Financial education is often overlooked by the school system, and sadly, even by us parents. I don’t want my children to be one of many adults who, like myself, headed into adulthood with few money management skills and learned financial lessons mostly through costly mistakes. My inspiration? An 11-year-old boy who would grow up to become the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.

Surprised?My inspiration? An 11-year-old boy So was I!

But Torah is holistic and impacts every aspect of a person’s life and character. Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that somewhere in the upbringing of a Torah giant we should find lessons on money management. Allow me to present some short details about his childhood extracted from an anthology of his talks,1 lessons I was able to distill from those details, as well as some questions we can ask ourselves to shape and challenge our parenting in this arena.

It goes without saying that the Rebbe’s education went far beyond what is discussed here, with the financial elements forming no more than a small footnote in the life of this transformational Jewish leader. Yet, I believe that the lessons below provide valuable insight from which we can all grow.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s father—the fifth Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber—used to give his son money for memorizing Mishnayot. Five kopeks for every chapter, to be exact. The boy used to master a chapter a day.

His mother, Rebbetzin Shterna Sara, also used to give him another five kopeks daily, presumably for other reasons.

By age 11, the young scholar had amassed a small fortune. “As I continued to sweat and snatch every opportunity for this study, my wealth grew week by week,”2 he wrote.

However, the 11-year-old also recalled that there were times during his childhood when the household financial situation did not allow his parents to give him the usual “pocket money.”3

What kind of financial decisions and investments did he make with his capital? Bigger and better ones than most of us did at such an early age!

Young Yosef Yitzack Shneerson established a free-loan fund, following in the footsteps of his righteous parents, who had always taken an active role in assisting the spiritual and physical needs of Jews oppressed by Russia’s Czarist government.

While his free-loan fund brought him joy, at times it resulted in him having to delay his own personal self-investment. Not having full access to all of his capital, as much of it was lent out, the young Yosef Yitzack had to make tradeoffs:

“Should I first buy the books, even though in the meantime I could manage by borrowing [books], or should I first buy the watch, which could not be borrowed? When the question had been duly weighed, the scales of my logic determined that the watch was more necessary, for it would be more useful towards disciplined timesaving.”4

AlthoughSometimes, the loans weren’t repaid at all he tried to time the purchase of a desired item with an expected loan repayment, not always did he get to make his purchase. Sometimes, the loans weren’t repaid at all. Young Yosef Yitzchak admits to disappointment, despite his great love for the mitzvah of charity.

As the sixth Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak taught what he learned from his father: it is “an absolute duty for every person to spend a half-hour every day thinking about the Torah education of their children, and to do everything in his power—and beyond his power—to inspire children to follow the path along which they are being guided.”5

From these childhood anecdotes, what lessons can we learn as parents trying to educate Jewish children in the 21st century? And what parenting reflections can we then use to guide our own implementation of these lessons? Here is my take:

1. Allow your kids to have access to their own money and make their own financial decisions.

Not only are the stakes lower, but the practical application ensures the lessons are learned for life. Having their own money allows kids to practice important life skills they will inevitably have to make in adulthood, such as separating maaser(tithes) and deciding where their charitable funds go; saving for a particular toy, gadget or experience; and spending on things that they have carefully (and sometimes not so carefully) thought through.

Parenting Reflection:

Am I providing enough opportunities for my children to handle their own cash? Or is most of their experience with money using my money, credit card or Apple pay account?

Do I communicate guidelines as to how money is invested in our family—requiring them to tithe when they have to, and clearly explaining what kinds of items are welcome in the household and expected of them as part of the family unit?

Do I model this as well? Am I guiding them with questions they could consider to make their own decisions, allowing them to think for themselves rather than offering answers?

2. Provide an incentive for Torah study.

Money trumps a toy or gadget for all the reasons listed above. As for fear of providing a tangible reward for Torah learning, the Jewish approach—clearly stated by Maimonides and the Alter Rebbe—is to motivate and acknowledge a child’s accomplishments with both praise and reward.

The Previous Rebbe himself writes in his Principles on Education and Guidance, “Praise and compliments uplift a pupil, extracting him from his present situation, placing him on a higher plateau. And recompense in the form of a good reward motivates and invigorates a student, animating them with yearning to ascend from level to level, in both studies and conduct.”6

Parenting Reflection:

What would be a reasonable amount of money to reward my child for accomplishing a certain milestone in their Torah learning? What could be an exciting and helpful topic that I could incentivize them to delve into?

3. Allow your kids to see the ups and downs of your financial life.

If you handle both the ups and the downs with bitachon and humility, then you will be modeling two of the most important emotive attributes they will need as money managers during their own financial journey. There’s more to be gained from transparency about a situation that might warrant different choices and tradeoffs than by hiding it from them and making choices out of fear of others finding out (your children included).

Parenting Reflection:

Am I being clear and open about financial situations in a way that is age-appropriate? Am I shying away from talking to my kids for fear of their reaction?

Would I rather go into debt than let my kids know I can’t afford something? Do I tend to make financial decisions out of fear of what others might think, including my children?

Do my children see tension and worry about a financial situation, or am I conveying trust in G‑d, even as a work in progress?

4. If you want your children to be charitable, let them see you being charitable first.

While modesty is important, this is an area where you don’t need to err on the side of caution, especially when it pertains to educating your children. While you don’t need to give personal details of the recipients of your generosity, your kids should be able to see very clearly that giving is a value practiced by their parents, and in turn, expected of them. Do offer praise for their choices with regards to their own charity.

Parenting Reflection:

Do I share with my kids that I have a maaser account? Do they hear me talking about certain charities that are important to me and why?

Do I inquire about causes that might be important to them and encourage them to look into those they’ve shown interest in? Do I require them to separate maaser from their earnings as is mandated by G‑d for every Jewish individual?

Do they see me giving with a smile, or being critical of those who pose a request?

5. Your kids can handle disappointment.

In fact, they’ll learn a great deal if the disappointment results from their own choices. Don’t deprive them of valuable experiences and allow the experience itself to do the teaching, by showing empathy and understanding.

Parenting Reflection:

Do I allow for an experience to do the teaching by not showing anger or frustration at my child? Do I react with empathy and validate their feelings, or is my reaction to say “I told you so” or reprimand them for a poor choice?

Am I grateful that they made mistakes now, when the stakes are lower, and see the long-term value in today’s learning opportunity?

Do I believe that they are strong and can handle disappointment now, or am I trying to rescue them, subtly communicating that they can’t manage on their own?

6. Make clear the values your financial decisions advance and support.

Charity, Torah learning and time management to fulfill our mission are evidently things that the then 11-year-old Rebbe saw modeled as primary values. Take some time to think about the values that your family stands for and that G‑d expects of your family, and think of ways that you can ensure your money is supporting those values.

Parenting Reflection:

My financial decisions say a lot about what I value. What are the values that I am investing in and modeling for my children? Are my financial decisions supporting those values?

Our kids are learning how to relate to, and manage, money from a very young age, whether we teach this intentionally, or not. They see the world around them. But mostly, they look at us—the primary influences in their lives. They watch and internalize how we speak about and behave with money. We are our children’s educators as seen in the connection between the Hebrew words: “parent” (horim), “teacher” (moreh), “instruction” (horah) and Torah. As the ones tasked by G‑d with their education, it behooves us to be intentional about the money management lessons we want our kids to internalize, so that they can become responsible, self-sufficient adults with the proper Jewish mindset and habits around money.