The 11th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, corresponding this year to Sunday, April 5, marks the birth of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. In recognition of the Rebbe’s foundational contributions to education and to emphasize the vital role of education in society, the United States annually marks the day as “Education and Sharing Day U.S.A.” In a deeply scholarly yet practical and accessible work, “Spiritual Education: The Educational Theory and Practice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson,” (Herder and Herder) author Dr. Aryeh Solomon of Sydney, Australia, examines the Rebbe’s extensive corpus of writings and addresses on education, and identifies a cohesive and innovative theory that provides a comprehensive vision for education that is of practical relevance to the world. In a recent interview with Chabad.org, Solomon discussed his book.

Influencing Society as a Whole

Q: In so many important ways, the Rebbe’s educational focus went far beyond Jewish education, and was meant to influence and guide public education around the world, while honoring the unique features of each nation and culture. In the United States, the Rebbe was acutely aware of the constitutional issues of separation of religion and state in general, and the roadblocks to prayer in public school in particular. What did the Rebbe see as the fundamental role of moral education, and what did he think the best way to provide that education would be, including, but not limited to, a moment of silence in all schools?

A: Let me start with a personal story. It was back in the early 1990s when I was studying for my masters in education that the gravity of the situation in public-school education first really “hit me.” In a tutorial study group with a respected professor of education, discussion centered on the debate of those days as to whether education in Australia should be nationalized or run on a state-by-state basis. I suggested to the group that a national curriculum would be ideal for promoting Australia-wide those ethical values that are beyond dispute. “Like what?” the professor challenged me. “Like ‘Thou shall not steal’ for a start,” I replied. “No, that would be unacceptable,” he replied. “The very notion of theft is predicated on the capitalist idea of ownership of property which cannot be presumed to be undisputed.” Undaunted, I naively persisted, “Well, how about ‘Thou shall not murder?’ ” “No, No,” came his reply. “There are times when ‘murder’ may be appropriate, such as ending the life of an unproductive elderly citizen or terminating an unwanted pregnancy.” It was then that I realized that with the removal of mention of G‑d from our schools and the dispensing with time-honored standards of moral and modest behavior, the seven Noahide Laws were in urgent need of introduction into society in general and schools in particular.

As a response to contemporary challenges, the Rebbe urged the inclusion of teaching the Noahide Laws as the foundation of society. To achieve the desired result, he considered placing an emphasis on moral and values education as a vital component of the curriculum, with the study of the Noahide Laws as a pivotal aspect of the syllabus. Moreover, when teachers communicate knowledge and technical skills to students, these should be accompanied by values and character education as an integral part of their guidance in the search for existential meaning; this would receive equal emphasis as training for material well-being. Indeed, values education is so important and necessary that it would begin from the earliest opportunity in the life of a child.

Q: Haven’t schools made some recent attempts to improve the situation?

A: The Rebbe was not discussing flimsy moral values, such as teaching moral relativism or morality built on human conjecture. Nor did he believe in the civilizing influence of the humanities, arguing, “We have seen what has transpired in Germany, whose superiority in philosophy and even ‘moral philosophy’ was world-renowned, but in actuality, that country produced generations of beasts in the form of men.” He wrote:

If in a previous generation there were people who doubted the need of Divine authority for common morality and ethics in the belief that human reason is sufficient authority for morality and ethics, our present generation has, unfortunately, in a most devastating and tragic way, realized this mistaken notion. For it is precisely the nation which had excelled itself in the exact sciences, the humanities and even in philosophy and ethics, that turned out to be the most depraved nation of the world, making an ideal of murder and robbery, etc.

The Rebbe repeatedly petitioned for the global dissemination of the Seven Noahide Laws. While these principles have, largely due to the Rebbe’s promotion, been recognized as “the bedrock of society since the dawn of civilization” and an important aspect of the moral code “upon which our great nation was founded,” they are yet to become an integral dimension of a curriculum for the moral education of humanity.

Q: Just what are these laws and their educational applications?

A: These laws, directed to all humanity, include:

● Belief in G‑d and prohibition of the worship of false gods

● Respect for G‑d and prohibition of blasphemy

● Respect for human life and prohibition of murder

● Respect for the family and prohibition of incest

● Respect for others’ rights and property, and the prohibition of theft

● The mandate to establish a system of laws, police and courts of justice to uphold a moral society, and the prohibition of political oppression or anarchy

● Prohibition of eating flesh of a living animal, and by extension, any cruelty to all living creatures.

