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The Music of Halacha: Chinuch and Kavanah

As a general rule the age of Chinuch for any particular Mitzvah is the age at which the child is capable of performing the Mitzvah in the optimum manner. That principle is derived from the Mishnah (Succah 42a) declaring that a minor is obligated in the Mitzvah of the Four Species only if he has mastered the proper manner of shaking the Lulav. (See Shulchan Aruch, O”C 657:1, and Magen Avraham)

The Mishnah’s statement presents a problem: Fulfilling the Biblical Mitzvah requires nothing more than holding the Four Species in one’s hand. The requirement of shaking the Lulav is either Rabbinic or is a form of Hiddur Mitzvah – Beautifying the Mitzvah (Arba Mitzvot HaShalem page 472).  Rabbi Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveichik, the Brisker Rav, in his notes on Arachin 2b, and Rav Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, the Netziv, Meromei Sadeh, Succah 42a,  infer that the obligation of Chinuch becomes operative only when the child is capable of performing the Mitzvah in the optimum manner. (See too Chiddushei Chatam Sofer, Succah 42a, and Mishnat Ya’avetz O”C, #70, section 7) Even assuming that the requirement of shaking the Lulav is merely Rabbinic in nature, a youngster who is incapable of performing the Rabbinic obligation is not obligated to fulfill the basic Biblical obligation that he is capable of performing in all its Biblically mandated details.

The Netziv explains that the obligation of Chinuch is to train and habituate the child in performance of the Mitzvah. Accordingly, the child must be trained in the proper performance of the Mitzvah. Training a child to perform a Mitzvah in an incomplete manner is counterproductive because the child may become accustomed to perform the Mitzvah in an incomplete manner.  (Bi’ur Halachah 657:4, Mishnah Berurah 658:28, Sha’ar Hatzion 658:36. Mishnat Ya’avetz O”C. Iggerot Moshe Y”D I, Number 137, and III #5, section 2)

The Turei Even (Chagigah 6a) questions how it is ever possible to obligate a child in a positive Mitzvah according to the opinions that “Mitzvot Tzerichot Kavanah,’ that a person fulfills a Mitzvah only if he actively intends to do so. According to that opinion, one who does not or cannot have Kavanah to fulfill theMitzvah has not satisfied his requirement. The Gemara is clear (Chullin 12b) that  a child lacks the capacity to achieve proper mental determination. Hence, a child is incapable of Kavanah, and cannot fulfill a Mitzvah in the optimum manner.

The Turei Even differentiates between a child’s failure to properly perform a Mitzvah because of a particular element of the Mitzvah and his failure to fulfill the Mitzvah because he is a minor, i.e. is incapable of Kavanah. The purpose of Chinuch is to habituate the child in the performance of the Mitzvah, and if the only defect derives from his being a minor there is nothing lacking in the Mitzvah of Chinuch. We urge the child to have intention despite the fact that it will not qualify as Kavanah.

According to the Turei Even it seems that Chinuch includes training the child to have intention when performing the Mitzvah. Do we?

As I reviewed the Halachot of Chinuch I recalled my father zt”l’s words to me before I left for Yeshiva where I would be wrapping Tefillin for the first time, and, a month later, for the first time as a Bar Mitzvah: “The day you wrap your Tefillin as a Bar Mitzvah you must remember to be excited about your Kavanah being Kavanah. Learn to rejoice in Kavanah.”

I didn’t at the time fully appreciate his words. I now do. Kavanah is something to celebrate. Do we?

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