The torah says in this week parsha:

יא כ י הַ מצְ וָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔אֹת אֲ שֶׁ֛ר אָֽנֹ כִ֥י מְצַוְךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם לָֽאֹ־ נפְ לִ֥את הוא֙ ממְךֹּ֔ וְלָֽאֹ־רְחֹ קָ֖ה הָֽוא

יב לִ֥ ֹא בַ שמַָ֖ ים הּ֑וא לאמֹֹ֗ר מָ֣י יַָֽעֲ לה־ לָּ֤נו הַ שמַַ֨יְ מה֙ וְ י ק חָ֣ ה לנו וְיַשְ מ עִ֥נו אֹ תָ֖הּ וְנַָֽעֲ ש נה:

יג וְלָֽאֹ־ מ עִ֥ בר לַ יָ֖ם הּ֑וא לאמֹֹ֗ר מָ֣י יַָֽעֲ בר־ לנו אל־ עָּ֤ בר הַ ים֙ וְ י ק חָ֣ ה לנו וְיַשְ מ עִ֥נו אֹ תָ֖הּ ונַָֽעֲ שָֽ נה:

יד כָֽי־ קרִ֥וֹב א לֶׁ֛יך הַ ד בָ֖ר מְאֹּ֑ד בְ פִ֥יך ו בלְ בָֽבְךָ֖ לַָֽעֲשתָֽוֹ:

The Ramban explains that the “easy” mitzvah described here is talking about the mitzvah of teshuva. Given how difficult we find self-improvement and changing ourselves, how could the Ramban understand the mitzvah of teshuva as “easy”?

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that in reality, when a person knows something is wrong or see clearly that he has to change, it is not so difficult. The mitzvah of teshuva in it of itself is not difficult. What stands in the way of working on ourselves is the habits we build up over the year, that are very difficult to break out of and cause us to not think clearly as we justify our actions. (Perhaps these are the “thick walls around our hearts” that we break down through hoshanas and simchas torah, just as Bnei Yisroel broke down the impenetrable walls of yericho through a week of hakafos).

Rav Chaim explains that to break through these barriers of habit, we must take advantage of a special koach Hashem gives us. Every person has moments of inspiration, when they think clearly and know exactly what must be done and what their lives should really look like. However, we allow those moments to pass (become “chametz”) and don’t actualize them. Those moments are a gift form Hashem, sometimes happening through our efforts, often a feeling given to us from Hashem. Those moments need to be preserved, though writing, through action, in some way kept safe and not forgotten or chalked up to a fleeting moment. There are 2 important chinuch lessons we can learn from this:

1) Now, as the spirit of the community and the home is hopefully one of introspection, many of us, especially of our children, will have a moment where the clouds part and we can see clearly. We need to do what can to preserve those so that they can be called upon later when the energy of the yomim noraim is over. Most importantly, we need to watch our children vigilantly for when those moments come because when they do kids become open to change. There is a story about Yakum Ish Tzroros, the nephew of Rav Yosi ben Yoezer, who went off the derecho. In the last moments of Rav Yosis life, Yakum questioned Rav Yosi about his life choices, and Rav Yosis answers inspired Yakum to totally change himself in a moment. How did this happen? Certainly Rav Yosi spent his life trying to mekarev his nephew? When we try to approach children and students they are often “closed” and therefore defensive and the message only partially penetrates (if at all). There are those small moments though when kids open themselves up (usually the signal is that they are asking questions and therefore thinking-hence why the pesach seder, the foundation of jewish chinuch is based on question/answer format, as well as the gemara). Our job is to watch and wait for those moments, be ready for them to help our children make the most of them, actualize them, and help them find a way to hold on to them for later (obviously we must be careful about pushing too hard as well, sometimes a child opens up but gets scared that if they allow themselves to feel the inspiration or experience that moment so they recoil).

2) Another important lesson we can learn from Rav Chaim is the power of habit. Though Rav Chaim describes its difficulty to break as a major obstacle to positive change, if we can manage to form positive habits then those would also be very difficult to break when faced with challenges. Perhaps, though often counterintuitive, that is why we train children from a small age in brochos, davening, and mitzvos, when they are at an age when they don’t really understand what they are doing or saying. By making these second nature and positive habits they become hard to break. The challenge of this mehalech however is to keep a habit from becoming stale, boring, uninspiring. This argument comes up often amongst mechanchim: the challenge of having expectations of students to do the right thing (though that could feel “forced” or “boring”) VS allowing them to do things because they want to and are inspired to (the flip side being if they are not in the mood to do something they won’t). This is the challenge of balancing avodas Hashem through Yirah with Ahava (and is perhaps the crux of Rosh Hashanna/Yom Kippur). Many parents and yeshivos follow the path of “Yirah”, and critics will point out how being rigid or “forcing” kids is counter-productive. On the other hand, critics of the “Ahava” mentality will say that those parents/yehsivos have no control over their kids who go too far and are not really learning or growing because they aren’t being pushed. How can we solve this dilemma? The answer is proper chinuch should incorporate both. Kids must know that both derachim aare not just valid but necessary simultaneously. Though some might lean more one way than the other, there is never a time in a person’s life when it is acceptable to forgo one. Of course the best way to serve Hashem is to really feel and believe it, to be inspired and do it with simcha. But that’s not an excuse not to do something, that means we have a responsibility to work on it. Obviously doing something out of fear (of punishment, the community, etc.) or because you were trained to do it unquestionably is a very low level, however the highest level of an Eved Hashem is one who serves Hashem unquestionably, trusting that even if he doesn’t understand or “feel like doing it” he overcomes his yetzer hara and does it anyway. Tachlis, kids must know that they have a responsibility to do everything (within their capabilities) whether they understand it or want to do it, until such a time (through work) they will come to appreciate and want to do it. What this really requires is kids to trust the torah that in the end they will be inspired and want to do it even if they don’t feel it right now. Tachlis, that comes from the relationships fostered with their parents mechanchim (the representatives of torah) and how much kids feel they can trust them. And so the real avodah of chinuch is making our kids feel like they can trust us, that we accept them and love them no matter what, though they still have a responsibility to work towards what they can become.

Shabbat Shalom, Good Shabbos, Kesiva V’chasim Tova, Shanna Tova,

Rabbi Ari Deutscher MSW