How does someone raise moral, respectful children?

First of all there needs to be instruction and modeling. A child can not be expected to figure out what is proper behavior towards others. Additionally, seeing how others act, serves as an example that children will emulate. However, there is more.

In 1930, the Chafetz Chaim was visiting Warsaw the week that the Parsha Vayishlach was read. The portion details the encounter of Yaakov and Esav after their thirty-four year separation. Upon seeing the women and children, Esav inquired, “Who are these to you?”[1] The Chafetz Chaim was asked what Esav meant by that. It was obvious that this was the family of Yaakov. What was Esav’s question?

The Chafetz Chaim explained that indeed Esav understood that before him were the wives and children of Yaakov. What he found perplexing was the behavior of the children. He saw them standing with reverence before their father, something that he was not accustomed to experience with his own children. His question therefore was, how did you merit to have such offspring?

Yaakov answered, “They are the children, asher chanan Elokim ess avdecha, whom G-d graciously granted to your servant.” The word chanan is spelled with three letters, ches, nun and nun. The Chafetz Chaim explained that ches stands for challah, and the two nuns stand for ner and nidah. These children are Chanan Kinderlach, children who were raised with the performance of these Mitzvos. That is why they appear to be different than the children of Esav.[2]

Apparently what was critical in their development was more than instruction regarding how to respect parents. It was more than direction in proper behavior. The rituals that were practiced impacted them.

Challah is a portion of dough that is separated for holiness. Ner is the light of Shabbos. Nidah refers to laws of intimacy between husband and wife. A woman is involved directly in determination and preparation for immersing in a Mikveh. These three Mitzvos, although affecting men and women, are designated Mitzvos for women. (Although when a woman is not available to light the Ner, a man does the lighting).

Food, atmosphere and relationships are three elements that make up a home. In the Jewish home all three are channeled to a higher purpose and entrusted under the watch of the Jewish woman in partnership with her husband to meet their common objective. Esav was struck by the behavior of the children of Yaakov. They seemed to be on a different level than those in general society. There is no coincidence that rearing children is referred to as raising them. The objective is to bring them ‘up’ to a greater level. Children raised in a Chanan environment do more than follow orders and comply with regulations. They learn to live with a higher purpose.

What kind of atmosphere identifies our homes? Is our focus to see the children become bigger or better?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Hershel D. Becker


[1] Vayishlach 33:5

[2] In Ohel Moshe from Rav Binyamin Kovalski who heard this from the Chafetz Chaim; Uvdos V’Hanhagos Chafetz Chaim