Written toward the latter part of the thirteenth century, the Chinuch contains a discussion of the 613 mitzvos organized according to the order of the weekly parsha. Based primarily on the Rambam andRamban each mitzvah is divided into four parts:
(1) A brief statement of the essence of the mitzvah,
(2) The reason for the mitzvah; this is probably the most original part of the work. Written for a young person, the reasons given are those that would be understandable to a young person,
(3) A summary of the details of the mitzvah, and
(4) When and to whom the mitzvah applies.
The Chinuch emphasizes throughout that a person’s inner being is shaped by the actions he performs. Thus, proper performance of mitzvos influence the doer to become a better person. The work is written in a simple, clear and inspiring style.
For a long time the Chinuch was attributed to Rabbi Aharon HaLevi (the RAH) but it has been conclusively shown that he could not have been the author. Several years ago it was thought that Reb Aharon’s brother, R. Pinchas HaLevi, was the author, but that theory was refuted. Other theories of authorship have been propounded none of which are convincing. Nevertheless, the anonymity of the author has not affected its universal appeal and continued popularity.