I want to tell my child all the stories from the parsha. But won’t some of them scare him?
Renowned chinuch expert Rabbi Michoel Gourarie of Sydney, Australia addresses readers’ questions on all things chinuch.
I like to spend time with my five-year-old each week discussing the Parsha, filling in the parts that couldn’t be covered in school. A few weeks ago, on Parshas Vayeira I was about to tell the story of the Akeida when I hesitated. I began thinking that maybe this would be too terrifying at his age (a father about to kill his own son …), and that he certainly wouldn’t have the maturity to navigate the obvious questions that would emerge from a story like that. Is this concern valid? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Rabbi Gourarie Responds:
I am really pleased you asked this question as it raises a very important issue. In recent years, an actual philosophy has emerged suggesting that parents and educators should refrain from teaching young children concepts and stories that might scare them, or that that they will find confusing because of miraculous and/or supra-rational content.
However, this philosophy is not just a mistake or uneducational – it is completely treif. This was the shita of the ‘maskilim’ whose whole mission was to undermine the kedusha and emuna in Torah, fighting the tradition and mesora of chinuch b’ruach Yisroel Saba’.
Our Rabei’m were clearly against this approach.
A few examples:
- The famous story of Shimon hakofer, a maskil who presented to Alter Rebbe as a melamed and explained that he didn’t want to trouble or confuse the minds of children by teaching them, from the Rashi, that Yitzchok saw gehinom open up at the feet of Eisav. The response of the Alter Rebbe was so sharp that he felt he had to escape lest the chassidim would discover what happened and he would be in danger.
- The Rebbe Rashab employed a teacher to teach his granddaughters. When he said that he doesn’t teach the children miraculous/supra-rational stories from the gemara because they are too shocking or confusing, he was dismissed immediately.
- The Rebbe writes in a few places regarding the importance of telling stories of mofsim to young children to plant the seeds of emunah.
It is not just okay to teach children these stories. It is davka when a child is young that they should be taught. The best time to plant and inculcate emunah, kabolas ol and the mindset of mesirus nefesh is when a child is young, before their intellectual mind is developed. This is similar to a bris which is performed at eight days old because it represents the bond between us and Hashem lemaalo min haseichel – above logic.
When children are very young, their minds are pure, without the interference of any other distraction. It is davka then that they are keilim for all inyonim of emunah and kedusha. Don’t worry about the potential confusion or fear. For three thousand years, these stories were the foundation of a child’s whole Yiddishkeit.
We were not confused because the capacity to accept and believe is stronger in children than adults. We were not scared because when the stories are told as they are in Torah, a child absorbs it with a the suitable understanding and cognition for his young mind. Overall, it was a great success.
Wishing you lots nachas!
Rabbi Michoel Gourarie is the founder and director of BINA, an educational institution for adults in Australia. Having served for many years as a teacher and principal, he is now a sought after chinuch consultant and teacher trainer. To send a chinuch question to Rabbi Gourarie, email firstname.lastname@example.org.