Likkutei Sichos-Does G-d really expect and demand perfection in our knowledge of all of his commands and in our religious observance?

This Sicha is an excerpt from our Sefer

Click here to buy 

Parshas Eikev

Does G-d really expect and demand perfection in our knowledge of all of his commands and in our religious observance?

(Likkutei Sichos Vol. 35[1]]

In this week’s Parshas, Parshas Eikev, we learn about the Mitzvah of Torah study and the obligation for a father to teach his child Torah, as the verse[2] states “and you shall teach your children to speak in them.” In this talk, the Rebbe delves into the Halachic question of whether the general obligation of educating one’s child in Torah and Mitzvos is Biblical or Rabbinical, and after concluding from the sources that the teaching of Torah to one’s child is a Biblical obligation while educating him in Mitzvos is only a Rabbinical obligation, the Rebbe then begins the quest of understanding why there is no Biblical obligation to educate one’s child in Mitzvos. After all, doesn’t he need to know how to do all the Mitzvos as soon as he/she becomes Bar/Bat Mitzvah? The Rebbe travels through a very deep and analytical discussion of various potential answers, which concludes in their negation. In the final answer that the Rebbe gives to this question, one can arguably say, that the Rebbe delineated one of the greatest and most unconventional novelties of his career, which aside for being fascinating in its own right, revolutionizes the way we think and view our level of observance, and the mistakes that we make.

Many Baalei Teshuvah face internal intense emotional and psychological pressure to serve God in the most perfect way and perform all of the commands correctly. On a different front, all those involved in pursuing knowledge of Torah law by either studying from the texts directly, or participating in Halacha classes, are inevitably faced with the reality that there are things that they have been doing wrong. If this itself is not enough to break the spirit of the genuine G-d-fearing Jew who is trying to better himself in the fulfillment of the commands, all the more so will his heart be broken with the prospect that it will probably take him his entire life to properly learn all the commands in the Torah with their details, and until then he will most likely be doing things wrong due to being unaware. Due to this, some Torah observant individuals are actually afraid to take upon themselves the proper study of Halacha, due to the potential dread of what they will discover, of their improper observance. Others may suffer from an even worse dilemma, in which even after they learn the proper law, will remain complacent and unmoved to actually make a change, due to their inability to accept the prospect that they were doing something wrong. Others will simply be unwilling to accept being told or taught that they are doing something wrong, under the assumption that they are already knowledgeable in all the ins and outs of all the commands, and if they haven’t heard of this correction until now, it must be incorrect.

The novelty of the Rebbe in this talk helps revolutionize the way of thinking for all these individuals, and motivates each individual to gradually grow in his knowledge and fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvos with a healthy self-esteem and self-confidence of his religious observance, despite his mistakes.


Explorations of the Sicha:

1. There are so many details of the Mitzvos. Does G-d really expect us to know and keep all of them?

2. How could the sages say that Avraham served G-d throughout every day of his life if we all know that he was an idol worshiper for several years of his life until he found G-d?

3. Is the Mitzvah to educate a child in Torah and Mitzvos Biblical or Rabbinical?

4. Why is a convert not required to study and know all of the commands prior to his conversion?

1. Was Abraham truly observant his entire life?

On the verse[3], “Veavraham Zaken Ba Bayamim/and Abraham was old and experienced in days” the sages[4] state that Avraham served G-d his entire life to the point that every day of his entire life were complete days involved in serving G-d. This statement is quite puzzling and requires further understanding. We are all aware that Avraham is the one who discovered monotheism, and was not born into this belief system. Meaning, that there was a period of his life prior to this discovery in which he was not involved in serving G-d being that he was not yet aware of His existence. Furthermore, as the Rambam[5] states, at first Avraham was an idol worshiper, and served idols together with all of his other countrymen and members of his family. It took him time until he actually discovered G-d and the worthlessness of the idols. As brought in Chazal, Avraham worshiped many deities and celestial beings until he finally discovered G-d. How then can we truthfully say that he served G-d every day of his entire life? [Even when eulogizing an individual after his passing, one is only allowed to slightly exaggerate in praise of the deceased, however, to overexaggerate is forbidden.[6] Hence, how could we be allowed to exaggerate and say that Avraham served G-d throughout his entire life when we know that this is clearly not true? It is like saying of a non-religious Jew who eventually became a Baal Teshuvah and who tasted every nonkosher food in the world prior to his repentance, that throughout every day of his life he ate only kosher!]

At what age did Avraham discover G-d: There are various opinions regarding the age that Avraham finally discovered G-d and monotheism. The Talmud[7] states that it was at age 3. This is based on the verse[8] which states “Eikev Asher Shama Avraham Bekoli/Being that Avraham listened to My voice,” which the Talmud interprets to mean that Avraham listened to G-d’s voice for the numerical value of the word Eikev/עקב which is 172. Meaning, that he listened to G-d for 172 years out of his 175 years of life, thus showing that he recognized G-d at age 3. Others[9] say that Avraham recognized G-d at age 40 and others[10] saying was at age 48. According to these latter opinions, it is not just that Avraham had a few years missing from his service of G-d, but had over 25% of his life lacking service of G-d and being involved in idol worship. How then can one possibly say that Avraham served G-d for every day of his life, ignoring his first 40 or 48 years of idolatry.