In educational terms, these seven laws require educators to imbue learners with values. The curriculum for values education, integral to addressing the tumultuous challenges of our times, comprise the following components:

1. Children realizing that there is a Higher Authority to whom they are accountable

2. Showing kindness in speech and deed, and respect for religious traditions

3. Respect for human life

4. The importance of family values

5. Respect for the property of others

6. Upholding the law

7. Respect for all living creatures.

Impact on Public Education

Q: Where do you see the Rebbe’s greatest ongoing impact on public education?

A: Already in the 1960s, the Rebbe argued that the education system was no longer meeting the challenges with which it was being confronted. Noting that schools were originally designed to educate students from families with strong ethical values, he believed that they were in urgent need of overhaul, as there was now a pressing need to “cultivate the [child’s] purpose and mission in life, which will be reflected in the daily conduct of the boys and girls when they grow up and take their places in society.” He observed that schools were failing in this essential task of molding moral character and behavior, which had sadly been replaced by acquisition of knowledge as the new educational priority. Because the cultivation of codes of ethics and morality is no longer the focus of home, houses of worship and society, this situation is doing nothing for the children’s development of a concept of purpose and mission in life which is reflected in their daily conduct.

He was concerned about what he termed “the alarming increase in juvenile delinquency,” and the “increased exclusive exposure of public school students to secular morality and ethics.” He felt that this crisis called for an urgent re-examination of the basic approaches to education, where leaving values education to when a child grows up is tantamount to precluding moral education.

Contrary to the amoral, value-free education prevalent today, the Rebbe considered the commencement of the public school day with a nondenominational Moment of Reflection, also known as a Moment of Silence, to be essential. He saw this as potentially transformative, empowering the learner to become less self-absorbed, and to encourage more empathy and sensitivity.

Q: What did the Rebbe see as the benefits of a Moment of Silence?

A: In the inculcation of moral values through the Moment of Silence, the Rebbe wanted schools to partner with the home and suggested that parents, otherwise preoccupied with earning a living, should provide this direction and guidance to their children about the matters of importance to both the child and family upon which the student should reflect during this time. He believed that in the same way parents are concerned to provide for their children’s needs before they leave home for school, such as equipping them with the right clothing, as well as sandwiches for lunch, so, too, and even to a greater extent, parents should supply the child with appropriate daily spiritual nurture.

These few moments of thoughtful reflection at the start of each school day are to be dedicated to meditation by the students—with their parents’ guidance—on life’s purpose and their own unique contribution as responsible citizens. Unlike organized prayer, the Moment of Silence seeks to create an opportunity for reflection on a deeply personal level, motivating children to feel positive about themselves and their involvement in creating a better world. He believed that this time to contemplate things of importance will give context and meaning to the hours that follow, providing the “why” of their learning and not just the “how.”

Because he saw a life built on a Higher Calling as central to education’s agenda, he wanted children to use this moment to reflect on their own Higher purpose. It is a quiet time for children to nurture their inner core and make sure they do not lose touch with the meaning of their life. As an ideal outcome, for many students and parents, this Moment of Reflection would be a time to reflect on their responsibility to the omnipresent Higher Authority Who is aware of our most covert conduct and before Whom we are accountable for our behavior.

Q: What about children from families where such values are not taught?

A: In less favorable circumstances, such as where a student’s contemplation of a Higher Authority is not aligned with the family beliefs, the Moment of Silence still provides an opportunity for children to stand back and judge their personal conduct. For example, it could still be devoted to thinking of those less fortunate than themselves, whether elsewhere in the world or even in the student’s class. The feeling of entitlement that currently characterizes the young generation needs to be curtailed through humility and self-control being augmented. This is a time for a child to reflect on values such as respect, tolerance and standing up for justice; it provides an opportunity for students to reflect on their strengths, and commit to a life of honesty and integrity. They can contemplate the deeper purpose of life and their sacred individual purpose, answering their conscience. They can reflect on ideals that are greater than the immediate moment and material success. It is a time to aspire to the ideals of subjugation of heart to mind, minimizing envy and thinking beyond oneself to becoming a better person.

