Don’t Just Sit and Learn. Go and Do
Principle 6 for Being an Inspiring Parent
The sixth video discusses the importance of giving our children the opportunity to be active leaders.
How to be an inspiring parent, Rule Six.
Now, let me ask you a simple question: What’s the Hebrew for education? Chinuch? Wrong. The Hebrew for education is Talmud Torah. Talmud Torah is the Judaism you learn from teachers. It’s the Judaism you learn from listening. It’s the Judaism you learn from reading. It’s the Judaism you learn from classes and from books. That’s Talmud Torah.
Chinuch means something else. Rashi defines Chinuch as ‘techilat shimusho shel davar.’ It’s when you first put something to use, that’s why Chinuch is Chanukat Habayit. When you first use the house, you consecrate it. That’s Chinuch. Chinuch means learning by doing. And that is a different concept altogether and terribly, terribly important. When you teach your child, who’s not yet Bar or Bar Mitzvah, a year or two in advance to fast on Yom Kippur, that is Chinuch. When you get your son to wear tefillin before his Bar Mitzvah, that’s Chinuch. Chinuch is learning by doing.
So, always, if you want your kids to really internalise Judaism, they have not only to learn they have to do. You have to empower them to do.
Now, here’s a story: Early 1991, it’s the first Gulf War, Elaine and I put off the chief rabbinate for a year so that we could spend a year in Jerusalem with our children. And at that time I had a meeting with all the professors and teachers of education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Melton department at the Hebrew University. And for once they were all round in a semi-circle, and for once instead of just asking them their names and what they taught, somebody decided it would be a great way in for each of them to say why they decided to dedicate their lives to Jewish education.
And they went right round the room, and nobody had ever asked this question before. And every single person in that room said, “It was my youth group.” It turned out we had experts in every single department of education except one, which was youth groups. And it’s weird. Why do youth groups make such a difference? The short answer is (and we’ve done the research on this) the Jewish day schools per se, formal Jewish education have a huge impact cognitively, but not so much emotively, effectively. The thing that really, actually, gets kids to stay Jewish and proud of being Jewish is the affective dimension, the emotional one. And that is best done in informal education, not formal education. And the reason that youth groups were so effective is they turn kids into leaders. They gave them responsibility.
That’s how I got involved. I was a madrich in my youth group. I was a leader. Somebody at the age of 13 said, “Go out and be a leader.” I didn’t know how to be a leader, but you’re forced to do it. And once you lead, you become a leader. That’s the only way you do it actually.
Chinuch means empowering our children not just to learn but to do. It means empowering them not just to follow but to lead. It means giving them responsibility. And the truth is, and here it is, Sacks’ first law of family dynamics: children grow to fit the space we create for them. If that space is small, they’ll stay small. But if we create a big space by saying, “Go out there and lead,” then they grow tall, and my goodness me, they begin to make a difference to the world. They live their Judaism by leading as Jews. So Rule Six is, empower your children not just to sit and learn, but go and do.
This video series, Inspired Parenting, consists of thirteen short videos of Rabbi Sacks discussing some of the ways we can be inspiring parents and really kindle the flame of Torah in our children.
We hope you will learn, as Rabbi Sacks did, from exploring these ideas.