To understand this matter we must first introduce the subject of whether a child’s education in Torah and Mitzvos is a Biblical or Rabbinical obligation.

2. Is the Mitzvah to educate a child, Biblical or Rabbinical?

All of us are aware of the great Mitzvah to educate children in the path of Torah and Mitzvos, and of its importance to ensure an everlasting continuity of the Jewish faith, hence sprouting forth the establishment of Torah educational institutions from kindergarten through elementary school, through high school. An interesting question that is raised is regarding the status of obligation of giving one’s child a Torah and Jewish education. Children who have yet to reach the age of Mitzvos are not obligated in Jewish observance, at least not from a Biblical perspective, and hence what is the Torah standpoint regarding education of such children? So, it is a clear ruling in the Poskim[11] that indeed the Mitzvah of educating one’s child in Mitzvos is merely Rabbinical. This applies for both positive and negative commands and applies both the girls and boys. Meaning, that just as the child himself does not become obligated in Mitzvos until he reaches the age of 13 for a boy and 12 for a girl, so too similarly there is no Biblical obligation to educate one’s child in the keeping of Mitzvos. This revelation aggravates the following question:

3. Question-Why is there no Biblical obligation to educate a child in Mitzvos?

The fact that the Mitzvah of educating a child in Mitzvos is merely Rabbinical, aggravates the following very powerful question. How can there be no Biblical obligation to educate a child in Mitzvos if he is Biblically obligated to observe all of them properly starting from the moment that he/she becomes Bar/Bas Mitzvah? Is it possible for a child to suddenly gain knowledge and experience in all the commands of the Torah the moment that he/she becomes Bar/Bas Mitzvah? Certainly not! So, it ends up that by the Torah not commanding and obligating the child to be educated in Mitzvos prior to reaching the age of Mitzvos, it is setting him up for religious failure and will cause him to begin his religious life in the most disastrous way with transgressions, and lack of observance of the commands. Why does the Torah itself not take responsibility of this inevitable result, and leave it to the sages to make the decree of educating children in Mitzvos in order to prevent this from happening?

The Rebbe will now attempt several suggested answers, and after their negation, eventually conclude with a most magnificent Torah novelty on the subject of Jewish observance and education.

4. The first Answer and its rebuttal:

The Biblical command to teach one’s child Torah is in order so he know how to perform the Mitzvos when he is older: Although, as stated above, there is no Biblical command to educate one’s child in Mitzvos, nonetheless, there is a Biblical command upon the father to educate his child in Torah learning[12], as the verse[13] states “and you shall teach your children to speak in them.” The Ramban[14] comments on the verse[15], “Vishinantam Livanecha/and you shall teach your children,” that since G-d commanded us to keep his commands, therefore we are to teach our children the commands, as otherwise how will they learn them. According to this, one can say in answer to the above question, that although there is no unique obligation to educate one’s child in Mitzvah fulfillment, he must educate him in the surrounding laws of all the Mitzvos and teach him how to perform them, and this is the fundamental purpose of the Biblical command instructing a father to teach his child Torah. In other words, there is a Biblical obligation upon a father to educate his child in learning Torah[16], and this itself is for the sake of him knowing the Mitzvos. Nonetheless, the sages did not suffice with this general obligation to educate the child in the knowledge of the commands and decreed that a father must also educate his child in the actual fulfillment of the commands, in order so he is already accustomed to performing them when he gets older[17], following the verse in Proverbs[18] which states “Chanoch Lanaar Al Pi Darko Gam Ki Yazkin Lo Yassur Mimena/educate your child according to his way, so he does not swerve from it when he is older.”

The rebuttal against this answer: The above explanation, unfortunately, does not suffice due to a couple of reasons. First off, it is not unanimous amongst the Poskim that the Biblical obligation of a father to teach his child Torah is for the sake of education of Mitzvos. Indeed, according to the majority of Poskim[19], this Mitzvah is intrinsically for the sake the Mitzvah of learning Torah and not for the sake of education, similar to a father’s obligation to circumcise and redeem his son which has intrinsic value and is not for the sake of his future education. In addition, the simple learning of the details of the Mitzvos does not suffice in educating a child in how to keep them when they are older, as is proven from the fact that the sages needed to make this institution of educating a child in Mitzvos despite the general Biblical requirement for a father to teach his child Torah. Why was the Torah itself not concerned with the same concerns as the sages, that an education focusing on gaining knowledge of the Torah laws without practicing them, will not suffice for the child when he is older? If a child has been accustomed to living a life of nonobservance of Mitzvos, and has never in actuality performed the Mitzvos, how can he be expected to change his entire accustomed nature in one moment, when he turns the age of Mitzvos at 12 for a girl and 13 for a boy? How can the child be expected to suddenly fulfill all the Mitzvos properly like a pro, without stumbling and making mistakes?