The Role of Teachers, Parents and Other Influencers

Q: As the Rebbe saw it, how much of education is to be provided outside the realm of professional teachers, and in the hands of parents and other influencers? And how did the Rebbe suggest we teach parents and other influencers to be better educators?

A: Education is not restricted to the school setting. He wrote that education does not stop at the school gates. Rather, it is not a business that runs on a time clock, but a vocation, a sacred calling—the privilege and responsibility to participate in the moulding of future generations. Back at home, the Rebbe’s educational initiatives continue to impact.

In 1987 the Rebbe urged children to make their own private rooms into a house of Torah study, prayer and charity, by studying Torah there, praying to G‑d and giving charity in a charity box. He particularly wanted children’s rooms to be filled with ideas that reflect spiritual ideals. In the child’s room, as with the home in general, the tzedaka-box was to take pride of place. Here, the tzedaka-box was to be adorned with an inscription bearing the name of the child who would contribute to it and assign its contents to a worthwhile cause upon its being filled. As well, books of spiritual teachings such as the Torah, the Siddur and the Tanya, were to take prominent position in the room, adorning the desk and bookshelves.

The Rebbe encouraged children to express their ownership of these books and their pride in the values that they represent by inscribing these books with their names. However, this was to take place only after first writing the customary Jewish inscription of “The earth and all therein is G‑d’s”, which traditionally serves as a reminder to young and old that those possessions which we tend to think of in terms of exclusive ownership are, in truth, Divinely-bestowed for the duration of our earthly sojourn. As well, the mezuza on the doors of the home and the child’s room, remind us that we are now leaving our mini-sanctuary. On our departure, we must be sure to take with us into the environment outside our homes those ideals expressed in its parchment scroll and nurtured within the confines of our homes.

The Rebbe re-introduced the role of the mashpi’a or mentor, in religious education. As well, to navigate the possible difficult moral challenges that people encounter in real-life situations, he encouraged individual students to acquire a personal moral mentor. Students would also be empowered where appropriate to be moral mentors of others, as well as teach and lead students less capable than they are to become better people.

Also, the Rebbe wanted a student’s Jewish birthday to be viewed as an annual opportunity to review his or her growth and progress over the past year and thereby encourage the resolve to advance in the year ahead. On their birthday, the Rebbe urged people to assemble family members and friends of the child or adult to review a significant text or idea and undertake to perform an extra deed of kindness or tzedakah. This same idea can take place at home or at school with students pledging in the presence of peers to align with their higher selves and take on an extra mitzvah or the embellishment of a mitzvah.

For more than 40 years, Education and Sharing Day proclamations from around the nation have acknowledged the Rebbe's ongoing influence on education in schools and on society at large.
For more than 40 years, Education and Sharing Day proclamations from around the nation have acknowledged the Rebbe's ongoing influence on education in schools and on society at large.

A Revolutionary New Vision for Education

Q: What are the three most important changes you would like to see in the world of education as a result of the dissemination of the Rebbe’s philosophy?

A: To adopt the Rebbe’s educational philosophy requires the embracing of three revolutionary attitudes. First, the Rebbe teaches us never to lose sight of the infinite potential of the individual learner, however negative the prognosis may appear to be. The Rebbe remained convinced that the learner is potentially capable of enormous outcomes, irrespective of, and in sheer defiance of all prognosis and assessment. In fact, it is precisely because of the negative prognosis that Rebbe would insist on the learner’s limitless, latent potential of which the challenge is an indication. Trying circumstances of the learner are indicative of greater potential to overcome those challenges. In short, no setback is too daunting in the Rebbe’s educational view. The elderly are never too old, and the juvenile are never too immature. Our so-called “confirmed” failures are never beyond hope.

Second, to the Rebbe, everything is education. Life offers unlimited education possibilities to reveal the limitless learner potential upon which education is focused. The Rebbe therefore advocates that even a chance encounter with a student outside the parameters of the school day can be even more potent than a classroom interaction. While at school, a chess game, a soccer game or an art class provide opportunities for moral edification.

In turn, this radically alters the understanding of what the teaching profession is all about, and in doing so, now puts a total demand on the teacher. The educator’s concern for the learner now extends beyond hours of formal instruction and defies limitations of subjects taught. In fact, the Rebbe wanted that our last thought before closing our eyes at night and our first waking thought in the morning should be about the education of our children and our students.

