Question: Are there limits to the mitzvah of chinuch?
Answer: Yes. The Talmud (Sukkah 42a) states that we give a lulav to a child only after he knows to shake it properly. Rav Naftali Tzvi Hersh Berlin (the Netziv) questioned why this is so. We know that simply picking up a lulav and etrog correctly is good enough to fulfill the mitzvah (which is why we are specifically instructed not to hold the etrog rightside up until after making the berachah). Why, then, should we wait until a child knows how to properly shake the lulav if he can already fulfill the mitzvah simply by picking it up?
The Netziv answered that, as a general principle, one does not teach children to practice mitzvot in a way that they will abandon when they grow older. In other words, we teach children practices that they will observe as adults. Since adults shake the lulav in a prescribed fashion when doing the mitzvah, so must children. If they are not old enough to know how to, we wait until they mature.
(To be continued)
Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of several books on Jewish Law. His latest, “Shabbat The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Judaica stores and at Amazon.com.