An analogy from a driver’s license:

The above lack of practical education of the child in Mitzvah observance, would be analogous to giving one’s child the keys to his car after he passes his written driving test by the DMV, without going through any training in actual driving and gaining the very necessary experience to allow him to drive on his own. Such a father would be viewed as most negligent and would certainly have criminal charges brought against him for endangering the life of his child and the public. It is for this reason that one will only receive a driver’s license if he has passed both the written driving test, which tests his knowledge of driving related rules, and also passes the practical behind the wheel test, also known as the road or skill test, to assess that he knows how to drive safely.

Accordingly, it is most wondrous that the Torah itself was not concerned with the child being given a practical road skill test to assess his proper fulfillment of Mitzvos, and sufficed with his acquiring of knowledge of the Mitzvos, to put them behind the wheel of religious observance as soon as he/she turns Bar and Bas Mitzvah. Is this not considered most negligent of the Torah, so to say, to allow such a thing, and would it not endanger the soul of the child and general Jewish public due to our liability for our brethren’s observance?

5. The second answer and its rebuttal:

There is a Biblical command to educate one’s child in the performance of Mitzvos: Seemingly, one can answer our above question in the following manner: Indeed, there is absolutely a Biblical obligation on a father to educate his under Bar/Bas Mitzvah child in the actual fulfillment of Mitzvos, so he receives practical experience and knows how to perform them properly when he reaches the age of Mitzvos. This obligation does not need any written source in Scripture, and does not even have to be explicitly spelled out by the Talmud or Poskim, and is something self-understood from the mere fact that the child is obligated in Mitzvos as soon as he/she comes Bar/Bas Mitzvah.

An example from other Mitzvos: To what is this similar? It is self-understood that when the Torah commands a Jew to wear Tefillin, that included in this command is a command for him to make, or purchase, or borrow, a set of kosher Tefillin for him to wear. There’s absolutely no need for anyone to spell out this obvious obligation that comes with the command, in order to be able to fulfill the command. It is self-understood, that one who does not put in the effort to make, buy, or borrow, a pair of Tefillin for him to wear, that he transgresses the Biblical command, and he cannot excuse himself under the claim that the Torah never explicitly obligated him to place effort to access a pair of Tefillin. This concept applies by many other Mitzvos that the Torah commanded us, such as the Mitzvah of dwelling in a Sukkah, shaking the Lulav, blowing the Shofar, of which we are all obligated to place due effort to have access to the objects with which the Mitzvah is performed.[20] Furthermore, the mere obligation in the command also carries with it the obligation for one to study its laws and know how to fulfill it properly, even if this detail is not explicitly spelled out in Scripture. Therefore, one who does not perform a Mitzvah properly due to his lack of effort in educating himself in its details, then he is considered to have transgressed a Biblical command. Based on this, we can argue and say that since a child becomes obligated in Torah and Mitzvos as soon as he/she becomes Bar/Bas Mitzvah, therefore, it is a self-understood Biblical obligation upon the father to educate him in the fulfillment of the Mitzvos. Ideally, this obligation should be on the child himself, but since a child does not have the maturity to be commanded in anything, therefore the command relating to his education is given over to his father, similar to the obligation of the father to redeem his son, which is done on behalf of the son who cannot do so himself at this age.[21]

We will now address the exact Halachic status of this self-understood obligation, and why it nevertheless remained necessary for the sages to make a specific institution of educating children.

Hechsher Mitzvah-The status of the above Biblical command of education: The above self-understood Biblical command on a father to educate his child in Mitzvos has the Halachic status of a “Hechsher Mitzvah”, as opposed to an intrinsic commandment. It is similar to the chopping of wood for the sake of making a fire for the welding of a circumcision knife, which is not an intrinsic Mitzvah, but rather a preparation Mitzvah, known as Machshirei Mitzvah.[22] It hence does not contain intrinsic value regarding certain laws, such as to transgress Shabbos on its behalf. Based on this understanding, we can now explain the novelty of the sages in them turning the Mitzvah to educate one’s child in Mitzvos into a Rabbinical command.

The Rabbinical command of education gives it essential worth: The sages desired that the Mitzvos fulfilled by a child contain intrinsic value as opposed to a mere preparatory value, and hence made an explicit institution that a father must educate his child in Mitzvos in order to give these Mitzvos intrinsic Rabbinical value. In other words, if not for the decree of the sages the Mitzvos of a child would not be considered real Mitzvos but simply preparatory Mitzvos, and by the sages making their institution, it gave the Mitzvos of a child intrinsic status. One of the ramifications between the preparatory Biblical obligation and the specific Rabbinical obligation is regarding whether the Mitzvah must be performed by the child properly with all of its details, as we will now explain.

Do all the bylaws of a Mitzvah apply likewise to a child’s education:[23] The Biblical obligation of educating the child in Mitzvos for the sake of preparation for the future, carries with it the leniency that the child is not obligated to be educated to perform the Mitzvah with all of its validating details. Since the main purpose the Biblical command is for preparation and contains no intrinsic value, therefore, it is not so crucial if the fulfillment of the Mitzvah is lacking some details, so long as the child receives the general concept of the command and knows how to fulfill it. However, once the sages made the Rabbinical decree of educating a child, the Mitzvah now carries intrinsic value and therefore must be fulfilled properly with all the details.[24]

The rebuttal: While the above explanation to our original query of why the Torah does not explicitly command a father to educate his children and Mitzvos, sounds lucid and clear, practically it is most difficult to accept. According to the above explanation it ends up that there is an actual Biblical obligation to educate one’s children in the general fulfillment of Mitzvos, and that the Rabbinical obligation simply obligates that it be performed in a valid method. Why then do all of the Poskim unequivocally record that the Mitzvah of education is merrily Rabbinical and do not go into the above most important distinction. Indeed, the negation of the above distinction and novelty is explicit in the words of Admur in his Hilchos Talmud Torah[25] in which he states that, “a child is exempt from all the commands and also his father is not Biblically obligated to educate him in Mitzvos, and the obligation is only Rabbinical.” This unequivocal statement negates any level of Biblical obligation, and hence the above novelty which creates a Biblical command of general Chinuch in Mitzvos has to be stricken down from the record. Accordingly, we return back to our original question: Why did the Torah not feel it necessary to command a father to educate his child in the fulfillment of Mitzvos and prevent a most drastic occurrence of the child starting off his religious life as a transgressor.

6. The concluding answer:

After negating the above potential answers, the Rebbe concludes with a most simple but revolutionary explanation, which he defines in terms scarcely used, as a “Great Chidush in Halacha.”

A child is not Biblically expected to fulfill everything the moment he becomes Bar Mitzvah: Due to the powerfulness of the above question which has yet to be properly answered, we must conclude that our entire premises was wrong to begin with. The question began under the assumption that since a child becomes Biblically obligated in Torah and Mitzvos at the age of Bar/Bas Mitzvah, therefore he is Biblically expected to fulfill all of the commands properly once he reaches this age, and if he doesn’t then he is considered to have transgressed the command. Due to this assumption, our question was raised regarding why the Torah does not obligate the father to educate his child in the Mitzvos so he does not transgress them when he becomes the age of Bar/Bas Mitzvah.

In truth, however, one can question the certainty of the above assumption. Perhaps in truth a child is not Biblically expected to fulfill all the commands properly the very moment he reaches the age of Mitzvos. Meaning, that although he certainly becomes Biblically obligated in Mitzvos when he reaches the age of Bar/Bas Mitzvah, the Torah does not command him or expect him to fulfill all the Mitzvos perfectly at that moment. Rather, from that age and onwards the Torah obligates him to begin to educate himself in all the Mitzvos and strive to fulfill all of them. However, since it will inevitably take time until he can properly educate himself in the details of the Mitzvos, and gain experience in how to do them properly, therefore, the Torah does not hold him responsible for his lack of fulfillment or even transgressions, so long as he is in the active process of educating himself. Furthermore, one can argue that not only is he considered exempt due to reasons of duress when he accidentally performs a transgression or performs a Mitzvah in an invalid method due to lack of knowledge and experience, but furthermore it can be considered as if his invalid Mitzvah is considered part of the process of him fulfilling the command. The reason why the Torah is so lenient in the above and does not expect perfection of religious observance the moment one becomes obligated in Mitzvos, is because the Torah was not given to angels but to humans, and the Torah does not demand something of a person that is beyond his capability.[26] Thus, if the fulfillment of a certain Mitzvah takes time, he is not considered to be transgressing that Mitzvah so long as he is involved in the process of fulfilling it. An example for this concept can be brought from the Mitzvah of destroying Chametz.

The Mitzvah of Biur Chameitz is fulfilled throughout one’s involvement in destroying it:[27] The law states that one who finds Chametz on Pesach is obligated to destroy it the moment he finds it and transgresses the Biblical negative command of owning Chametz if he delays its destruction. Notwithstanding this law, the Poskim[28] write that so long as one is involved in the process of destroying the Chametz he is not considered to be transgressing this command even if there is a great delay between the time that he found it and its final destruction. Thus, for example, even if it takes him one hour to prepare the fire and have it burn the Chametz to the point it becomes charcoal, he is not considered to be transgressing anything during this hour. [Due to this concept, we rule that from the letter of the law, there is no requirement to destroy one’s Chametz prior to the start of the 6th hour of the day on Erev Pesach, and he may begin to destroy it immediately after the start of the 6th hour of the day, even though he will inevitably be owning the Chametz throughout the process of its destruction.[29]] Furthermore, not only is he not considered to be transgressing the command of owning Chametz during this hour delay, but it is even considered that he is in the process of fulfilling the command, as it is not possible to fulfill the command without him preparing the fire and having it take it’s time to burn the Chametz. This same concept can then be used to understand the status of a child when he becomes Bar/Bas Mitzvah. Since the child only becomes Biblically obligated in the commands at this age, and it is not possible for the Torah to obligate him personally to prepare for them prior to this age due to his immature state, therefore, from the moment he becomes Bar/Bas Mitzvah and begins to involve himself in the fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvos, he is considered to be within the process of fulfilling them, and any delay in their proper fulfillment is not viewed as a transgression.

