Halacha for Sunday 20 Sivan 5782 June 19 2022

“Educate the Lad According to his Own Way”

In the previous Halachot, we have discussed the fundamentals of the prohibition to cut down a fruit tree. Included in this prohibition is what the Rambam (Hilchot Melachim, Chapter 6) writes: “Not only trees (is one forbidden to destroy), rather, anyone who breaks vessels, tears clothing, demolishes a building, plugs up a stream, or disposes of food in a destructive manner transgresses the prohibition of ‘You shall not destroy.’” The Magid Mishneh explains his words in this way as well. We shall now discuss another related topic.

Educate the Lad in his Own Way
The verse in Mishlei (22, 6) states: “Educate the lad according to his own way; even when he grows old, he shall not deviate from it.” What this means is that the character traits and nature of the child must be taken into consideration when educating him. This means that there is no set “model” used to educate every Jewish child; rather, every child has a unique nature and character traits which must be assessed and based on which he should be educated.

Consideration for a Child’s Nature
Indeed, the great Vilna Gaon explains that King Solomon meant that since there are things which are nearly impossible for a person change, as the Gemara (Shabbat 156a) states that one who is born in the zodiac of Jupiter shall be righteous and one born in the zodiac of Mars will spill blood, the child’s temperament and nature should be taken into careful consideration and only then should he be educated. For instance, if his nature calls for him to spill blood, his talents should be channeled to positive outlets, such as training him to be a Mohel (ritual circumciser) or Shochet (ritual slaughterer), as opposed to, G-d-forbid, him becoming a bandit or murderer.

Giving the Child an Opportunity to Release His Natural Tendencies
Besides for having to take a child’s nature into consideration regarding his future, our Sages have also taught us that one must also take into consideration a child’s childish tendencies as well in order to allow him to release his tendencies in a beneficial way. Similarly, our Sages teach us in Masechet Yoma (78b) that Abaye’s mother instructed him what to pay attention to when raising a child. Among other things, she told him that when a child begins to grow, he should be given vessels to break. This was the practice of Rabba who would buy cracked and inexpensive clay vessels for his son to break for his enjoyment, as Rashi explains, “To provide him with vessels to break in order to fulfill his desire.”

Destroying and Breaking Vessels for Educational Purposes
Seemingly, based on what we have learned, there is a Torah prohibition to break vessels unnecessarily. If so, how could Rabba allow himself to provide his son with clay vessels to break unnecessarily? Indeed, Hagaon Rabbeinu Yosef Haim in his Sefer Torah Lishmah (Chapter 401) was asked whether or not it is prohibited to give children cheap vessels to break. Rabbeinu Yosef Haim replied that there is no prohibition of “You shall not destroy” involved here, based on the Gemara in Masechet Yoma which we have quoted, for our Sages have entered the mind of the child, who needs to break clay vessels, and believed that in order to grow up in a healthy way, the child must do this in order to help him express his negative traits in a harnessed fashion. Thus, as long as there is some tangible necessity for this, especially when the vessels are inexpensive, there is no prohibition here, for the Torah prohibits doing so only in a “destructive manner."

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