|The Rebbe Rashab would say: "Just as we are commanded to put on tefillin every day, we are commanded to spend at least a half an hour each day thinking about our children's education."|
When a child is born, every parent is overcome with amazement. The conception and birth of new life is an outright miracle. Since this miracle recurs day after day, sometimes we may fail to appreciate how awesome it is. But the wonder of holding one's own newborn overwhelms every mother or father, making them appreciate that something that can only be described as G-dly has taken place.
Together with these feelings of amazement comes a sense of responsibility. Every parent realizes that he or she holds the future of this budding life in their hands. The quality of the child's life depends on his father and mother.
A parent understands that, and wants the best for his or her child. He or she will make sacrifices - often even painful ones - to provide their children, not only with their basic needs, but with whatever comforts and amenities that are within their reach.
Parents appreciate, moreover, that the most important gifts they can give their children are internal ones. The material benefits with which they provide them are subject to the vicissitudes of time and the shifting winds of fortunes. The values and principles with which they endow them, by contrast, are timeless, serving as a resource and support for the child throughout his life.
Judaism refers to the inculcation of these values and principles with the term Chinuch. We find that term also used in other contexts. For example, the dedication of the sacrificial altar of the Sanctuary was referred to as Chanukas Hamizbeach. And when a person builds a home, he inaugurates its use with a celebration referred to as Chanukas Habayis.
In those contexts, the term Chinuch refers to connecting an entity to its spiritual source. For example, the Shechinah, G-d's presence, manifested itself within the Sanctuary. The physical structure became subsumed to its spiritual purpose. The special sacrifices offered at Chanukas Hamizbeach, made this possible, drawing G-d's presence into this physical world and making the Sanctuary the place for His indwelling.
Similarly, every Jewish home is more than bricks and stones; it is "a sanctuary in microcosm," a place where each one of us brings out the depth, meaning, and purpose within his or her existence. In no small part, it is the celebration of Chanukas Habayis which empowers this to take place.
Similarly, in a personal sense, Chinuch, the education a child receives, connects him to his spiritual core. Every one of us possesses a soul which is "an actual part of G-d,"
a spark of His infinity. Chinuch is the process that enables us to realize and identity with this potential, making it the driving force in our lives.
To cite a parallel: Emunah, the Hebrew term for "faith," relates to the Hebrew word Imun, meaning "practice" or "training." The implication is that it is not our understanding and knowledge that spawns our faith. Instead, since the core of our own being is a G-dly spark, we all know G-d inherently and therefore we have faith. Emunah involves practice and training, laboring to develop sensitivity to this inner potential and working to create a setting within our conscious minds that will allow this inner knowledge to be easily expressed.
Similarly, in a more general sense, Chinuch is the process in which a child is trained to manifest the spiritual potentials with which he has been endowed. Just as Chanukas Hamizbeach made the Sanctuary something far greater than its physical structure; so, too, Chinuch enables a person to reach beyond his individual self and manifest the principles and values which Judaism has treasured throughout the ages.
A father and mother once asked the Rebbe: "What should we do for our son's education?"
"How old is your son?" the Rebbe responded.
"Why are you coming to me so late?" replied the Rebbe.
A child's education begins from the moment he or she enters the world. For at every moment, the child is learning. His future is being shaped by his past and present. The way he reacts to situations is a product of the way he or she has been trained.
Whether or not we are conscious of it, this training process is taking place. It is inescapable. Whatever a child sees or hears affects him. Thinking about a child's chinuch means taking responsibility for this process of development instead of letting it happen randomly, without control.
The earlier we begin asserting direction over this process, the more effective and comprehensive influence we can exert. To cite a parallel, any slight blemish in a seed creates a major imperfection in the tree which grows from it. And conversely, the care and attention lavished over a sapling bears fruit as it develops into a flourishing plant.
For this reason, from the earliest ages, efforts must be devoted to a child's education. Even when he or she does not understand, his character is being shaped. That's why the music played for a child, the pictures hung on his walls, and the way he is spoken to, is so important. Although the child does not understand at the time, these and other influences have a great effect later in life. This rockbed of positive Jewish impressions serves as the foundation for the growth and development of his or her conscious awareness.
Although a child's character is being molded from his earliest age, an entirely new phase begins when the child's intellect begins to blossom. The effects of the influences to which the parents have exposed the child over the years without his conscious input are then given a chance to flourish. He begins tapping and channeling the reservoir of positive energy that has been building up over the course of time.
In this process, the age of three reflects a significant plateau. At this age, by and large, a child can think in sentences. He or she can comprehend a story. He is aware of his own identity and that of the people around him. As he or she reaches this stage of conceptual development, his or her Chinuch is lifted to a higher rung. From this time onward, not only is the child being educated, he or she takes a participatory role in his or her process of education.
For a boy, two events are celebrated to mark the initiation of this new phase: upsherinish and areinfirinish. The upsherinish marks the child's first haircut. Until this age, his hair is allowed to grow untouched. At this time, his hair is cut, but his peyos, the hair growing at the corners of his head, are left. Similarly, from this time onward, the child is trained to wear a yarmulka  and tzitzis in a consistent manner.
What is the point of these practices? It's like putting on a uniform, using an external code of dress to proclaim your identity. In this way, a child appreciates and makes a statement that he is part of something that is larger than himself. In a very tangible and obvious way, he expresses his commitment to his Jewish heritage.
The areinfirinish marks a boy's entry into cheder. He begins study, learning the letters of the alef-beis. This is the first step of his formal intellectual training. He is taught to develop his mind in an environment of holiness on the foundations of faith.
Both of these events are carried out with a traditional ceremony. The departure from the norm enables the child to appreciate that he is entering a new phase of life. The unique practices make him realize that he is embarking on a new and different stage of development and help him take these changes seriously. To state it on the most practical level: After a child has experienced an upsherinish, nothing more than a gentle reminder of that celebration is necessary to coax him to wear his yarmulka and tzitzis. And the excitement of the areinfirenish carries over into a child's initial days of study, allowing him to beginning his schooling experience with positive energy.
Similarly, both of these events are experienced amidst joyful celebration. For happiness opens gateways in the spiritual realms, arousing Divine influences that contribute to the success of the child's education. This enables him to take his place in perpetuating our people's glorious tradition, adding one more link in the golden chain of our Jewish heritage, and preparing him to proceed to our people's ultimate celebration, the coming of Mashiach. May this take place in the immediate future.
It is a long-standing custom for parents to let their sons' hair grow and cut it for the first time at the age of three. Exactly when this custom started is unclear. The students of the Kabbalistic sage, the AriZal (Rabbi Isaac Luria) relate
that he took his son to the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, in Meron for this ceremony.
They do not speak of the Ari's act as an innovation he initiated, but rather as his adherence to an ancient and revered custom. Significantly, this practice is observed in both Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities.
The ceremony is intended to train a child to observe the mitzvah of peyos, but as mentioned above, it is considered as the initial phase of a child's conscious Jewish education, carrying far greater significance than the observance of this particular prohibition.
Our Rabbis draw a connection between this custom and several other mitzvos. For example, a connection is drawn to the mitzvah of orlah, the prohibition against benefiting from the fruits that grow in the first three years of a tree's life. In the fourth year, by contrast, the happy farmer takes his harvest to Jerusalem, to partake of it in an environment of holiness.
Similarly, the Torah compares man to a tree. In the first three years of a child's life, there are no edible fruits - no tangible returns for a parent's endeavors. During the fourth year, there are harvests of holiness; the first fruits of the child's education are seen. He begins learning verses from the Torah. This process is inaugurated by reaping - by cutting off his locks of hair.
Others compare it to the mitzvah of reishis hagaz, the gifts of the first shearings of one's herd of sheep to the priests. The sages of the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystic tradition, associate sheep with the arousal of Divine mercy and the outpouring of kindness that is untempered by judgment.