Jewish Education and Jewish Identity

Q: You write that “in the pursuit of awakening Jewish awareness, the Rebbe’s global efforts towards the post-Holocaust reconstruction and development of Jewish life began with educational initiatives.” Can you describe some of the most important of these initiatives, and the impact they have had on Jewish identity and practice over the past 70 years?

A: Given the 20th century’s extraordinary technological advancements in areas of travel and communication, the Rebbe’s endeavors in the field of Jewish education were undertaken on a global scale, with him seeking to inspire a world-wide renaissance of Jewish education and observance. Emeritus Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Rabbi Lord Professor Jonathan Sacks, considered many of the Rebbe’s educational achievements, such as the Baal Teshuvah (“Returnee”) movement, the Jewish day-school movement and the resuscitation of dying communities, to have so deeply shaped the development of post-war Judaism that they are no longer considered as solely Lubavitch. He cited the Jewish day-school movement of which Chabad-Lubavitch, under the Rebbe’s leadership, was one of the earliest pioneers, as a prime example of this phenomenon. Rabbi Sacks noted that “it has displaced across a wide spectrum the once prevalent ideology that Jewish education was a kind of dutiful appendage to the real business of acquiring a secular culture.” He also commented that “if today we are familiar with the phenomena of ba’alei teshuvah [‘religious returnees’] and Jewish outreach, it is almost entirely due to the pioneering work by Lubavitch, since adopted by many other groups within Orthodoxy.”

Within the Jewish community, the Rebbe inaugurated the establishment of Torah-study classes in every community, for men and for women, on a level appropriate to their age group. He encouraged his followers to visit old-age homes and introduce Torah-study classes for residents, and he personally addressed gatherings of elderly individuals in Chabad Headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Referring to the elderly in the wider community, in 1980, the Rebbe lamented the plight of the elderly in contemporary society and called for vigorous widespread efforts to rectify this. The Rebbe campaigned against retirement of the elderly and their placement in nursing homes, urging the elderly to continue in the workforce where their expertise and years of experience could still be valuable. He considered retirement of the elderly to be a tremendous waste of human potential and squandering of invaluable resources of a priceless repository of knowledge amassed by the elderly. He even suggested that those who needed to relinquish their job or positions should be helped to redirect their lives productively for their own sake and the benefit of younger generations.

Q: What about activities for youth?

A: On a practical level, the Rebbe oversaw many informal education activities for youth. In the early years of his leadership, he established informal initiatives, such as the Lubavitch Youth Organization and the Lubavitch Women and Girls Organization. In 1956, he established the Gan Israel summer camps, which served as the prototype for both boys and girls camps currently operative throughout the world. Other informal educational activities include participation in day camps during the summer vacation and Mesibat Shabbat (Sabbath afternoon gatherings).

Besides instigating informal educational programs for Sabbath afternoons, he oversawthe texts that provided the content for these programs. The Rebbe urged educators to be concerned for their students outside the hours of formal instruction, advising them to pay special attention to children’s conduct on festivalsand Shabbat. He wrote,

… From this can be understood that the responsibility for the conduct of the children on Sabbaths and festivals and, in general, during the hours when they are not in the appropriate institution, lies also on the shoulders of their educators, even though, obviously the nature of the supervision during these days and hours is only possible when taking place in a completely different way than during formal hours of study and it frequently requires parental assistance, etc. However, the planning and taking responsibility for this initiative rests with the educators.

In the autumn of 1980, the Rebbe introduced a campaign specifically geared towards Jewish children beneath the age of bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah. This initiative, titled Tzivos Hashem, was open to all Jewish children from families of strict observance to those on the periphery of the Jewish community. Within a few years, 125,000 individual students in America had become members of this youth group; subsequently, more than half a million children internationally have joined this group. Tzivos Hashem has also seen the development of the Dial-a-Jewish Story and a Jewish Childrens Expo in Manhattan, which attracted nearly 90,000 children in 1990. Pen pals are encouraged, and children are invited to teach fellow members with a lesser knowledge of their Jewish heritage.

The Rebbe also encouraged large scale activities of an educational nature, such as huge street parades marking Jewish festivals like Lag B’Omer. He also recommended extracurricular off-campus activities and classes of educational content, such as the running of a cheder for religious children after the formal hours of a kindergarten. When in 1980 he established the global initiative of Tzivos Hashem,it had a children’s magazine The Moshiach Times that he personally edited to ensure its educational content was appropriate.

