We are all familiar with the famous Pasuk from Mishlei – חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר עַל פִּי דַרְכּוֹ “Train the child according to his way,” (22:6) and know that it means that one size does not fit all when it comes to the Chinuch of our children. That this is easier said than done is readily evident from this week’s Parsha, where many Meforshim find grounds for criticism (on their unfathomably high Madreiga) of Yitzchak and Rivkah’s upbringing of Esav.
Rav Shamshon Refoel Hirsch, zt’l, focuses on the wordsוַיִּגְדְלוּ הַנְּעָרִים “And the lads grew up,” (25:27) to point out, as Rashi himself says, that the stark differences between Yaakov and Esav were only recognized after their Bar Mitzva. Rav Hirsch states that this was a shortcoming in their Chinuch – by not recognizing at an earlier point, what their child Esav’s true nature was, Yitzchok and Rivkah raised and educated Esav in the same manner as Yaakov. Such an approach is a recipe for disaster.
What do we learn from this? We learn that perhaps the most important responsibility that lies with the parent is to gain insight into who his child really is. What are his strengths, weaknesses, talents, interests, temptations and challenges? We must find an area where the child really shines – and every child has at least a few outstanding attributes and talents. It’s important to look beyond childish immaturity and delve into the true character and innate abilities of the child. If we wait to find out who they really are once they’ve matured, we will have failed in our responsibilities as parents. Furthermore, we must resist the temptation to impose our autobiography on our children, as Stephen Covey of 7 Habits fame says, and raise them in accordance with their best interests, not our self-interest.
How does a parent go about this task? A few are blessed with natural perceptivity and can understand what really makes their child tick. For the rest of us, we need to do research. When our children are younger, we observe them closely to see they are healthy. As they grow we need to watch how they begin to interact with others. How do they perform basic tasks and develop responsibility for themselves and their actions? Once a child spends most of her waking hours in school, parents need to expand their `research team’ to include the teachers and school personnel.
Communication is the key. Today’s most successful people agree that the best communicators are those who know how to listen. Parents need to listen to what their child(ren)’s teachers have to say about their child’s performance and to try to understand whatever insights the teachers share, in order to enhance their own perception of their child. Similarly, teachers are eager to listen to parents in order to know more about how to best help the child.
In this spirit, let’s endeavor to elevate the home-school partnership to enhance our mutual efforts to gain insight into each child so we can confidently say we did our best to: חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר עַל פִּי דַרְכּוֹ
Have an Insightful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann