When Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneerson, the fifth
rebbe and leader of Chabad-Lubavitch, was a child of four
or five, he came to his grandfather, Rabbi Menachem Mendel
of Lubavitch, to receive his blessing on the occasion of his
birthday. It was Shabbat Va'yeira, the Shabbat on which the
Torah section of Va'yeira (Genesis 18-22) is read.
The young Sholom DovBer entered his grandfather's room and
burst into tears. His teacher in cheder had taught the opening
verse of the week's Torah reading, And G-d revealed
himself to him (Abraham)...; Why, wept the
child, doesn't G-d show Himself to me?!
Relative and Absolute
A hallmark of Chabad-Chassidic teaching is that everything
a person learns and is made aware of is to be regarded as
a lesson to apply to his own life. A story is never told merely
to entertain or to laud the greatness of a righteous individual,
but to provide a model that each and every one to whom the
story is directed can emulate, each on his own level.
The above story was related by Rabbi Sholom DovBer's son
and successor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson of Lubavitch,
who also instructed that it be printed and publicized. Obviously,
he felt that there is something in this story that every child
and educator can relate to and apply.
The young Sholom DovBer was no ordinary five year old. He
was blessed with the special soul of one who is destined to
be a leader of his people. Snippets of insight and sensitivity already told of the mighty mind which would conceive of and author
his famed hemshechim.
And he was reared in a saintly environment by the most accomplished
and devoted of educators. How, then, can we assume that a
parallel to his yearning for G-d's presence in his life can
be evoked in every child by every educator?
Indeed, education, on the whole, is extremely subjective
in its approach and execution. Educate the youngster
in accordance with his manner, says the wisest of men
[so that] also when he ages he shall not depart from
The educator must speak to the child in his, the child's,
own terms, and convey his lesson on a level specific to the
child's ability to comprehend and assimilate. If generalizations
almost always mislead and distort, they are anathema to education.
Nevertheless, the Torah sets certain educational milestones
which it applies across the board to all. For example, at
the age of bar/bat-mitzvah (12 for a girl and 13 for a boy)
a Jew becomes individually accountable for his or her actions.
A ten-year-old might surpass his 15-year-old fellow mentally
and emotionally, yet the former's observance of the mitzvot
has the status only of an act of chinuch (education
or training) while the latter's is as mandatory
and full-fledged as any adult's. Another educational benchmark
is the age of six, which Torah law establishes as the age
of chinuch: although the molding of a child's values
and character begins at birth and even before (a chassidic
master once told a parent who asked his advice on how to educate
his twelve-year-old, Your question comes twelve years
and nine months too late), it is only at age six that
formal education is to commence and the child is to be subjected
to a daily schedule, a structured curriculum, study goals
and the like. In the words of the Talmud, Below age
six, accept no pupil; from age six, accept him and stuff him
(with Torah knowledge) as an ox.
Why this generalistic element in our approach to education?
Because human growth entails more than the natural progression
from child to adult whose course and pace differ from individual
to individual. There is also another aspect to our maturing,
a process that unfolds equally in every one of us. The Torah
is G-d's wisdom and the mitzvot are His will. Had He not commanded
and empowered us to fulfill the mitzvot, we could not achieve
the connection with Him they facilitate---no matter how responsible
and ``adult'' our behavior may be. Had He not given us His
Torah, we could not comprehend it, no matter how advanced
our intellectual skills may be. So if G-d commands the observance
of the mitzvot to every Jewess above the age of twelve and
every Jew above the age of thirteen, they are all equally
capable of implementing the divine desire---something the
pre-bar mitzvah child cannot achieve, regardless of his spiritual
maturity. And if the divine law sets the age of six as the
time when Torah study is to commence, the ability to comprehend
G-d's wisdom through the vehicle of formal study is granted
only from that age upward, regardless of the extent of a younger
child's intellectual capacity.
