Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Iyar 5759, April 28 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
Teaching Torah to Older Sons
by HaRav Yehoshua Shklar

One's first impression is that a father is obligated to teach his son Torah when he is a child, but only until the age of bar mitzvah. The father has the mitzvah upon him of, "You shall teach [the words of Torah] to your sons" (Devorim 11:169), but after his son has become a bar mitzvah it would seem that this obligation is ended. Just as with all mitzvos, the father must first perform them for his son and afterwards, when the son becomes an adult, the obligation passes to the mature son, so it should be with this mitzvah too.

The acharonim, however, infer from the gemora (Kiddushin 29a) that even after one's son is bar mitzvah he is obligated to teach him Torah. The mishna writes, "A father is obligated to make a mila for his son, to make a pidyon for him, to teach him Torah, and to marry him off." Just as the father's obligation to marry off his son naturally applies when his son is already a godol, so the duty to teach him Torah also still applies when he is a godol. See the Minchas Chinuch, who infers this chidush from that gemora.

The Mishnas Rebbe Aharon of Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l, the rosh yeshiva of Beis Midrash Govoha of Lakewood, New Jersey, wrote (Part 1, Section 2, page 54, "Veshinantom Levonecho") comments on the ruling of the Shulchan Oruch (Yore Dei'ah 245:6) that, "It is a mitzvah [for a father] to teach his son mishna, gemora, halochos, and agodos." R' Aharon explains that gemora does not mean mere superficial understanding. The meaning is "to understand the reasons for the halochos, the difficulties raised and the resolutions, and to comprehend correctly most of the details."

This definition of gemora is similar to the explanation given by Rashi in Eilu Metzi'os (33a, s.v. shelimdo chochmah). HaRav Aharon Kotler cites in connection to this what R' Yisroel of Salant (Or Yisroel 18) writes: "The mishna and gemora we study is like the mikra in the time of Chazal; the seforim of the notable poskim, rishonim, ve'achronim are like the mishna in the time of Chazal; and the correct give-and- take needed to understand the gemora, the rishonim, and the acharonim and their principles is like the gemora in the time of Chazal."

Up to now we have discussed the obligation incumbent upon a father to personally teach his son Torah, but it is explicitly written in the poskim that he is likewise obligated "to hire a teacher if he has the financial means" in order to teach his son. There is a mitzvah to hire a teacher to teach his son mishna, gemora, halochos, and agodos. The gemora (Beitzah 16a) even adds that HaKodosh Boruch Hu promises us that He will repay what a person spends for this, "since a man's livelihood is fixed for him on Rosh Hashanah, except for expenses for Shabbos and Yom Tov, and what it costs him to teach his son Torah. Whatever a person adds for such expenses, Heaven adds back to him." If he must employ a melamed for his son, Hashem will compensate him for his loss.

The Beis Yosef on the Tur (s.v. umei'eimosi) says even more. He rules that we can "force" the father to pay someone to teach his son. "We force a father to teach his son or hire melamdim for his son, since this asei of `You shall teach them to your sons' is no different from the asei of Succah and lulav, which we force the parents [to fulfill]."

As quoted from HaRav Aharon Kotler we are obligated to teach our children "the correct give-and-take to understand the gemora, the rishonim, and the acharonim and their principles." This obligation, as explained at length above, still applies when the son has matured. When a father sends his son to yeshiva ketana or gedola he is fully fulfilling this obligation as long as the yeshiva succeeds in giving his son the kinyonim of the Torah and a thorough understanding of his studies in the way R' Yisroel outlined.

Nonetheless, every rule has its exceptions. There are boys who, because of many and varied reasons, do not adjust properly to their yeshiva. This can be because of difficulties in finding the yeshiva that suits him, or for endless other reasons. These difficulties arise primarily at the beginning of the zman, and even though the boy continues in the yeshiva ketana or gedola the pleasantness of studying Torah has been lost for him. His lack of enjoyment in his studies becomes known to the parents only afterwards; and without a geshmak in Torah boys often experience a breakdown.

The correct time for dealing with this problem is right at its inception, by locating the obstacles that the boy cannot overcome. The way of helping such a boy is to arrange for him to study with a kollel student or with more competent older boys studying in the same yeshiva who are paid to study with him. When I was a boy studying at Yeshivas Lomza in Petach Tikvah, it was not at all a disgrace when boys well versed and accomplished in gemora were paid to study with younger or less capable boys. These younger boys so succeeded through this help that many later became prominent talmidei chachomim and gedolei Torah veyirah.

A father can know when it is necessary to take the proper steps to prevent a breakdown or, cholila, spiritual deterioration, only if he interests himself in his son's progress, in the amount of yiras Shomayim he has, in his middos, his relations with the other students, and other important points. After knowing this, the father can work together with the roshei yeshiva and mashgiach and try to better the condition. How disturbing it is to continually hear from heads of yeshivos and mashgichim that parents show an appalling lack of interest. It happens that even when years pass and the father finally meets the rav or the mashgiach at various events, the father does not find it necessary to ask about his son.

It happened that today, while I was writing this article, I met a famous mashgiach. With evident and deep pain he said that he had recently told a father that his son had studied five years in the yeshiva without the father even once asking about his son. You can be certain that this father frequently looks through his bank account to see if he is in the red or not. Why should his son's progress in the yeshiva be less important? When a father does not know what is happening with his son in the yeshiva he can surely not help him even when he desperately needs help.

As we mentioned before, a father fulfills the mitzvah of teaching Torah to his son even when his son is a godol, through engaging someone to teach him Torah. If the son is not studying properly in the yeshiva, if he is wasting his time and this could have been prevented by the father inquiring at the yeshiva about his son and searching for ways to help him, he is not fulfilling this mitzvas asei of studying Torah with his son.

Side assistance provided by studying with kollel students and older boys can avert a spiritual decline caused by a loss of interest in studies. If the father does nothing in this direction and the boy deteriorates further, the result is often that he must be enrolled in a special yeshiva. We all understand how painful for a father this is. If these boys had instead received the proper attention from their parents when they started to decline in the cheder or yeshiva ketana or gedola their later frustration could have been prevented, along with large financial expenses when their son needs special educational institutions. I have seen this from my personal experience over many years.

The gemora in Gittin says, "A time of emergency is different [in terms of halocho]." We are now in "a time of emergency," since society in general is continuously trying to swallow us up. The only way to save our sons is to permeate them with a will to study, with a real taste for studying Torah. There are ways of doing that; there are many who are willing to help -- but the parents must do their share. They must interest themselves in their children's achievements. They must pay more attention about what happens after the yeshiva seder and what their son does besides his studies. Fathers must seek advice from the roshei yeshivos, the mashgichim, the melamdim. "Hashem helps a person who tries to purify himself" (Yoma 38b).

The above applies to parents of children in chadorim and talmudei Torah too. The parents cannot entirely rely on the melamdim. A father who studies more with his son saturates him with more love and more of a feeling of enjoyment in studying Torah. This makes it easier for him to prepare for being in a yeshiva ketana. It is a real pity that the parents do not utilize their opportunity properly when their son is at home twenty-four hours a day, before he has started studying in the yeshiva. During those good years the father can enrich his son with the Torah's radiance during his spare time, and implant in his son's heart a deep root of ahavas Torah that will never be torn out.

HaKodosh Boruch Hu placed in our hands a golden treasure of children. It is our duty to watch over it!

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