In Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:1, the Alter Rebbe writes:

When is a father obligated to begin teaching his son [verses from the Torah]? When [the son] knows how to speak. He should teach him the verses: Torah Tzivah Lanu Moshe and Shema Yisrael.

As a child progresses, after his parents teach him at home for a certain time, he is taken to a cheder to study under a teacher. Although there is no specific age stated when this should be done, it is common practice in certain communities to begin at the age of three, on the day of or shortly after the upsherinish. In one of his letters, the Rebbe1 writes that if parents educate a child at home, they need not rush to send him to cheder before the age of three. Similarly, if the common custom in a community is to begin cheder2 somewhat later, the beginning of the child’s formal study may be delayed until that time.3

The Order of the Arienfirenish

The customs for the arienfirenish to follow are based on the portion Hachnasah L’Beis HaMelamed in the Siddur of Rav Yaakov Emden and the description of the Tzemach Tzedek’s arienfirenish in Sefer HaSichos 5700.

In the morning, the father takes his child to the cheder wrapped in a tallis,4 so that he should not see anything impure.5 This also trains him in the practice of modesty and protects him from the evil eye.6 After entering the cheder, the child is taken out from the tallis and it is then draped around his shoulders.

The teacher seats the child on his lap7 and begins teaching him the Alef Beis. It is customary to begin with the Alef from the title-page of the Tanya.8 The teacher points to the letter, says Alef, and the child repeats Alef. Using a toothpick,9 the teacher coats the Alef with honey. The child recites the blessing Shehakol and then licks the honey.10

Afterwards, the teacher reads the Alef-Beis letter after letter for the child, pointing to the letters and having the child repeat after him. He then reads the letters in reverse order Suf-Shin-Reish, with the child repeating. He then teaches the child each of the nekudos (vowels), reading them in order and then in reverse order with the child repeating after him.

The teacher then takes a Chumash Vayikra11 and reads the first few verses.12 The child should repeat after the teacher word after word.

The teacher then recites and the child repeats the verse:13 תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה קהלת יעקב “The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Jacob” and the request תורה תהא אמונתי וא-ל שדי בעזרתי “May the Torah be my faith and may the A-lmighty G‑d be my succor.”

The parents give the teacher a honey cake,14 cooked in oil,15 on which the following verses have been inscribed:16 א-דני י-הוה נתן לי לשון למודים לדעת לעות את יעף דבר יעיר בבקר בבקר יעיר לי אזן לשמע כלמודים: א-דני י-הוה פתח לי אזן ואנכי לא מריתי אחור לא נסוגתי “G‑d, the L-rd, has granted me a tongue of instruction to appreciate the need of the times, to teach those thirsty for the word [of G‑d]. He arouses me morning after morning. He spurs my ear to hear as one would the students. G‑d, the L-rd, has opened my ear; I did not rebel. I did not withdraw to the rear.” The teacher reads the verses and the child repeats after him word for word. The teacher then removes the inscriptions and gives the cake to the boy, who eats it after reciting the blessing borei minei mezonos.

The child is then given a shelled hard-boiled egg upon which the following verse has been written:17 ויאמר אלי בן אדם בטנך תאכל ומעיך תמלא את המגלה הזאת אשר אני נתן אליך ואכלה ותהי בפי כדבש למתוק “And he said to me: ‘Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your gut with this scroll which I will give you.’ I ate, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.”

Again, the teacher reads the verses and the child repeats after him word for word. The child then eats the egg.

The child gives generously to tzedakah.18 Candies are thrown upon the child and he is told that they were thrown by the Angel Michoel.19 The child also distributes bags of candies to the other children.

In the evening, it is customary for the family to hold a celebratory feast.20