Are there any parents who don’t look forward to the mitzvah of “Vehigadeta l’vincha,” relating the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim at the Seder? Of course not. We relish the opportunity to teach our children about the great miracles Hashem performed for us as He took us from Mitzrayim and made us His Nation. And yet, as the great night approaches, it is our children who prepare reams of vortlach and Haggados filled with pictures and notes – at the Seder it is they who are bursting with the information, stories and chiddushim they have been working on in school for close to a month. One might begin to wonder: Has the mitzvah of “Vehigadeta l’vincha” been reversed?! Who is telling whom about this night? Who is the teacher?
The master educator, leader and expositor of Torah, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), explains that any good teacher can teach the substance of the material. However, the most important lesson your child will learn can only be taught by you – how to apply the knowledge he has gained and let it affect his everyday life (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Collected Writings VII). We are talking about the power to move what is in a person’s head into his heart and, as Rav Yisroel Salanter, zt”l, said, there is often no distance greater than between those two organs.
Our children watch us, it’s as if we are “on stage” every moment – what we do and how we do it is carefully noted and takes root inside them! That includes how we talk to others, our enthusiasm and dedication in studying Torah and performing mitzvos; it’s all processed by them. They notice if we wear a seat belt or talk on the phone while driving; we think they’re in the back seat, absorbed in the Uncle Moishy CD, but they are watching. The FBI and NSA have nothing on our children, they were born to intuit our feelings and understand what is emes.
What’s true of our children can be said of adults as well: people follow what they see, not what they hear. That’s why the Haggadah says the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim has to be retold specifically when the matzah and marror are in front of us. All of our study will have no kiyum, no substantial existence, if we don’t sincerely put it into action – as it says, “ain halimud ha’ikkar, ella ha’maaseh.” In that same vein, all the material our children have learned in school are merely preparations for what we must demonstrate at home.
The mussar giant of the last generation, R` Wolbe, zt”l, was asked by an expectant father, “When does the obligation of chinuch start?” He responded, “You are late! It started many years ago, when you began to train yourself so your children would have whom to learn from.” Chinuch is taught mostly by example, thus we need to begin developing and refining our character long before we have children (but it’s never too late to get started! And what great chinuch it is to a child – of any age – to see his parent working to change and grow).
Our ability to teach is only successful if done by example. That is the essence of “vehigadeta levincha bayom hahu (on that day).” Now we have the essential key to understanding the Rambam’s approach to the mitzvah (found in his text for the Hagaddah, at the end of Hilchos Chometz U’Matzah): “In every generation a man must show himself as if he left Mitzrayim.” Show, not see because the only point to seeing yourself in that state would be to maximize the showing yourself in that state to your children in order to properly fulfill the mitzvah of “vehigadeta levincha” to its fullest.
Yet, even if a person is a Talmid Chocham sitting alone at a Seder, he still needs to perform this mitzvah – we can be role models even to ourselves! We can let ourselves see the gadlus, the greatness that exists within us. Most of us have a tendency to sell ourselves short, but on this night we must liberate ourselves from our “meitzarim” (the root of Mitzrayim) and see ourselves as who we can be.
The foundation of proper chinuch is not merely to say the right things, but to be them. Chinuch is not merely for our children – it’s also for ourselves.