The lack of liability is not due to the exemption of “Anus Rachmana Patrei” but rather due to him being considered already involved in the Mitzvah: The above idea [of one not being considered to transgress a command while he is involved in preparing for its fulfillment] should not be confused with the known concept of “Anus Rachmana Patrei”, that G-d exempts one from liability in a case of duress. This concept only applies when one is already intrinsically obligated in fulfilling the command and its actual fulfillment takes no delay, but due to external reasons beyond his control, is unable to fulfill it, [such as one who is in jail and could not shake a set of Daled Minim due to reasons beyond his control]. In such a case, the Torah does not hold him liable for his lack of fulfillment, due to the rule of “Anus Rachmana Patrei.” However, when the obligation itself contains an intrinsic aspect that causes its delay of fulfillment, then the moment one begins the preparations to fulfill it, he is considered to already be in the process of fulfilling the Mitzvah, and certainly is not considered to have transgressed it during those moments of delay which were intrinsically unavoidable and are part of the natural process of its fulfillment.

The difference between Mitzvos that require preparation before their time of fulfillment arrives, versus the obligation of a child  who becomes Bar/Bas Mitzvah: Now, regarding those Mitzvos that require special training, or require an object for their fulfillment, such as the blowing of the Shofar and shaking of the Lulav, it is understood that one is obligated to begin the preparation for the Mitzvah before the actual time of obligation arrives, in order so he can fulfill it properly when the time arrives to fulfill it. Thus, already prior to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos begins his obligation to search for a Shofar and Daled Minim, and if he is lax in placing due effort to acquire these items by the time their obligation arrives by the festival, then he is considered to have nullified a positive command. In essence, this concept applies to all the Mitzvos of the Torah, that their obligation of fulfillment also obligates one in educating himself and preparing himself for the Mitzvah when the time comes. The one exception to this is by a child when he becomes Bar/Bas Mitzvah. Being that he cannot legally be obligated in anything prior to reaching the age of maturity, at the age of Bar/Bas Mitzvah, therefore even his obligation to educate himself and prepare for the Mitzvos only begins after he/she turns Bar/Bas Mitzvah. Thus, a person who is above the age of Mitzvos will only be considered to have transgressed a Mitzvah if enough time has passed for them to be able to educate themselves and prepare for its fulfillment.

The novelty of this explanation and it’s forced conclusion: Now, although this explanation and understanding is a great novelty in Halacha, it seemingly is unavoidable, as it is not possible that G-d would hold us responsible for the delay of fulfillment of Mitzvos, when the very nature of the Mitzvah requires a delay in order for it to be fulfilled. Thus, since the fulfillment of every Mitzvah in the Torah requires one to properly educate himself of its details, therefore, the time that it takes to educate oneself of a given Mitzvah is considered part of the fulfillment of the Mitzvah and part of the obligation. Now, since a child can only become obligated in Mitzvos from the age of Bar/Bas Mitzvah, therefore the Biblical obligation for him to prepare for the Mitzvos also only becomes an obligation at that time.

The Rebbe now brings several proofs for this idea that the Torah does not hold one responsible to fulfill all the Mitzvos properly the second he becomes obligated in them, and rather gives one time to prepare and educate himself.

7. Proof 1-A proof from a convert:

A proof to the above concept can be brought from the law regarding the conversion process for a Gentile. Logic should dictate that prior to the conversion of a Gentile to Judaism he should be required to study and become expert in all of the practical laws and customs of Judaism in order so he can begin properly fulfilling them as soon as he converts. Lack of doing so would be a major stumbling block to both him and the Jewish nation, as it would inevitably cause him to transgress various laws and not fulfill various commands after he converts, due to his ignorance. If every Jew, including a convert, is obligated in all the Torah laws and every Jew carries liability for another Jews observance [i.e. Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Bezeh], then there is seemingly no room to allow ignorant Gentiles to join the Jewish nation until they are properly educated and trained. How surprising then is it to discover that in truth while a potential convert is obligated to be informed of some of the light and severe commands, he is not informed of all of them.[30] Furthermore, the Rambam[31] rules that one may not lengthen in the discussion of the Mitzvos in one’s conversation with the potential convert. Furthermore, even the little bit of information that is given over to him, is not for educational purposes, but simply to dissuade him from converting. Accordingly, we see that the initial conversion process according to Halacha promotes converting a Gentile while he is still ignorant of all the details of the religion, despite the fact that the moment he is converted he becomes obligated in them all. The question is therefore rightfully raised as to how we can be allowed to set up this new convert for automatic failure in his religious duties due to his ignorance.

Rather, the answer to this question is the same as the answer we explained regarding a child who has become Bar/Bas Mitzvah. Since a Gentile’s obligation of keeping Mitzvos only begins after he converts, therefore his obligation to educate himself of the Mitzvos also only begins then, after he converts, and so long as he is taking time to educate himself in the commandments and their details, not only is he not considered to be transgressing them, but furthermore is actually considered to be already involved their fulfillment.

The Rebbe now offers a second proof for this idea.