Others note that when the Torah mentions the term Vehisgalach ("And he shall remove his hair"), the letter gimmel is oversized. Now gimmel is numerically equivalent to three, alluding to the fact that there is a removal of hair which is a holy act performed when a child reaches three.
There are many different customs with regard to the date of the child's first haircut. In Rabbinic literature, it is mentioned that some would permit having the child's first hair cut at the age of thirteen weeks. And other sources, mention delaying the cutting of the hair until the age of five. In Eretz Yisrael, in most communities the custom is to give the child a haircut at three. If, however, the child's birthday is in the summer, many follow the practice of holding the upsherinish on the holiday of Lag BaOmer at the grave site of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, even if the child's third birthday is somewhat before or somewhat after that holiday.
In the Lubavitch community, the Rebbe instituted the custom of holding the upsherinish on the day of the child's third birthday itself, not before or not afterwards. When asked if it was better to wait until an "auspicious day," he commented that "Since it is Jewish custom to hold an upsherinish when the child reaches the age of three, this is 'a good an auspicious hour.' Who knows whether it will be possible to choose a time of equivalent Divine favor?" If for certain reasons, the celebration accompanying the upsherinish could not be held on the appropriate day, the upsherinish should be held on the child's birthday and the celebration on a day when it is convenient.
Generally, the custom is to hold the upsherinish during the day, after the morning prayers. There are, however, those who hold the celebration at night.
Traditionally, it was customary for an upsherinish to be carried out in a holy place. As mentioned above, the AriZal carried out his son's upsherinish in Meron, at the grave site of the holy Sage, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Year after year, particularly on the anniversary of that Sage's passing on Lag BaOmer, but even throughout the year, thousands emulate that practice. Similarly, the Radbaz, a renown Rabbinic authority of the 16th century, speaks of carrying out an upsherinish at the grave of the prophet Samuel. And others would customarily carry out this custom at the grave of Shimon HaTzaddik in Jerusalem.
If a person does not live near such a holy place, there are many who hold - or at least begin - the upsherinish in a synagogue or house of study. There is no sense of the haircut being considered as inappropriate in such places, for the practice is considered as a celebration associated with a mitzvah.
It is customary to have righteous men and sages participate in the upsherinish. Chassidim would frequently take their children to the Rebbe to have him initiate the haircutting. If that was not possible, they would write to the Rebbe who would respond with a letter of blessing.
It is appropriate to invite many guests for this celebration.35 Similarly, frequently, it is enhanced by songs and music.35
Needless to say, since the upsherinish is a landmark in the child's education, the child should be involved in the preparations for the ceremony. It is valuable to take him to see the upsherinish of several of his friends and relatives to familiarize him with the customs and arouse his eagerness for the time when all eyes will be focused on him, as he begins his active participation in his Jewish education.
- (Back to text) See Samach TeSamach 5657, which explains that conception is the closest example within the physical world to the concept of creation ex nihilo, something which is only within the power of the A-lmighty.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Torah, Devarim, p. 98c ff.
- (Back to text) Cf. Megillah 29a.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, loc. cit.,
- (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 2.
- (Back to text) See Tanya, ch. 42.
- (Back to text) More particularly, there is a concept of education even before birth. In that vein, our Sages (Niddah 31a) speak of an angel teaching a fetus the entire Torah. Similarly, they advise pregnant women to avoid certain influences and activities that could adversely affect the character development of the fetus they are carrying.
- (Back to text) This context brings to mind the practice of hanging a Shir HaMaalos plaque over the entrance to a newborn baby's room. Even though the child does not consciously understand what he sees, the plaque's inscriptions generate a positive influence over his character (see Sefer HaSichos 5747, Vol. I, p. 146ff.). Similarly, it is important to avoid hanging pictures that will have a negative effect on the development of his character. Even pictures as apparently harmless as those of a non-kosher animal should be avoided (see Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXV, p. 309).
