Written For Their Sons
Imagine traveling forward 500 years in time and discovering multitudes of people studying something you had written for your child. Imagine walking into a bookstore and finding multiple editions of that work, many of them with commentaries. In the world of Jewish scholarship, there are two such works that have gained this status.
The Sefer Hachinuch, the Book of Education, was written by an unknown author believed to have lived in Barcelona in the 13th century. Based on Maimonides’ enumeration of the 613 mitzvot as recorded in Sefer Hamitzvot, the author (who is generally referred to as the Sefer Hachinuch) wrote in-depth explanations and rationales for each mitzvah. He included a review of the practical halacha (Jewish law), along with each mitzvah’s Biblical source and philosophical background. The book itself was written specifically for his son.
While little is known about the author or the intended recipient of the Sefer Hachinuch, in contrast, a great deal is known about the Iggeret Haramban, Rabbi Moses ben Nachman’s letter to his eldest son, Nachman. The Ramban (a.k.a. Nachmanides) also lived in 13th century Spain. The Iggeret Haramban is not simply a father’s advice to his son on how to live a good life, but an original mussar treatise (except that the Mussar Movement, which focused on character development, only became popular in the mid 1800s). In his masterful letter, which he suggested that his son review once a week, the Ramban advised on the importance of avoiding anger, focusing on humility before others and God, and being diligent in both prayer and Torah study.
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