In this week’s Parashah, Parashat Tazria, we learn a fundamental attitude that can help direct the Chinuch of our children. In the very beginning of this week’s Parashah, we are told, “Isha Ki Tazria VeYaldah Zachar,” “When a Woman conceives and gives birth to a son” (VaYikra 12:2). Rav Wolbe Zatzal comments in his Sefer on Chinuch that when a person is Zocheh to give birth to a child, not only is it a great Simchah and privilege, but it is even more so a responsibility, as it says, “Mah Enosh Ki Tizkerenu UVen Adam Ki Tifkedenu,” “What is man that You should remember him, and the son of man that You should be mindful of him?”(Tehillim 8:5). The words Ki Tifkedenu can be understood to mean “that You entrust him with a deposit (Pikadon),” meaning to say that such an entrustment is an incredible act of trust on Hashem’s part to us as well as an incredible responsibility to all parents. These children aren’t just our children – they are truly Hashem’s. Rav Wolbe explains that if a person thinks that he has children so that they will care for him when he gets older, or so that he can derive pride from them, he is mistaken. That is not why children are bequeathed to us by Hashem. Children are deposited with us, and we must properly care for this trust, responsibly and reliably.
There is a similar point made in the book Listen to Your Messages by Rabbi Frand. In this book, Rabbi Frand recounts hearing from Rav Moshe Shapiro that a man came to visit his nephew in Yerushalayim. This nephew was a young Talmid Chacham with a large family. The uncle was impressed with how attentive and patient his nephew was with all the children. “How will your children ever repay you for what you have done for them?” asked the uncle. “By giving me a measure of immortality, by carrying my name forward” answered the nephew. Later, the nephew asked the Brisker Rav Zatzal what he thought about the question and his response. The Brisker Rav shook his head in disapproval. “Children have nothing to do with repayment. They are not an investment for future Nachat. You can Daven for Nachat, just like you Daven for health and prosperity. However, that is not why you have children. Children are about giving. It’s the way Hashem wants us to emulate his ways.”
This point is such an invaluable one. Everything people say and do towards their children or students stems from whatever the motivating factor in the relationship is. If the goal of teaching someone is to have them bring you personal joy, then that person will not be given the space and respect to be able to feel sadness or upset. In any healthy relationship, people sometimes get upset or frustrated. However, when a person is not given the ability to go through those feelings, it can be due to the person not wanting to feel like a failure or disappointment. If, however, the teacher is truly invested in the child or adult that they are teaching, then that person can feel or even express their feelings of hurt or disappointment at times. This can often be seen in a Yeshivah framework, where a student receives a negative consequence for a certain decision that was made. If the student feels that the consequence or punishment he received is really being done to help teach him to act in a more conducive way in the future for his betterment and to deter them from acting in that way, then the student, albeit upset, will be able to accept the outcome, knowing and feeling that it is coming from a place of care and concern for them. However, when people feel that the objective in such a situation is to assert their power and control, then not only is the message not internalized, but there are often times feelings of resentment. Dr. Sorotzkin , quoting Rav Mattityahu Solomon, the Mashgiach of Lakewood, beautifully conveys this:
“Unlike in our relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam, our efforts in Chinuch have no value without the proper motives and intentions.… SheLo LiShmah has no value in Chinuch. In fact, it is destructive… when a parent demands a certain behavior from his child… not because it serves the interest of the child, but because it serves the parent’s own interests; that is not Chinuch. It will not succeed... when a child senses that his parent is demanding something from him because it suits the parent. He may very well feel used and exploited, and he will be upset and angry. People ask their children to show off in front of friends. The child recognizes right away that the parent is doing it for his own glory. The parent, of course, may tell himself that he is doing it for Chinuch, but more often than not, he is only showing off his child because it brings him reflected glory. He may not know it, but his child does, and he is not happy about how he is being used. The primary purpose of having children is not to have Nachat from them, but rather, to help them lead the kind of life that will culminate in their holy Neshamot entering Olam HaBa. The Chinuch of a child is not an investment that is supposed to bear fruit for the parent.”
I saw from Dr. Sorotzkin that according to the Ritva, raising children is called Ameilut, just as in Ameilut BaTorah. The reason they both are a form of Ameilut is that in both cases, the Ikar is in the Ameilut – the effort, the hard work, and the process. However, the results are only an expression of true Ameilut, not the goal. The goal is to care, to try, and to be invested in them. I think it is best said that a person is not a problem to be solved. Let us all focus on our responsibility more and theirs less. In doing so, we will truly be an example and model to them for what true caring looks like. It is selfless and unconditional. As I once saw, depriving a child of emotional warmth and connection due to one’s anger, disappointment, or frustration is akin to depriving them of food. Just as we would never deprive them of food, let us never deprive them of the greatest source of nourishment for children; our love, our attention, and our care.