students and left an indelible imprint on them. We must never lose sight of the fact that we are all meant to be that Krislaver melamed!

The nature of these times and the progress of education in general, propel us forward to pay much more attention to new techniques and greater sensitivity toward individuals. We are concentrating on fine-tuning curricula and skills development to assure that all students will have attained basic skills by the time they leave our schools. The fact is that our schools really are better. Our melamdim and moros are better prepared and most classrooms now feature much better lessons. 

We are succeeding in teaching more desirably; however, we are not nearly so successful when it comes to imparting Yiras Shamayim, a very personal awe of G‑dliness, and the culture and milieu of an authentic Chabad Chassidic lifestyle. It seems to me that in our headlong pursuit of professional progress, we appear to be losing sight of essentials!     

This is not meant to be a lament, it is rather a reminder of who we as mechanchim are and that we must continue to focus our real and ultimate goal with undiminished intensity. So, rather than belabor some of the facts about dropouts, I want to concentrate on the essential imperative Yiras Shamayim and Midos Tovos.

The idea that Chabad Chassidism have a unique perspective regarding the ultimate objective of Chinuch is not a new one. It has been the focus of the Rabbayim through the generations and it should not be lost to those who should be most focused on it.  

In the early 1950s the Rebbe penned a general paper entitled: Some Basic Problems of Education. He wrote:
"Education, in general has two primary objectives:  
            (1) the acquisition of knowledge, and 
            (2) education in stricter sense; namely the cultivation of a proper code of ethics and morality and the development of a concept as to the purpose and the mission of life which will be reflected in the daily conduct of the boys and girls when they grow up and take their place in society."  

This is what the Rebbe wrote in broad general terms about education in America, but his words are not limited to the American public schools. His words speak just as clearly to us in yeshivas and day schools. It is our collective responsibility to assure that the Chinuch should be such. That it prepares a talmid for his ultimate mission in life and that we may not lose sight because of our need to impart knowledge of what the Rebbe called "the stricter sense of Chinuch"!

Some of these same ideas were also the focus of the previous Rebbe and his father, the Rebbe RaShab, in their magnum opus of Chabad Chinuch "Klolei HaChinuch V'Hahadrocho" as we will presently see. The Rabbayim demanded the development of the kind of personal true Torah values which go beyond one's preoccupation. The perfunctory they expected students to delve into the purpose of a spiritually governed life itself.  

It would seem that what is expected of Chabad Chinuch above all else is to imbue students with the core Torah values which are intrinsically interwoven with the development of proper Yiras Shamayim and Midos Tovos. I would like to briefly dwell upon the relative importance of three core values which we must imbue within our children from an early age, which make it possible to successfully develop our Yiras Shamayim goals. 

The first prerequisite value is the development of an attitude of  Kabolas Ol (I cannot find the appropriate English translation, but for lack of better term) the unequivocal obedience to a Higher authority.

Children must be able to instinctively feel that in a Torah way of life Halacha is not negotiable;  Kabolas Ol is a prerequisite to  Yiras Shamayim. When the child is told that something is a Halachic requirement of him, he must learn to feel that much of it is obligatory; it is also the way to become closer to the Al-Mighty. The unique contribution of Chabad chinuch is that this very idea of obedience is presented with love and warmth by the rebbe or morah and is invariably accompanied by an encouraging and comforting narrative. 

The interesting ceremonial induction of a child to Cheder is a beautiful illustration of the point. A child was told that today he will begin to learn Torah. His father carried him, wrapped in his Tallis, to the Cheder where he was customarily welcomed by the children. The rebbe sat him on his lap and pointed to an Alef and a Beis and the child then licked the outline of the letters made of honey while being told that learning Torah is sweet. He was showered with candy which he shared with the Cheder children. In some communities he was told that the angels are showering him with sweets.

The purpose of this age old custom was obviously to develop a positive association between learning Torah, the Cheder by using sweets. The Rebbe remarked that the biggest problem with American education is that there is the complete absence in sensing Kabolas Ol. It is as though there is something undemocratic to demand simple obedience. Devine authority is a vague religious idea better left to serious religious practitioners.

Behavioral scientists advocate, one form or another, of gentle persuasion. Using reason and emotion, behavior is modified. A child is given choices and suffers consequences, all of which are perfectly sound. The idea that children must be imbued from the earliest age, that they must obey, is foreign. In school or at home, the very idea that parents and teachers must be unquestionably heeded is foreign to most American children.

Proper Chinuch dictates that a child must be taught that his adherence is not optional, it is expected and that there are consequences for disobedience. A Chabad Mechanech will teach and see to it that the rules and expectations are accompanied by a continuous narrative, stories and anecdotes which deliver a loving message. Variation of the same theme will come from many overlapping sources but the message that the child is loved by the Al-Mighty will come through clearly.  

It is clear to this writer, that it is as much the "how" as it is the "what." How we teach and demonstrate the value of  Kabolas Ol is in many ways the determining factor of how a child will develop  Yiras Shamayim. And when a child learns obedience to Torah, accompanied by warmth and love, not merely the demand of obedience to authority, then Divine authority will have an entirely different meaning.  

I believe that we need to take a good look at our Chinuch objectives and where we are investing our best efforts. I think as Chabad mechanchim and mechanchos we need to ask ourselves if we are not losing sight of our obligation to concentrate our efforts on imbuing our children with the imperative and core value of Kabolas Ol.