8. Proof 2-A proof from Mount Sinai:

When the Jewish people accepted the Torah on Mount Sinai, they were not informed of all the details of the entire Torah at that time. The 613 commands were gradually revealed to them throughout their 40 years of stay in the desert. Furthermore, even regarding the commands that were given to them on Mount Sinai, certainly it took time for them to study these commands and learn their details. Furthermore, regarding those commands that involve objects, such as Tzitzis and Tefillin, certainly it took them time to prepare these objects to fulfill the Mitzvah with them. Now, are we to say that from the time they received the Torah until they actually fulfilled the Mitzvah, they were considered to have been transgressing the command? Certainly not! Rather, as we explained above, since they were already involved in the preparations for the fulfillment of the Mitzvah, therefore it was already considered as if they were fulfilling the Mitzvah, as the preparations themselves were part of the fulfillment of the Mitzvah. This concept therefore likewise applies to a child who becomes Bar/Bas Mitzvah, that so long as he needs time to educate himself and prepare for the proper fulfillment of the Mitzvah, or proper awareness to beware from a transgression, then he is not considered to be transgressing that negative or positive command, and on the contrary he is considered to be involved in their fulfillment.

It is due to this reason that there is no Biblical obligation on a father to educate his child to fulfill Mitzvos while he is still a child.

9. Avraham Avinu was preparing to serve G-d even before he found Him:

Based on the above explanation, we can now answer our original question regarding Avraham, and how he could be considered to have been observant his whole life, if in truth he only found G-d at a later stage. Based on the above, the answer is that although Avraham did not find G-d until age 3, or 40, or 48 [depending on the opinion], since from the moment that he was born he was already in his search for G-d, and preparing himself for serving Him, therefore he is considered to have served G-d all of his days. The Rambam[32] writes that Avraham from the youngest of age already began pondering the creation of the world and the discovery of its true creator. While it took him many years of searching, and trial and error with various deities and forms of idol worship, eventually he finally discovered G-d. Accordingly, since even prior to his discovery of G-d he was involved in searching for Him therefore he is considered to have been serving Him even then, as he was involved in the process of educating himself in G-d’s existence.


The Lesson:

There are various lessons that can be derived from the revolutionary idea explained in this talk, including:

1. Becoming a Baal Teshuvah-Take it one step at a time:[33] It is natural of one who is in the process of becoming a Baal Teshuvah, or has already become one, to desire to perfect himself in religious observance. While this is a very praiseworthy long-term goal, the emphasis must be placed on the word long-term. It is not possible for the person overnight to become perfect in his religious observance. He must go through the process of education in both knowledge, and psychological readiness, throughout his adaption to new commands. Not only is his mind not capable of learning everything in one moment, but often also his temperament is not able to handle too many things at once. The worst thing we want to happen is for the potential Baal Teshuvah to feel completely overwhelmed in religious observance and end up throwing everything off his shoulders, which is something that is not that uncommon to occur in the Baal Teshuvah world. It is very important that the potential Baal Teshuvah be aware that God does not expect perfection in his religious observance from the moment he realized the truth, and it is a slow process of learning and education and adaption of one’s nature, until one is able to be fully knowledgeable and observant of all the laws.

2. Don’t be afraid to learn new things: Quite often when people are taught or told new information they respond with the claim “If it were true, how come I never heard of it before.” There is so much to learn in life and so much to learn in Torah that we need to remain open to learning new things, especially being that everything that we learn in life had its first time that we were taught it, and there is no cutoff date for learning new information. Life is one long school of education, and even in our older years we should always remain open to discovery of matters that we were not aware of until then. We should not fear learning something new, even if it is something that reveals that what we have done until then is mistaken. So long as you are proactive about your Torah education, and place due effort to study Torah and educate yourself of G-d’s commands, your new discovery will not be held against you, and on the contrary, is another step in the process of your fulfillment of this command. Rather than being despondent of discovering your mistake, you should rejoice over the fact that you have progressed one step closer in the fulfillment of the command.

3. Don’t be despondent if there is so much that you have yet to learn and don’t know how to observe properly: Don’t allow your evil inclination to deflate your joy of serving G-d and enter you into a state of depression by arguing that you are not as observant as you think you are, as there are so many Torah laws that you don’t yet know, and so many things that you most likely are doing wrong, as you have already discovered in the past. Every new discovery is another step forward in your observance and service of G-d, and G-d does not expect you to know all the details of Torah law in one moment. So long as you are in the progress of educating yourself by setting times aside for learning Torah and Jewish law, then you are in the process of fulfillment even prior to fulfilling it properly.

4. Don’t be OCD over Jewish law: Some individuals suffer from being obsessively worried that they are not doing a certain command or Mitzvah correctly. Aside from this occasionally leading the individual to repeat the command, or prayer, several times to make sure he got it right, it deflates them of any joy and confidence in their service of G-d and in general is an unattainable form of religious observance. Sometimes, people who suffer from this challenge end up exploding and leave religion altogether, unable to handle the psychological pressure that they placed on themselves. While certainly a certain level of worry over the accuracy of one’s observance is necessary of every Jew, this must be maintained to a healthy level which allows a Jew to have self-confidence in his observance and enjoy what he is doing. Thus, for example, translating one’s worry of doing something Halachically wrong to resolving to set aside time to study Jewish law daily until one is well-versed in all practical Halachic matters, is a very healthy and necessary decision. However, to allow this worry to create a guilty conscious which sucks out all of the joy of Judaism, is certainly not the will of G-d and is rather the cunning scheme of the evil inclination. G-d does not expect you to be an angel and does not ask of you more than you are capable of doing at this moment, and even if in truth you are doing something wrong, it is all part of your learning process. Be confident that G-d is delighted in your service on your level, even if it may contain flaws unbeknownst to you, so long as you are proactively open for continued growth and knowledge.

