The young educator had been advised by his seniors that the friendly rapport he established with his students was counterproductive. A more aloof disposition was more befitting. "The children don't need a friend in a teacher," he was told, "what they need is a disciplinarian."

The next time he was in New York, he consulted the Rebbe on this matter. When he mentioned the critique he had received, the Rebbe assumed a serious demeanor.

"Today's children," the Rebbe said, "do not need to be overly criticized or told about their shortcomings. Sadly, they are their own biggest critics. Instead they need to hear more about their strengths and incredible potential."

The Master Pedagogue

Moses' first job interview took place near the famous burning bushOf all the qualities Moses possessed, he is best known for his teaching skills. Hence, the appellation that has stuck with him throughout history is Moshe Rabbeinu, "Our Teacher Moses."

In fact, the Torah, a book of G‑d's wisdom, is sometimes called Torat Moshe,1 "The Torah of Moses," because he was its master teacher.

Moses' first job interview took place near the famous burning bush.2 In that meeting, G‑d outlined before Moses the daunting mission that lay ahead of him: to confront the mighty Pharaoh and negotiate the release of G‑d's people.

Ironically, though, Moses was less afraid to deal with Pharaoh than he was to interact with his Hebrew slaves. Pharaoh didn't pose a challenge to G‑d; the quarrelsome Hebrews did.3

Moses knew them well. In fact, if not for a Hebrew stool pigeon – who, some say, was the very man Moses saved the day earlier! – he might still have been comfortably ensconced in Pharaoh's palace, instead of a hunted fugitive.

In addition to their slanderous and ungrateful nature, of which any potential leader would be wary, he was concerned about their faith level. They were an idolatrous lot,4 having learned from their pagan neighbors.

These concerns, and others, he immediately voiced upon hearing his new job assignment: "By what merit of theirs can I take the Israelites out of Egypt? This would require a miracle of which, to my perception, they aren't worthy.5 Furthermore, when I come to them and say, 'The G‑d of your forefathers has sent me to you,' they will ask me, 'What is His name?'"6

Moses didn't mince words. He said it as he saw it to be. This beleaguered bunch of slaves may have once been a worthy group but by now they had been deflated, to the point that they knew not even the name of their G‑d! In their current state there was no one to talk to, Moses argued. They'd become complacent sinners and had resigned themselves to, perhaps even embraced, their fate.

Tell them lovingly about their rich, but long-forgotten pastWhat they needed, many world-class educators would prescribe, was not a miracle—but a wake-up call. They needed to be told how miserably they had failed G‑d, and to what lows they had fallen. They needed discipline, not a free pass. They needed to look themselves in the mirror and take responsibility!

If that failed, they might need a sermon of fire and brimstone detailing the horrors to come if they didn't shape up. Maybe then they'd realize their sorry state of affairs and repent—which would indeed earn them a miracle.

That is what many an educator might have said; but not the Educator of educators.

He said to Moses:

"Go assemble the elders of Israel and say to them: G‑d, the G‑d of your forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…"7

Tell them lovingly about their rich, but long-forgotten past. About their extraordinary ancestors and the excellent stock they come from. About whom they really are beneath the dirt, and about who they can become.

"...appeared to me and said, 'I have remembered you and what is being done to you in Egypt.'"

Communicate to them with affection that G‑d cares deeply and thinks about them. His love for them is unconditional, leading Him to remember them and empathize with their suffering no matter their spiritual state.

Finally, tell them:

"I have declared that I will bring you up from the affliction of Egypt…to a land flowing with milk and honey…"

Your final words to this battered people should sparkle with enthusiasm and passion as you describe their bright future.

This is how one should talk to a challenged student on the brink of despair. These are the type of soothing and encouraging words he needs to hear in order to get up.

Matter of Perception

Moses was sold on G‑d's pedagogy tips. He bit and bought into the idea that embracing the Hebrews, not rejecting them, would bring them to change.

It wasn't enough to tell the broken Israelites how good they truly wereBut that didn't change his "realistic" assessment of their imperfect moral and religious standing, which led him to say: Please give me a sign to show the people, otherwise they won't believe or listen to me, saying, "G‑d did not appear to you!"

G‑d responded sharply: "You deserve to be hit with [the staff] in your hand—because you spoke disparagingly against your people."8

Moses was taught an invaluable lesson: it wasn't enough to tell the broken Israelites how good they truly were; he needed to believe it himself!

If he wanted to get through to this disadvantaged nation which had stopped believing in itself, if they were to ever change their own self-perception, he needed to change his perception of them.

Only if he could see them as believers, could and would they see themselves similarly.

Moses the Student

As it turns out, not only was Moses an excellent teacher, he was an excellent student too. He took G‑d's message to heart, and even "improved" it.

Just days after hearing G‑d say,9 "You shall not make for yourself a graven image of that which is in the heavens above or on the earth below…You shall not prostrate yourself to them nor worship them...", the Jewish people did just that.

"They made a molten calf, prostrated and sacrificed to it and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who redeemed you from Egypt!'"10

The ultimate classroom crisis?

"G‑d said to Moses: 'I have seen this stiff-necked people. And now desist from Me! Let My anger burn against them and I shall annihilate them.'"

They were to be expelled, worse expired. G‑d had had enough of them.

Pleaded Moses, our devoted teacher: "Relent from Your burning anger and reconsider the evil against Your nation."

At this point Moses respectfully reminded G‑d about His own words to him when they had first discussed the Jewish people, when Moses had shown frustration with them:

"Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants…"

in his final plea, you won't find any mention of the Jewish people's bright past or futureRemember with love the rich past of these sinners. Their extraordinary ancestors11 and the excellent stock they come from. Consider who they really are, beneath the dirt, and about who they can become!"

"…that you swore to them saying, 'I shall increase your offspring like the stars of the heavens, and the entire land of which I spoke, I shall give it to your offspring, and they shall have it as a heritage forever…'"

Remember in kindness the great vision You once had for this people…

His words had their desired effect. "G‑d reconsidered regarding the evil that He had declared He would do to His people."

But the drama wasn't yet over. The Jewish people still hadn't been pardoned.

"Moses returned to G‑d and said, 'I implore! These people have greatly sinned by making for themselves a god of gold. And now, if You would but bear their sin! But if not, erase me from now from Your book that You have written…'"

Moses' hallmark. This is the signature of a man who would lovingly and forever be called "The Teacher."

For in this final plea, you won't find any mention of the Jewish people's bright past or future, only of their dismal and iniquitous present.

Yet that doesn't stop Moses from interlocking his fate with theirs. "If You erase them, erase me as well."

Moses' love for his students, we find, was truly unconditional. It wasn't based on who they had once been, or who they might become.

In fact, it wasn't based on anything at all.

What's in It for Me?

When dealing with others – and ourselves12 – we must resist the urge to do anything but focus on strengths.

When dealing with others – and ourselves – we must resist the urge to do anything but focus on strengthsOn what they/we have, not on what they/we lack.

On what they/we can do, not on what they/we cannot.

On who they/we are, not on who they/we might have been.

On who they/we can grow to be, not on who we think they/we will always be.

The results will be astonishing.

Love someone for who you want them to become and they will resist change. But love them as they are, and they will want to change.13