Your Mother’s Guidance by Rebecca Masinter
One of the best-known transmitters of ancient Jewish wisdom, Rashi, gives us a definition of parenting in his remarks on Genesis 14:14. His words are foundational to our understanding of our role as parents. Abram goes out to rescue his nephew, Lot, who has been taken captive and he takes with him, chanichav, his trainees, or the ones he had been mechanech, educating, in his home. Rashi helps us out and defines the root of the word chinuch used to describe these people in words that I am roughly translating as, “This word chinuch is a term of the initiation or beginning of a person or tool’s usage in the manner he will continue in for the future, and this is the meaning of King Solomon’s statement, ‘Train a child…’ (Proverbs 22:6).” The Hebrew word in Proverbs, translated as the verb ‘train’ is the same as the noun for those men Abram took with him to war.
And there we have it—the idea that what we’re doing as parents is not scrambling day to day as we try to cope and get through one more bedtime or one more carpool. We are training and equipping our children for their life journey, for the path that is uniquely theirs and that they will continue on their whole lives long. We see this idea in the verse that Rashi quotes from, “Train or educate a child according to his way.” This in itself is a meaningful line and is quoted extensively in parenting classes, but it isn’t the entire verse. The verse ends, “…even when he becomes old he won’t sway from it.”
Have you ever wondered why King Solomon uses the term, “even when he becomes old…”? Why didn’t he say, even when he grows up or becomes an adult he won’t depart from it? I think that this insight is at the root of all parenting. King Solomon knows that chinuch isn’t about what the child will be like when he is 18 or 30, chinuch is about raising a child so that straight through to the end of his life, when he is an old man, he is still on the path his parents started him on. Chinuch isn’t short sighted; quite the opposite.
The message is that that our task as parents is to begin with the end in mind. Chinuch involves thinking about what our child’s unique path is that is truly inherent to him and that will carry him through his whole life, and what we need to do to develop, facilitate, and enhance that journey.
Those of you who have been with me on Your Mother’s Guidance for a while know that I really don’t like to share specific parenting how-tos. I like to share concepts and ideas we can each think about and implement in our own ways for our own families. The reason gets to this core definition of chinuch. No two children will have the same life journey. No two families are even remotely similar, and no one other than the two parents God has entrusted with the responsibility for those children can possibly know what is the right chinuch for that child.
Mrs. Bruria Schwab once shared with me a lesson from her father who told her that chinuch is compared to a boat. A boat travels on the ocean on its own path and no other boat can exactly follow the same path. You can see where a boat is going and try to follow in the same direction, but you will be hit by different currents, winds, and tides, and even if you end up in the same place, you will not have gotten there exactly the same way.
Parenting is envisioning the end goal for each child. Where can this child be as an old man or woman? What does he need to help him get there? No two people will be the same. This truly is the beautiful and crucial job of mothers.
Find a few minutes to get out of the daily scramble every now and then and tap into the long term picture. It may be that we will still do many of the same things we do now, but our motives and emotions will be completely different when we’re doing them as parents who are initiating our children onto the path of life that they will continue living long into the future.