Question: Are there limitations to the mitzvah of chinuch?
Answer: We previously noted that the Netziv rules that children should only be taught to perform mitzvot and customs in the same manner that they will perform them as adults.
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Rashi (Berachot 20a) contends that there is no mitzvah of chinuch obligating a father to ensure that his child says Keriat Shema in the morning and evening of each day. He explains that fathers leave for work in the morning prior to their children awakening and come home at night after their children are already asleep.
The difficulty with this ruling is that the father’s presence should seemingly have no bearing on his obligation to ensure that his child observes the mitzvot. If he isn’t home mornings and evenings when his child is awake, why can’t he can ask someone else to make sure his child says Shema?
Perhaps Rashi is suggesting a novel interpretation of the mitzvah of chinuch itself. Perhaps the essence of mitzvah is not about children learning to perform the mitzvot, but rather about children observing their fathers because observation inculcates the father’s minhagim and procedures into the child. The true mitzvah is for the child to watch his father perform mitzvot and copy him. Copying one’s father perform a mitzvah creates a more intense emotional attachment and commitment than simply being told to do something.
Another solution is that Rashi believes chinuch requires a parent to see the progress of his child with his own eyes. Receiving progress reports is not enough, and therefore, the mitzvah cannot be performed by a shliach. Parental observation is a form of guarantee that the child will actually perform mitzvot correctly.
Both interpretations suggest that the mitzvah of chinuch requires a higher level of supervision than the general obligation to have others teach our children the basics of mitzvot observance.
Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has published seven books on Jewish law. His latest, “Shabbat The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Judaica stores and Amazon.com.