5. Don’t blast your child for making an innocent Halachic error: It is only natural that a parent wants their children to attain the highest spiritual levels, and certainly not transgress basic Jewish commands. However, at times, the level of expectation of parents surpasses the actual capability of one’s child, and the level of knowledge he should be expected to have. For example, if one discovers that one’s child did something which is a complete transgression of the Shabbos, and is well known to many people, the parent should not automatically assume that the child brazenly did it despite knowing that it is wrong. Everything that one knows has a beginning in which one first became aware of it, and perhaps this is your child’s first time in discovering the issue and the beginning of his knowledge of the subject. G-d does not expect your child to be perfect in his religious observance prior to him having the chance to properly get educated, and hence all of his mistakes are part of his learning process, which should not be held against him. Rather, a parent should use these discoveries of mistakes to further motivate him to diligently pursue his studies and better his religious observance, rather than berate him for doing something so terrible and wrong. As the sages[34] state, “a person does not properly fulfill a law until he stumbles on it.” Having this perspective in mind, will help parents balance how to deal with their child in such a case, and perhaps even more important, will help them deal with their own emotions, knowing that G-d Himself does not expect the child to be perfect and do everything correctly in Jewish law prior to being educated in it.

Maaseh Sheyaha

The invalid Tefillin of the Jews of Bagdad:[35]

The Ben Ish Chaiy related the following story that happened in Baghdad: A Rabbi by the name of Yehuda Ashkenazi, who was a Damascus resident, once came to visit the city of Baghdad in the time that the grandfather of the Ben Ish Chaiy served as the chief rabbi of the city. The visiting Rabbi immediately noticed that the Tefillin of the residents do not look properly square. This was so apparent that he did not even need to measure it to verify this. He immediately proceeded to speak about this to the chief Rabbi and tell him the issue with the Tefillin, and how he is skilled to teach them how to make it properly square. When the chief rabbi heard this, he pronounced in all the synagogues of Baghdad that all of their Tefillin that they have been wearing until now are invalid and that they should continue wearing it without a blessing until they learn how to manufacture properly square Batim. This is exactly what occurred, everybody listened to the Rabbi from young to old and they no longer set a blessing over their Tefillin until Rabbi Ashkenazi was able to teach them how to make it square and have it manufactured. this matter was a huge embarrassment for the city residents and especially its Sages that such a large city amongst the Jewish people like Baghdad did not wear valid Tefillin until the above Rabbi made an issue of it. Nonetheless, they had no choice, as they could not disobey the Rabbis rulings and instructions. It was in this Rabbi’s favor that the entire city of Baghdad merited to finally wear Tefillin.

After relating this, the Ben Ish Chaiy goes on to explain that although it became discovered that the residents of Baghdad never wore kosher tefillin one time in their life, they will nevertheless receive reward for fulfilling the mitzvah of tefillin as if they wore valid Tefillin, as is proven from the Chida in Devash Lefi 4:4 and Lev Chaim 2:10 who write regarding Rebbe Chiya that although he wore Tefillin sewed with flax, certainly he receives reward for the mitzvah, as he intended on fulfilling it and thought he was doing so.


The above novelty of the Rebbe adds greater and deeper insight into the above novelty of the Ben Ish Chaiy, as according to the novelty, it ends up that until their discovery of the detailed laws governing the squareness of the tefillin, they were in the midst of the process of fulfilling the mitzvah, until they finally learned how to do so with perfection. Accordingly, not only are they not considered to have nullified the mitzvah of Tefillin, but are considered to have been fulfilling it throughout their days.


[1] This Sicha is printed in the section of Parshas Vayeira, although relates to our verse written in Parshas Eikev.

[2] Eikev 11:19

[3] Chayeh Sarah 24a

[4] Zohar 1:129; 224:1

[5] Rambam Avoda Zara 1:3

[6] See Michaber Y.D. 344:1

[7] Nedarim 32a; Hasagas Haraavad Avoda Zara 1:3

[8] Toldos 26:5

[9] Rambam Avoda Zara 1:3

[10] Bereishis Raba 30:8

[11] Admur 343:2; Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:1; Rambam Tzitzis 3:9; Brachos 5:1; Shevisas Assur 2:10; Sukkah 6:1; Chagiga 4a; Nazir 29a; Encyclopedia Talmudit Erech Chinuch

Opinion of Admur in Tanya: In Tanya, in the Hakdama to Shaar Hayichud Vihemuna, Admur writes in parentheses that “The Mitzvah of Chinuch is also with a positive command, as written in chapter 343” The intent of this statement is not to say that the Mitzvah of Chinuch is a positive command, but rather that the Rabbinical command of Chinuch also obligates one to train one’s child in following the Biblical positive commands. [Lessons in Tanya]