So there are two aspects to education. On the one hand, we
all share the divine potentials granted to us at certain points
in our lives. The Torah's laws of chinuch reflect these
divinely ordained life-stages, which is why many of these
laws apply equally to all. On the other hand, the manner in
which we realize these potentials is specific to each individual
and subject to his mental, emotional, spiritual and environmental
conditions. So the educator most also develop an approach
that is sensitive to the pupil's individual strengths and
In light of this, the fact that Rabbi Sholom DovBer was four
or five years old at the time of the above-related incident
is significant in that it underscores the universal applicability
of his example. According to Torah law, he was a child in
the most preliminary stage of his educational development,
a state he shared with every other five-year-old. So his distress
over the fact that G-d did not reveal Himself to him cannot
be ascribed only to a spiritual maturity far beyond his years;
the fact that he was capable of such feeling means that every
five year-old shares this capacity in one form and another.
How is the contemporary educator to apply Rabbi Sholom DovBer's
example to the daily practice of his craft?
If there is one sentence that encapsulates the essence of
education, it is the above-quoted verse from Proverbs: Educate
the youngster in accordance with his manner, [so that] also
when he ages he shall not depart from it.
Education is the endeavor to deal with the paradox of youth.
On the one hand, the child lacks the ability to truly discern
right from wrong, much less the maturity to desire good for
its own sake and reject evil because it is evil, regardless
of perceived personal loss or gain. On the other hand, these
are his/her formative years, years in which what is learned
is grafted into his psyche and character; lessons gained in
his more mature years are often mere appendages to an already
set self, and far more easily challenged and undone by the
vacillations of life.
The educator must therefore smuggle the values
he wishes to impart into child's value system. The child may
be incapable of regarding the sharing of his toys with a friend
or the memorizing of his alef-bet as good;
good, to his mind, is something that causes him
pleasure, such as a sweet or a toy. Bad is something
painful and detrimental to himself, a category which does
not necessarily include playing with fire or stealing. So
the educator rewards an hour's study with a sweet; negative
behavior is reciprocated with something that is negative also
in the child's perception.
On the surface, the educator seems to be doing little more
than bribing and threatening the child to proper behavior.
On a deeper level, he is translating from one language
into another. To the child, the more altruistic concepts of
good and bad are foreign terms; the
educator translates these into the child's moral language,
creating an environment in which altruistic good becomes synonymous
with the child's subjective good. As child matures, his own
concept of good grows closer to the altruistic
ideal, and the educator now couches his message in terms appropriate
to his new moral state---he might now speak of spiritual fulfillment
rather than candies. But he is still translating---equating
objective good with subjective good.
Education, then, is a life-long process in which a person
and his teachers seek to develop his personal moral vision--his
perceptions of right, wrong, truth and falsehood--toward increasing
degrees of synonymity with the ultimately objective moral
vision: life as envisioned by its Creator.
Goal and Process
But do we ever attain an absolutely objective vision of good?
Do we ever graduate to see reality from G-d's perspective?
Finite man seems capable only of a subjective analogue of
objective good and truth, education being the constant progression
towards increasingly more mature and selfless analogues. Does
this mean that the goal of the educational process is never
Not so, says the Talmud: A person should always occupy
himself with the Torah and the mitzvot, even if he is doing
it not for its own sake; since from (mitoch) doing
it not for its own sake he will come to do it for its own
Chassidic teaching explains the deeper significance of this
statement. The Hebrew word mitoch means from
within; so a literal translation of the saying would
read, ... since from within his doing it not for its
own sake he will come to do it for its own sake. Thus,
the Talmud is not only saying that doing the right thing for
the wrong reasons will ultimately lead to doing it for the
right reasons, but that even now, before attaining this higher
state, a person is doing it for the right reasons: consciously,
he may be motivated by the physical and spiritual good he
associates with leading a righteous life; but the deeper,
inner content of his motivations is the altruistic good they
For the ultimate and exclusive source of all good, including
the ability to conceptualize and experience something as good,
is G-d, who imparted of His intrinsic goodness to His creation.
