"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Balance in Chinuch

Balance in Chinuch

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Our sages say: “Avraham—Yishma’el emerged from him; Yitzchak—Esav emerged from him; Yaakov—his bed was complete.”[1] 

Chassidus explains that although Avraham’s avodah (divine service) was chessed, kindness,[2] and it was a pure and holy chessed, it lacked the balance that only gevurah, strictness, can create, and so it was susceptible to being overcome by its evil counterpart—unholy chessed. Likewise, the avodah of Yitzchak, pure and holy gevurah,[3] lacked the balance that only chessed can create, and so it was susceptible to being overcome by its evil counterpart—unholy gevurah (for more on the way attributes can exist in both a holy and unholy form, see here).

This is the reason that Avraham’s avodah was incomplete, and therefore Yishma’el, who personified evil chessed, emerged from Avraham. Likewise, Yitzchak’s avodah was incomplete, and therefore Esav, who personified evil gevurah, emerged from Yitzchak. Only Yaakov, whose avodah was tiferes, “harmony,” which combines and balances chessed and gevurah, begot children who were all righteous—“his bed was complete.”[4]

Chinuch (education)—and any relationship, for that matter—requires the unconditional love and permissiveness of chessed and the rigorous, harsh discipline of gevurah. But as valuable as each of these approaches is, adopting either one to the exclusion of the other is unhealthy. Although following the opposite approaches of chessed and gevurah simultaneously may be challenging, they must be both be incorporated—and carefully balanced.

Most people are naturally inclined to be lopsided in their approach—some incline to excessive chessed, others to excessive gevurah. We can learn from Avraham and Yitzchak that when one follows one’s nature and goes to extremes in either approach, failing to practice chessed when gevurah is necessary, and vice versa,[5] and failing to create the proper balance between these two approaches, it may well lead, despite all one’s worthy intentions, to a most tragic outcome, may G–d save us.

The parent and educator are faced with the task of going against their nature, and when necessary, practicing chessed despite their natural inclination to gevurah, or vice versa. Ultimately, they must strike a balance between chessed and gevurah, and in a way that is tailor-made for each individual child, and this is the key to their success in the chinuch of their offspring and students.

(Of course, all the above constitutes a very general statement. In any given chinuch situation one must assess how to strike this balance correctly, based on the general guidelines laid out in Torah, and the advice and guidance of rabbonim and mashpi'im, and that is a separate discussion.)

Adapted from the Alter Rebbe’s Likkutei Torah, Va’eschanan 5a. Cf. Torah Ohr, Toldos 20c.


[1] See Toras Kohanim on Vayikra 26:42.
[2] Avraham is associated with love and kindness, as it is written, “Avraham, who loves Me” (Yeshayah 41:9). Moreover, “The divine attribute of kindness said before the Holy One: ‘Master of the Universe, since the days of Avraham, I have not needed to perform my job, for Avraham serves in my stead’” (Sefer HaBahir 191, cited in Pardes 22:4).
[3] The Torah associates Yitzchak with holy strictness and fear, referring to Hashem as “the fear of Yitzchak” (Bereshis 31:42). 
[4] For more on this topic, see Zohar 3:179b; Torah Ohr, Bereshis 17c.
[5] See a teaching on this matter from the Previous Rebbe in Sichos Kodesh 5741, Vol. 2, p. 805.

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