[12] Admur Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:1; Rambam 1:1

[13] Eikev 11:19

[14] Ramban Vaeschanan 6:7; This concept is also recorded a number of Rishonim, including: Bahag in his introduction of Kum Asei 71 who writes the one must teach his child Torah and mitzvah’s; Semag Mitzvas Asei 12; Yireim 225; Rabbeinu Meyuchas on Torah Eikev 11:19; Meiri Kiddushin 30a; Bamidbar Raba 17a

[15] Vaeschanan 6:7

[16] Admur Talmud Torah Kuntrus Acharon 1:1

[17] See Rashi Sukkah 2b; Rashi Chagiga 6a

[18] Mishleiy 22:6; See Rashba Megillah 19b; Ritva Sukkah 2b; Omitted from Admur 343; See Admur Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:6

[19] See Likkutei Sichos ibid footnote 12

[20] See Rambam Brachos 11:2

[21] See Rivash 131

Regarding the mitzvah of circumcision: The same can be argued that the father fulfills it on behalf of the son who is unable to do so at his age, and so can be understood from Or Zarua 2:104. However, according to Shut Ran 52, the mitzvah of circumcision is not the same as it is in intrinsic command on the father. See Likkutei Sichos 11:44 in length.

[22] See Shabbos 130a

[23] See Rabbeinu Manoach on Rambam Shevisas Assur 2:10 from whom the Rebbe learns to be making this explicit distinction. Rabbeinu Manoach on Rambam Shevisas Assur 2:10 explains based on the Rambam, that there are two different levels of obligation of educating a child to fast on Yom Kippur. The obligation to educate a child below the age of 11 to fast for a few hours is not a rabbinical command of Chinuch but is due to the general obligation of a father to educate a child which obligates the father to educate the child in the general concept of the mitzvah, while the obligation for the child to fast from age 11 is an actual rabbinical obligation and therefore the child must fast the entire day

[24] See Ritva Sukkah 2b that even a child may not dwell in the sukkah that is over 20 cubits tall; Ran Yuma 82a; Rabbeinu Manoach on Rambam Shevisas Assur 2:10

[25] Chapter 1:1; See also Admur 343:2 and Mahadura Tinyana 4:2

[26] See Brachos 25b; Bechoros 17b; Avoda Zara 3a; Shemos Raba 34:1

[27] See Admur 445:1

A source from Hilchos Talmud Torah of Admur: A possible source for the novelty of the Rebbe in this answer can be brought from Hilchos Talmud Torah of Admur, where Admur brings from the Mishneh in Avos 2:16 that “Ein Alecha Hamelacha Ligmor/It is not your obligation to complete” and explains this to mean that while one is obligated to begin studying the subjects of Torah, he is not necessarily expected to complete the study of all the subjects, and this depends on one’s intellectual capabilities and the amount of free time he has on his hands. [See Admur ibid 2:3, 5, 8; 3:2; 4:6, 16] Vetzaruch Iyun why this source was not mentioned at all by the Rebbe.

[28] See Admur ibid regarding the start of the 7th hour and see Admur 431:1; 440:1; 444:16; 445:1

[29] In the words of Admur ibid: “Just like that Biblically, even though starting from the beginning of the 7th hour it is a command that one no longer have any Chametz in his possession, and every moment which he possesses Chametz from there on, and is not involved in destroying it, he transgresses a Biblical Positive command, nevertheless, he is not obligated to destroy the Chametz at the end of the 6th hour, in order so he not own any Chametz from when the 7th hour begins, and rather it is only from the beginning of the 7th hour and onwards that he is obligated to destroy it. So too Rabbinically, even though starting from the beginning of the 6th hour it is a [Rabbinical] command that one no longer have any Chametz in his possession, and every moment which he possesses Chametz from there on, and is not involved in destroying it, he transgresses a Rabbinical Positive command, nevertheless, he is not obligated to destroy the Chametz at the end of the 5th hour, in order so he not own any Chametz from when the 6th hour begins, and rather it is only from the beginning of the 6th hour and onwards that he is obligated to destroy it.”

[30] See Yevamos 47a-b

[31] Hilchos Issureiy Biyah 14:2

[32] Avoda Zara 1:3

[33] See the following letter of the Rebbe, printed on How to Become a Baal Teshuvah: Greeting and Blessing: Your letter reached me with some delay. In the meantime, I was pleased to see your husband at the farbrengen here. As for the subject matter of your letter, you surely know that the Torah tells us that the conquest of the promised Holy Land was to take place by stages. The same applies, in a deeper sense, to the personal conquest of the self. In other words, when it comes to personal advancement in matters of Yiddishkeit, the best method is sometimes precisely in the way of a gradual conquest, step by step, and stage by stage, rather than by means of a drastic change. Of course, there are certain situations and matters where a drastic change may be necessary, but by and large steady progress is usually steadier than progress by fits and starts.  

[34] Gittin 43a

[35] Rav Poalim 4:2

Was this article helpful?

Related Articles

Leave A Comment?

You must be logged in to post a comment.