It's not for naught that we are called "The People of the Book."

At the inauguration of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on July 24, 1918, Chaim Weizmann, who would become Israel's first president, made the following observation: "It seems at first sight paradoxical that in a land with so sparse a population, in a land where everything still remains to be done, in a land crying out for such simple things as ploughs, roads, and harbors, we should begin by creating a center of spiritual and intellectual development."1

This telling act, as profoundly articulated by Mr. Weizmann, is reminiscent of an earlier one by the ancestors of those who established this university.

The Bible relates that even before relocating his family from Canaan to Egypt, Jacob sent Judah to Egypt on a special mission.2

Before they had houses in which to live, they had a house in which to studyThe objective of this mission is the subject of dispute. Some say that he was sent to tend to emigrational technicalities and to scout out housing accommodations for Jacob's large family.3

The Midrash4 offers a different take: "Judah descended to Egypt before the rest of the family in order to establish a house of study."

Thus, before they had houses in which to live, they had a house in which to study.

But where does this obsession with education stem from?

In a rare and personal disclosure, G‑d says regarding Abraham: "I cherish him." Why? "For he shall instruct his children and household after him to keep the ways of G‑d, to do charity and justice."5

It wasn't his intellectual prowess or integrity, neither was it his legendary kindness or even his spirit of activism and sacrifice that earned Abraham G‑d's unique affection. It was his exemplary focus on education.

Further confirmation that education must be the subject of our individual and collective focus came at Sinai, before our first face-to-face meeting with G‑d.

Before G‑d agreed to that meeting, at which occasion He planned to gift us the Torah, He asked Moses to present trustworthy guarantors who would ensure the Torah's continued observance.

He didn't trust the adults. Even the elders and scholars were ruled out. But when the children were mentioned, He was satisfied and the deal was concluded.6

The Sages develop and expand Torah law and thought, but it's the children who preserve its practice and tradition.

The Cherubs

Of all the utensils in the Holy Temple, the Holy Ark was the holiest. It housed the Tablets, the bedrock of our faith. Indeed, the Tablets served as the marriage document binding G‑d to our people.

G‑d chose the Jewish children to watch over the TorahBut who could be trusted to guard this seminal manuscript that communicates G‑d's love and wisdom? In whose hands should lay the treasured "marriage contract"?

"From the lid [of the Ark] you shall make two cherubs at its ends. Their wings shall spread upwards, sheltering the lid with their wings"—Exodus7

"Each of the cherubs had the image of a child's face"—Talmud8

"One in the likeness of a boy and the other of a girl"—Zohar9

The cherubs weren't made in the image of Moses, but in the image of our children.

G‑d chose the Jewish children to watch over the Torah and constitute His national guard. It is their wings that will carry the Torah into the future.10

Pure Gold

From the verse, "You shall not make gods of silver with Me…"11 we learn that "it is forbidden to make the cherubs out of silver." Furthermore we are told, "If you deviate from My instruction and make them of silver, instead of gold, they are like false gods before Me."12

Why the all or nothing approach?

Also, this particular stipulation applies strictly to the cherubs. All the other vessels in the Temple may be made of silver (or other metals) if no gold can be found.13 Why the distinction?

Symbolically, however, the answer is quite clear: Regarding the rest of the vessels of the Temple, while ideally all G‑dly instruments should be made of gold – representing the very best – when in a pinch, silver can suffice.

But when it comes to the education of our children, as represented by the cherubs, there is no room for compromise. Only the purest and best schooling will do.

(This is not to say that schools should charge the price of gold, sadly one of the reasons why attendance at Jewish schools has fallen.14 Rather, that they offer their students the highest caliber of instruction.)

What is a good Jewish education? Culture, Yiddish, Talmud? When the subject material and the manner in which it is taught is downgraded to even "silver," instead of raising children who grow up walking in the ways of G‑d, one creates, G‑d forbid, "false gods!"—children who grow up worshipping themselves.

True Gold

But how is gold defined? What is a good Jewish education? Culture, Yiddish, Talmud?

Here too, the cherubs offer insight.

"You shall make two cherubs of gold; beaten shall you make them."15

Rashi explains: "Do not separately craft the cherubs and then afterwards attach them to the lid. Rather, take a big block of gold at the outset of the making of the lid, and strike it at its middle with a hammer and mallet so that the shapes of the cherubs are hammered out and protrude upward."

What would be wrong if they were made separately and then attached? Does the process itself have to be so difficult?

Perhaps it can be said that the Ark – and its lid – represents the Torah that it houses; while the cherubs represent the children.16

When it comes to "building" your child, so to speak – i.e., implanting within him or her a value system, mindset, worldview, etc. – this can be done in one of two ways: Separate from the lid, the Torah, or molded from the lid itself.

We must want our children to be one with Torah, fashioned out of Torah. To the point that separating from Torah, G‑d forbid, would be like separating from themselves. Their every bend and curve should be indistinguishable from the gold of which they are fashioned.

An example to illustrate:

One day, as I handed some coins to my wife, my just-turned-one-year-old daughter proudly belted out: "Mommy, tzedakah [charity]!"

To her, coins aren't money; they're charityMy wife explained: "We've developed a daily routine, where every morning, together, we place a few coins in the charity box. She has grown to love this practice, and now calls out 'tzedakah!' whenever she catches sight of any coins."

To her, coins aren't money; they're charity.

Permitted Worship

Lastly and amazingly, the only imagery allowed in the Temple, in seeming contradiction to G‑d's command, "You shall not make images with Me," was that of children.

Apparently, other than Himself, G‑d allows only one other form of worship: the worship of our children's education.

Then again, aren't they one and the same?