- (Back to text) Historically, this age is also significant. Nedarim 32a relates that Abraham was three years old when he "recognized his Creator." See also Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Vayeira, sec. 22.
- (Back to text) The traditional head-covering worn by Jews.
- (Back to text) A four-cornered garment with tassels worn to fulfill the Biblical command (Numbers 15:38): "Make tassels on the corners of your garments."
- (Back to text) I.e., as stated on p. 28, a boy may be trained to wear a yarmulka and tzitzis beforehand. At that age, however, a child is often too immature to appreciate what is doing, and perhaps even unable to control his bodily functions. Hence these garments are not worn at all times. From the upsherinish onward, by contrast, children should be trained to wear these garments continuously.
- (Back to text) A traditional school which teaches children Torah studies.
- (Back to text) The Hebrew alphabet.
- (Back to text) See Shaar HaKavannos, Inyan Sefiras HaOmer, Address 12; Pri Etz Chayim, Shaar Sefiras HaOmer, ch. 7; Matzeivos Kodesh, p. 101.
- (Back to text) From the description in those texts, it would appear that the visit took place around the year 5330 (1570). Thus at the very least, the custom is over 400 years old.
- (Back to text) The hair left to grow near the ear. See page 22 where the term is described at length.
- (Back to text) See Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Kedoshim, sec. 14; Panei'ach Raza (Parshas Kodashim); Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVII, p. 370.
- (Back to text) Deuteronomy 20:19.
- (Back to text) In that vein, a connection is drawn to Deuteronomy 10:16 which speaks of orlas haleiv, the barriers of insensitivity a person erects around his heart.
- (Back to text) See Siddur Maharid, Vol. I, 169b; Igros Kodesh, Vol. V, p. 22; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, p. 351; Vol. XXII, p. 329; see also Kehilas Yaakov, erech keves.
- (Back to text) See Deuteronomy 18:4.
- (Back to text) R. Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer in his gloss to Midrash Rabbi Akiva.
- (Back to text) Leviticus 13:33.
- (Back to text) See Ayalah Shiluchah; Eretz Chayim 493:2; Bein Pesach LiShavuos, ch. 19, Peulas Tzaddik, Vol. III, Responsum 236, et al.
- (Back to text) Leket Yoshar relating the ruling of Rabbi Yisrael Isserlin, the author of Terumas HaDeshen.
- (Back to text) Even Sapir 2:47.
- (Back to text) Igros Kodesh, Vol. VII, p. 114.
- (Back to text) Ibid., Vol. XIV, p. 220.
Igros Kodesh, loc. cit., p. 39, states that even if a child's birthday is [shortly] after Lag B'Omer, one should not hold the upsherinish on that holiday in Meron. Instead, one should wait until the child's birthday.
See also pages 20-21, which lists days on which it is not customary to hold an upsherinish
- (Back to text) Igros Kodesh, Vol., 11, p. 5.
- (Back to text) In Kuntres Upsherinish, Rabbi Y.Y. Simon quotes advice the Rebbe gave a person who had cut his child's hair before the age of three, because that person had not appreciated the importance of this custom at that time. The Rebbe advised allowing the child's hair to grow untouched for a time and then holding the haircut together with a celebration. In this way, although the spiritual connection with the child's third birthday would be lacking, the child would gain the educational benefits.
- (Back to text) Igros Kodesh, Vol. XXII, p. 336.
- (Back to text) Chanoch LaNaar, p. 134.
- (Back to text) Vol. II, Responsum 608. See also Atarim Kedoshim BeEretz Yisrael, pp. 28-29, which quotes a diary of a visit to the Holy Land written by an English tourist in 1601. He writes of visiting the grave of Samuel and watching the Jews give their children their first haircut there.
- (Back to text) See Shaarei Yerushalayim, p. 47.
- (Back to text) Sdei Chemed, Asifas Dinim, Maareches Beis HaK'nesses, sec. 1.