As the start of the school year nears COLlive presents two excerpts from Advice to Life: Education, a groundbreaking compilation from Lubavitch Archives on the Rebbe‘s guidance on parenting and education.
The first is from Professor Shlomo Eckstein, past president of Bar-Ilan University and currently the Professor of Economics at the university and the second from Rabbi Herbert Weiner, author of 9 1/2 Mystics.
Sowing and Reaping in Education
By Professor Shlomo Eckstein
In the early 1950s, our family lived in Mexico City, where my father headed the Mizrachi movement and I headed the Bnai Akiva youth group.
In 1953, I led a group of Mexican pupils to the United States for a oneyear training program in Jewish youth leadership, which prepared them to make aliyah, to move to Israel. At the end of the year, we met the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory, in New York. Rabbi Schneerson had become the Lubavitcher Rebbe three years prior, and was widely known as an intellectual, welcoming to all, and one who highly valued education.
I asked the Rebbe, “We will be leaders who invest many hours in youth education, yet the child can rebel and live a lifestyle that counters all our efforts. Such a student is a painful failure for an educator. Why should we bother? Is our great effort even worthwhile?”
The Rebbe listened closely all the while, and responded, “Psalms uses the expression, ‘those who sow with tears’…In fact, sowing with tears is an obligation, a mitzvah, that we must all devote ourselves to education, and plant our Judaic roots. It requires tremendous investment, ‘with tears,’ but we cannot avoid this mitzvah.”
The Rebbe continued, “The Psalmist also promises: ‘With joy, they will reap.’ These words promise a harvest, but we are not assured that the one who sowed will be the one to see and experience the harvest.”
In a subsequent letter from the Rebbe, he referred to the story of the sage Rabbi Akiva, who had 24,000 lofty disciples who all died within a short period of time. Of that group, only five survived to continue the chain of holy teachings through the millennia, and from which we still learn today.
This is a lesson, the Rebbe wrote, that even when we invest years in education, experiencing the trials of failure, we cannot become downcast, but should instead recognize that “reaping” doesn’t always come in quantity; sometimes, we reap in quality that justifies our efforts.
These directives from the Rebbe were my guiding light, and stood at the fore of my educational philosophy.
A Teacher’s Success
By Rabbi Herbert Weiner
Every year, I received a gift of honey cake from the Rebbe, in honor of the New Year. In a “thank you” letter one year, I cited a story in the last chapter of my book, where I quote a remark of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad movement, which he posed to a government official. Rabbi Schneur Zalman said that G-d asks all of us, “‘ayeka?’ Where are you?”
I wrote to the Rebbe, “May I have the chutzpah to ask of the Rebbe, ‘Ayeka?’ Where are you?”
The Rebbe’s reply was wonderful. He wrote:
There is no need, of course, to point out to you that when the question “ayeka” is posed to a private individual, it is likely to refer to the individual personally and to his immediate family, while the same question put to a person of influence who holds communal responsibility, to whom many look up to for inspiration, education and guidance—the question the has wider implications. It also calls for an assessment of where he stands, and what he has accomplished in the public domain. Indeed, perhaps the latter is the more significant challenge, for it is there that the person’s fullest achievement is expressed, as it comes to light in those who benefited from his influence.
In response to my question, he brought the question back to me, as well as indicating his own stance and effectiveness as a Jewish leader.
Now a word about my ayeka… I wonder what the practical results of our meeting and discussion were, when I was not only a listener but also a speaker. My “ayeka” makes me ponder to what extent my words were effective—not in terms of pleasant recollections, but in terms of practical implications.
An excerpt from Advice for Life: Education, a 60 page compilation of the Rebbe’s guidance for parents and educators. It is available at your local Jewish bookstore or from [email protected]