Close to Home: Chabad Schools

Q: Starting closest to home, it seems that the most likely places for the Rebbe’s educational philosophy to be put into practice are in those institutions most directly under his control, such as the yeshivahs and seminaries for Chabad Chassidic boys and girls, and later, for young men and women. How are these institutions different from their counterparts in the Jewish world? Are there principles and practices that characterize a Chabad-Lubavitch education from those of other Orthodox and Chassidic groups?

A: Empowering the student was a crucial element of the Rebbe’s view of the aims of education. This ideal has been a central aspect of Chabad education since the foundation of Chabad’s Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah by Chabad’s fifth Rebbe, the Rebbe Rashab, who wanted its alumnae or Temimim to be nerot l’ha’ir (“lamps to diffuse light”), or exemplars whose behavior replicates time-honored Chabad ideals.

A general observation for all students of Chabad yeshivot was that they become “shining lights” of the yeshivah’s ideals. The Rebbe wrote that his predecessor’s educational ideal was that “He demanded the kind of Torah education that would make the students neirot leha’ir—shining lights, spreading the light of Torah and mitzvot around them even after concluding their studies at the yeshivah.

Empowering the student is a crucial methodology in the Rebbe’s educational writings, reaching its fullest realization with the notion of shlichut [an emissary], which was central to the Rebbe’s educational agenda. The role of a shaliach is based on the Talmudic principle of the individual in whom the principal has invested his powers. (Kiddushin, 41a and explanation of this concept in Lekach Tov by Rabbi Yosef Engel, General Principle 1.) He wrote:

… It is a truism that every student grows up to be an educator, whether as a parent or a teacher, or even simply as a member of the society in which one lives. Directly or indirectly every person influences the immediate surroundings, to a greater or lesser degree, since no person lives in isolation. No effort should therefore be spared in providing for the young generation the kind of education that will produce the best possible educators. This is particularly true in regard to Torah education. What children and youths will absorb in their formative years will set the stage for their adult and family life and will be reflected in their children and grandchildren in an unbroken chain … . An investment in Torah education is certain to produce the cumulative dividends of inestimable value for all who will be touched by it in this and future generations.

In keeping with the ideal of learners becoming exemplars, the Rebbe recommended that a certain portion of students of Chabad yeshivot go on to serve as educators and guides, and on a limited level even concurrently with their yeshivahstudies. Each Friday afternoon, students of Chabad yeshivot visit businesses and homes to affix a mezuzah, to lay tefillin or distribute Shabbat candles. They spend their summer vacation as traveling rabbis, visiting far-flung Jewish communities. Not surprisingly, graduates of the Chabad education system and their spouses are keen to relocate to communities far from the epicenters of Jewish life, to be beacons of light there as Chabad emissaries who establish Chabad Houses and synagogues, mikvaot and educational facilities.

Q: How could this apply in the school setting?

A: In the school setting, the Rebbe believed in empowering young children and teenagers. He similarly urged that all students should be empowered with the responsibility for maintaining discipline of other students. He urged that even students who were not particularly disciplined themselves should be included in this project, recommending a rotating system, whereby everyone could take responsibility for a month.

This educational position also underscores the Rebbe’s radical recommendation that the Down syndrome learner be empowered to lead other Down syndrome children. It reflected in the Rebbe’s ideal that the student who has mastered only the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet be encouraged to teach other students who are still struggling to master the first letter, an aleph. He even advocated that even the newborn in a maternity ward be viewed as an emissary.

The Education of Girls and Women

Q: How was the Rebbe’s approach to the education of girls and young women in Chabad-Lubavitch schools particularly innovative?

A: From the earliest moments of his leadership, the Rebbe empowered women with an educational role in no way less significant than that of her male counterpart. Several of his Mitzvah Campaigns focused specifically on the Jewish woman. These included a Shabbat candle-lighting campaign, campaign for observance of the laws of family purity and the Kashrut Campaign. One of the first Jewish educational institutions established by the Rebbe was the Beth Rivkah Girls’ schools. There is today an extensive network of such schools across the world, from elementary through to tertiary levels. He also founded academies in New York, Minneapolis, Israel and Australia for women with little or no background in Judaism. In 1952, the Rebbe founded Agudat Neshei Chabad, the Lubavitch Women’s Organization in Israel, an organization whose main thrust was educational.

