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A Vision of One

Each son must be viewed as his own entity, not compared with his brothers, or anyone else’s son either


ON the Seder night, when chinuch habanim takes center stage, we read in the Haggadah about the Arba’ah Banim, the Four Sons. These four paradigms together cover in broad terms the range of tendencies and personality types that exist.

The opening phrase of this section is “echad chacham v’echad rasha v’echad tam v’echad she’eino yodei’a lish’ol (one is a chacham, one is a rasha…”), and we might wonder why it was necessary to repeat the word echad so many times. Couldn’t the word echad have been dispensed with entirely, with the Haggadah instead stating simply, “a chacham, a rasha…”?

One answer is that there is an inherent message being conveyed, that each son must be viewed as his own entity, not to be compared with his brothers, nor measured against anyone else’s son either. For him to thrive, it’s crucial for his parents to see him as echad, with his own unique gifts and challenges and potential.

The Haggadah introduces the section of the Four Sons with the words “K’neged arba’ah banim dibrah Torah,” which is conventionally translated to mean, “The Torah speaks regarding four sons.” But the literal meaning of the word k’neged is “against,” in the sense of “in opposition to,” and thus we might suggest that the homiletic meaning of the phrase is really more like, “The Torah speaks against four sons.”

That is to say, the Torah is k’neged, opposed, to a parent treating his children only as an undifferentiated group, failing to distinguish between them or to focus on the individual talents and needs of each one. The better approach, the Haggadah continues, is that of echadv’echadv’echadv’echad. There are four sons, indeed, but there are two very different ways to arrive at that number. The wiser course is through addition — one plus one plus one plus one, rather than multiplication — four times one.

The importance of individualized child-rearing and instruction is what Shlomo Hamelech teaches in the famous pasuk, “Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko.” A child should be trained according to his derech — the life path that he will take based on his unique propensities — and not those of his siblings or any other child.

As it happens, this principle is one that was manifest in the life of the towering gadol who just took leave of us, Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Although one might not know it from much of what has been written recently about his youth, things did not go easily at first for the Steipler Gaon’s only son.

We know this because it’s what Rav Chaim said about himself. In his sefer Yalkut Meishiv Nefesh, Rav Simcha Klein, a respected rav in Detroit, Michigan, writes that Rabbi Alon Tolwin, a Detroit kiruv activist, told him that decades ago, he took a group of students at Aish HaTorah to Bnei Brak, hoping that the Steipler would share words of inspiration with them regarding growth in Torah learning.


But the Steipler was weak and hard of hearing, and he sent them to speak with his son, Rav Chaim, instead, who received the group warmly and spoke with them about how to advance in Torah. Among other things, he told them about someone who in his youth had a hard time listening to the shiurim being given in the yeshivah he was in. Distraught, he went to complain to the Chazon Ish about his predicament.

The Chazon Ish told him to immediately stop going to shiur, and instead guided him to begin learning in the following way: He’d show him several lines of Gemara, instructing him to focus on them exclusively and learn them very well. Once he had achieved sufficient clarity in them, he would return to the Chazon Ish to be tested on those lines. Each time he succeeded, the Chazon Ish would praise his accomplishment and give him an even larger and more difficult sugya to master.

Ultimately, Rav Chaim told the students, it was the combination of the youngster’s diligence and the individualized attention and encouragement given him by the Chazon Ish that enabled the child to become, in his words, “someone who they say knows how to learn.” And then, with a smile spreading on his lips, Rav Chaim said to them, “The child I’m telling you about was me.”

The system the youthful Rav Chaim was in was not, it seems, working for him, and his uncle the Chazon Ish, seeing that he needed a different approach, tailored one for him. And thus did he eventually become the echad chacham, the chakima d’Yehudai upon whom the entire House of Israel relied.

None of us has an uncle like the Chazon Ish, but each of us can adopt his chazon, the vision he had of what a Jewish child needs to succeed.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 907. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com)

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