Thus, the subjective good that education equates with true
good is, in essence, an extension---albeit a superficial or
even a distorted extension--of true good. So whenever a person
achieves goodness and truth in his own life, even if only
by his own subjective standards of goodness and truth, these
``contain'' the absolute goodness and truth of G-d. The only
condition is that they be of the highest degree of objectivity
and selflessness he is capable of. If they are not absolutely
true and good even by the standards of his own potential,
then he has not touched the divine truth and goodness his
So Educate the youngster in accordance with his manner
is not a compromise. Indeed, if such were the case, why would
we desire that also when he ages he shall not depart
from it? On the contrary, we would hope that he does
depart from his childish motivations and do what is right
for the right reasons! But his manner
is the ultimate, as expressed on his level; as long as he
does not depart from it, as long as he continues to pursue
goodness and truth as defined by the most altruistic terms
he is capable of, his life will fully exemplify the ideals
of his education.
Furthermore, the subjective nature of his good
is never completely opaque: glimmers of the true good it contains
occasionally rise to surface of his life. Thus, a person can
experience moments of altruistic comprehension, desire and
deed that far surpass his present maturity. These are not
other-worldly experiences; they are manifestations
of the deeper significance of his everyday self.
A Child's Tears
In other words, while education is basically the means to
an end, the end is not confined to the end of the process.
Not only does it saturate the means from the very start, but
manifest moments of the ultimate goal of education can be
evoked, even in the most preliminary stages of the educational
This is the universal lesson of Rabbi Sholom DovBer's five-year-old
tears. Here is a child who wept for the presence of G-d in
his life as a five-year-old weeps for a desired toy. Here
is a child, defined by Torah law as under the age of
chinuch, who achieved a moment in which the many layers
of analogy and projection with which we cloak the true objective
of life peeled away to reveal the essence within. Here was
a child who, while still in the earliest stages of the educational
process, manifestly realized its ultimate objective.
We were told the story of this child not because we are or
can be this child, but because we can achieve, each of us
on his or her own level, what he achieved. At whatever stage
we might be in our intellectual, moral and spiritual development,
we have it in our ability to access, and even experience,
the goals and ideals that are the objective of our efforts.
Based on the Rebbe's talks, Shabbat Vayeira, Cheshvan
20, 5736 (October 25, 1975), Shavuot 5745 (1985) and on other
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
 Rabbi Sholom DovBer was born on Cheshvan 20, 5621
(1860). Rabbi Menachem Mendel passed away on Nissan 13,
5626. So the incident related here occurred on Shabbat Va'yeira
of 5625 (Rabbi Sholom DovBer's 4th birthday) or Shabbat
Va'yeira of 5626 (five days before his 5th birthday).
 See A Telling Story, WIR vol. III no. 27,
and A Tailor in a Stitch, WIR vol. IV no. 6.
 Series of discourses which provide
a lengthy examination and analysis of the central concepts
of kabbalah and chassidism. Two of Rabbi Sholom DovBer's
hemshechim, Yom Tov Shel Rosh Hashanah 5666 (547 pp) and
B'sha'ah Shehikdimu 5672 (1477 pp), are among the most profound
works of chassidic thought.
 King Solomon, Proverbs 22:6.
 Talmud, Ketuvot 50a (a child of a weaker physical
constitution begins one year later at age seven; but no
child, however healthy or mature, is to be subjected to
the demands of formal study before the age of six). Contrast
with the completely subjective approach that tries mentally
mature 11-year-old criminals as adults and subjects gifted
3-year-olds to an academic regimen.
 Talmud, Psachim, 50b.
 See Absolute Relativity, Synopsis WIR vol.
III no. 30, and Can We Speak Intelligibly about G-d?,
WIR vol. V no. 42.