These institutions and organisations were founded on the basic tenet that continuing intellectual and emotional growth through Torah study, particularly Chassidic teachings, were to be no less accessible to women than men. Indeed, these teachings seek to explain the uniqueness of the female role and the unique powers granted to her. In 1953, he established branches of the Lubavitch Women’s Organization in the USA and other countries.

The Rebbe always emphasized, when discussing educational responsibilities, the integral role of the shlucha, who is no less involved in this task than her husband. For example, in the Campaign for Family Purity (Taharat HaMishpacha), his shluchot (female emissaries) were at the forefront of the resurgence of mikvaot in communities large and small throughout the globe, and in teaching the observance of Taharat HaMishpacha. In this way, the Rebbe was instrumental in establishing mikvaot in communities with small Jewish populations, including remote locations such as Utrecht in Holland; the Island of Djerba off the coast of Tunisia; Marrakesh, Tangier in Morocco; Hobart in Tasmania; and in Hong Kong. The Rebbe also did something rare in the Chassidic world: He addressed several addresses to women’s conventions and gatherings annually.

Though in earlier generations the practice of in-depth study of Torah topics was not so common among Jewish women, the Rebbe argued that if a woman is obligated in the knowledge of all practical halachot, then it follows that she is duty-bound to delve and study these teachings in depth. Moreover, this includes complex halachot such as Shabbat, Yom Tov, chametz and matzah, Chol HaMoed, which are crucial and multi-faceted and particularly the laws of Taharah (Family Purity) or the separation of challah, and those mitzvot that Jewish women have merited in a unique way.

Reaching Out With Humility

Q: The vast majority of subjects of direct Chabad educational outreach are not yeshivah students, but people with little or no background in Jewish education or study. How do you see the Rebbe’s educational philosophy manifesting itself in the classes given at local Chabad Houses, on websites like Chabad.org and through educational materials prepared by organizations like the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI)?

A: A fundamental difference will be the absence of a condescending attitude on the part of the Chabad House Rabbi or Rebbetzin: There will be no “holier than thou” attitude on the part of the educator. The Rebbe taught that a prerequisite for success in education is bittul, meaning “selflessness.” The Rebbe was also opposed to the popular term for religious outreach, which in Hebrew is kiruv rechokim, which literally means “drawing near those who are distant.” In a yechidus with Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, which took place in March 1974, he told Rabbi Lau, “Only G‑d knows who is ‘distant’ and who is ‘close.’ ” The Rebbe voiced his preference for the use of the term Ahavat Israel (literally “love of our fellow Jew”) for Jewish religious outreach. As well, the Chabad emissary will look past superficial trappings and adapt the Rebbe’s view of the etzem hanefesh, the untainted essential self of the Chabad House learner. Chabad Chassidism teaches that the core of the Jewish soul is a Divine spark that longs for connection with its G‑dly source. All that is needed is a fellow Jew to warmly encourage that spark to glow. For this reason, the Rebbe believed—and inspired the belief in Chabad educators—that armed with this respect for all they encounter, their outreach initiatives would be successful.

Also, the Rebbe rejected the view that “beginners” should only be exposed to basic Judaism. The Rebbe wanted newcomers to be exposed to the profundity of Chabad Chassidus, and its deep understanding of Torah and mitzvot so relevant to the lives of those who study it, irrespective of background.

The Rebbe’s Influence on the Author

Dr. Aryeh Solomon
Dr. Aryeh Solomon

Q: Please share with our readers how the Rebbe influenced you personally in your work as an educator and a scholar?

A: First, all my research and writing about the Rebbe’s educational teachings germinated in 1975 in the privacy of the Rebbe’s study. I had spent two years at the Yeshiva Gedolahin Melbourne after high school and then finished two years of the three-year B.A. at Sydney University when I traveled with a study-partner to spend the long Australian university vacation of December to February in Crown Heights, reliving my full-time yeshivah experience and re-engaging with the shluchim who were at Yeshiva Gedolah. During this visit to New York, I was privileged to have yechidus (private audience) with the Rebbe.

In the yechidus, I asked the Rebbe whether, upon finishing the third and final year of my bachelor’s degree, I should return to yeshiva study. In my note to the Rebbe, I gave three or four reasons why I need not do the post-graduate Diploma of Education.

