A child needs the same things a tree needs... Earth. Water. Sun. Air... Much has been written about how best to educate a child.

What better source to look for guidance in this matter than the Torah, whose very definition and purpose is "teaching."

We find that the Torah likens man to "a tree in the field" (Deuteronomy 20:19). There are many reasons given for this linkage.

Let's explore the connection as a paradigm for education.

Educating a child is similar to cultivating a tree. In both cases, the objective is to provide them with their needs in order to coax out the potential that they have.

When you come to think of it, a child needs the very same things a tree does in order to grow.

Earth. Water. Sun. Air.

Each one of these four elements represents a basic component necessary to provide a child with what it needs in order to grow and develop properly.


The more "rooted" a child is in his source of nourishment, the stronger he will grow... Earth provides the tree with nutrients. Applied to the education of a child, it represents both the values we wish him to absorb as well as the connectedness we want him to feel. A child is not a mushroom; he has deep roots that connect him to a rich source of nourishment. The stronger his connection to this source, the stronger he will grow to be.

Earth also represents stability, immobility. A child must feel secure in knowing that there are values and rules that are inviolable. He is not being given disposable, fashionable, PC values which are "here today, gone tomorrow."

In one of his very informative and enlightening articles on the topic of education, Rabbi Yaakov Lieder quotes a farmer who described his cattle's behavior each time he would bring them to new grazing grounds. First they would check the fence to make sure that there were no breaches. They would then proceed to graze. He explained this phenomenon thus: once they saw that the boundaries enclosing them were inviolable, they were able to go on grazing comfortably. They were not distracted by the possibility of escape.

The application of this concept to education is very powerful. In order for our children to be happy and successful, they must feel secure and trust the rules and limits established by their parents. There are many decisions regarding the wellbeing and future of a child that he or she should not have to worry about, certainly not at this point of his or her life.


Water is crucial for a plant's growth. Amongst other things, it helps dissolve the nutrients so that they become absorbable by the plant. Water also assures that the roots do not dry out so that they may continue to function optimally. The most nutrient-rich soil is useless if the plant lacks the capacity to absorb them.

water represents humility In the writings of Chassidism, water represents humility. Humility is an indispensable quality when it comes to being open to absorbing new information.

Our children must have humility in order to learn; if they think they know it all, they will not learn.

By the same token, we as teachers and parents must have humility in order to teach. When teaching our children, we must humbly accept and "lower" ourselves to their level. We must translate whatever we want to say into a language they can comfortably understand and absorb. That is one of the reasons that wisdom is compared to water. Water, like wisdom, finds itself most comfortable in the lowest (i.e., most humble) recipient.

There is a story of a chassid who came to consult with Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi about issues that he had regarding the education of his children.

As he approached Rabbi Schneur Zalman's door, he noticed through the window that his Rebbe was playing with his grandson. Rabbi Schneur Zalman was crawling on the floor with his grandson on his back as if he were riding a pony.

The chassid walked away and came back a while later to speak with Rabbi Schneur Zalman.

After the chassid described his problem, Rabbi Schneur Zalman said to him: "It's a shame you weren't here a short while ago when I was playing with my grandson. You would've seen how it is necessary to lower yourself to the other person's level in order to be able to communicate more successfully..."

Water also represents transparency and purity. When you want to produce apples, for example, you need to irrigate an apple seed with water; you cannot produce apples by irrigating orange seeds with apple juice. Pure water brings out the particular potential of each seed. In order to bring out the particular potential of each child, he must be provided with pure water, the pure unadulterated truths of the Torah. He will then grow and develop in his own particular way and eventually make his unique contribution to the Jewish people.


A tree needs both the light and warmth radiated by the sun.

Light: We must not just tell our children what to do; we must show them the beauty and richness of what is right. We find the expression (Talmud, Yevamot 114a, cited in Rashi on Leviticus 21:1) lehazhir gedolim al haktanim, We must not just tell our children what to do; we must show them the beauty and richness of what is right which means that the Torah warns the adults that they are responsible for their children's behavior. The Rebbe points out that the expression lehazhir--literally, "to warn" or "to instruct"--can also be translated as "to make shine." Parents must not just instruct their children what to do; they must illuminate the world of their children. They must transmit a shining Judaism. In the words of the Book of Proverbs, Torah ohr, "Torah is light." Torah teaching illuminates, shows what is right and wrong, rather than just imposing it.

Warmth: We must provide our children with unconditional love. Our love for them must be as predictable as the sunrise. They must never feel that our love to them is conditional. They must know that even when we get angry, we still love them. This unconditional love instills in them a self-esteem and security that allows them to face life's challenges with confidence.


"Air" implies two things: space and atmosphere.

Space: Just as a tree needs space to grow, so too does a child need his own identity and the "space" within which to develop it. a child needs his own identity... and the "space" within which to develop it He needs his own, personal quality time with his parents. He might have unique talents or hobbies that need to be developed. Also, the child's privacy must be respected and protected. This includes being careful not to divulge anything that was told to you by him in confidence. The Rebbe would personally open every single letter that he received (!) in order to protect the privacy of the sender. The Rebbe would not allow anyone to enter that person's "space" without permission.

Atmosphere: It is very important to be aware of the environment that surrounds your child and the "quality of air" that he breathes, in the home as well as outside it. What does your child see at home? Does he see mutual respect and love between his parents? Does he see them happy and secure with who they are and what they are doing? What does he see his parents do? What does he hear them say (out of earshot, supposedly)? Who are his friends? What do they talk about in their homes? What do they talk about during recess? What are their attitudes?

The atmosphere is determined not so much by what is said as by what is done.

I remember once talking to a couple who explained that they couldn't come to shul on Friday evenings because "we have a weekly bridge game with friends." A while later they complained to me about the fact that their son was doing something that they had taught him not to do. "We told him countless times that such behavior would be unacceptable to us. How can he just turn his back on the education we gave him?" they wondered.

Being a gardener is a full time job "He is not ignoring you at all," I replied. "You were very successful in your education. You taught him that one does what one wants and not necessarily what one should... The fact that what he wants differs from what you want is just a detail. The main lesson was well learned by him."

What your child "breathes in" from the atmosphere in which he grows is more significant than what he hears.

Most important of all is to remember that being a parent/gardener is a full time job. We must be consistent and persistent in tending our gardens and constantly on the lookout for problems that might arise and "nip them in the bud" before they grow out of control.

Remember: Trees never complain. Likewise, children oftentimes do not adequately express what they need when they need it. They often suffer in silence. It's our job to tend to the precious seedling that has been placed in our care.