Responding to my four “arguments,” the Rebbe replied in English in a most unequivocal way, saying: “Despite what you write about the Diploma of Education, you should do it, and it will help you in the furtherance of Jewish observance and dissemination of the wellsprings of Chassidic wisdom.”

That same post-graduate course also dispatched me as a student-teacher to Moriah College, where I have served as college rabbi for 35 years, and it marked the start of my postgraduate studies in education, in which I wrote two doctoral dissertations on the Rebbe and education that have both been published, the second one asthis book, Spiritual Education.

The Aims and Responsibilities of Education

Q: A key insight of Spiritual Education is that the Rebbe had a transformative educational philosophy that applies to both religious and secular education; and that his educational philosophy is rooted in essential principles that have not been adequately articulated, studied and put into practice. To begin, what did the Rebbe consider the fundamental aims of education, and what did he believe the responsibilities of education should be?

A: To the Rebbe, the first aim of education concerns imbuing belief in a Higher Authority and instilling piety and values. He believed that an acknowledgment of a Higher Authority is necessary in order to impress upon the minds of the developing child that the world in which he or she lives is not a jungle, where brute force, cunning and unbridled passion rule supreme, but that it has a Master who is not an abstraction, but a personal G‑d.

Therefore, it is not surprising that he viewed one of the most primary goals of the school to be educating the student to be a human being worthy of his name—as distinguished from a mere beast. And what he meant by the human being as distinct from the beast is someone not subservient to his or her natural instincts, desires and tendencies, and, who at the very least, endeavors to restrain them and control them.

When discussing this aim, the Rebbe frequently cited the words of our sages, who spoke of an accountability that follows from an awareness that there is “an Eye that sees, an Ear that hears, and that all one’s deeds are recorded in a book”—a book that cannot be forged, an Eye and an Ear that cannot be bribed or outsmarted by any schemes or deceptions.

The Rebbe also saw another aim of education to be impacting on the realm of the learner’s deeds and actions, and not remain theoretical. He wanted educators to aspire to raise a learner who lives a life of substantial virtuous accomplishment and plentiful good deeds and mitzvot, including the Noahide laws for humanity with their ramifications for moral behavior, acts of altruism and benevolence. He therefore believed that the aims of education must focus attention on the ancient ethical principles and moral values, which are the foundation of our character as a nation, and on the time-honored truth that education must be more than factual enlightenment because it must enrich the character as well as the mind.

Another aim of education is producing a learner who engages in selfless, altruistic endeavor and who strives to exert a positive influence on others.

Finally, an education with such aspirations can be the key to activating the learner’s fullest potential, where he or she engages in constant self-refinement and spiritual advancement, constantly replenishing his or her own aspirations and engaging in ongoing self-transformation. This is so powerful that it can even exert an influence on the learner’s future generations.

Q: What does that mean for teachers?

A: To the Rebbe, being an educator entails an awesome responsibilitywhile at the same time being a unique privilege. The Rebbe’s understanding whereby he viewed “everything as education” impacts directly on the role of the educator. To the Rebbe, the educator should emulate the Talmudic ideal exemplified by Rabbi Shmuel ben Shilat, an educator ever-concerned for his charges, even when off-duty. The Rebbe repeatedly stated that no moment is too early, no detail inconsequentialand no exertion ever unproductive. No teacher is too advanced to have outgrown the possibility of seeking a moral mentor of his or her own. No one is of a status so elevated that it precludes involvement in the education of the youngster or the beginner. No student is too unlettered that he or she cannot be a teacher of others at some level.

Again this element of the Rebbe’s educational philosophy differed markedly from contemporary perceptions. When the teaching profession has been preoccupied with its “unfortunate” circumstances, perceiving itself to be one whose rewards and satisfactions are incommensurate with the excessive stress to which its practitioners are subjected, he would point out to teachers that theirs was the “fortunate lot.” While championing the educators’ rights to generous remuneration, he would simultaneously encourage educators to re-engage in their educational career by drawing their attention to their unique circumstances, whereby an even minor exertion and influence over their students on their part was to be rewarded with “cumulative dividends” for generations to come.

“Spiritual Education: The Educational Theory and Practice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson” is available in bookstores, from Amazon, and from Herder and Herder.