"G‑d said to Moses: Say to the priests,Aaron's sons, and you shall say to them: 'Let no priest become ritually impure through contact with a dead person...'”1

The purpose of the apparent redundancy in this verse (“Say to the priests,” followed shortly by, “You shall say to them”) is to “enjoin adults with regards to minors."2

The first "say" is addressed to Moses. The additional, "and you shall say to them," is an instruction to the priests to maintain their children’s state of ritual purity3.

In its literal sense, this injunction holds the priests responsible for their children’s behavior, not just their education. And more generally speaking it teaches that parents are obligated not just to impart knowledge to their children, but to ensure their children translate that knowledge into practice.

This obligation of parental supervision is specific to three areas of Jewish law: the prohibition against eating insects, drinking blood and becoming ritually impure.

Its wider reading, as a universal message to all educators, can be informed by the three instances from which this important lesson is born.

The first area of behavior parents are asked to monitor is their child’s intake of creepy crawlies per the biblical prohibition against eating insects.

Sounds easy, right? (Ok, not so easy when your kid is still creeping and crawling and open-minded and mouthed about fellow crawlers. But at least it’s doable.)

Far more difficult is practicing the educational idea represented by this law.

According to the Talmud4 the desire to eat insects is unnatural and motivated by a rebellious urge to act against G‑d who forbade them from our diet.

The bug-eater represents the child that does not possess the inclination to know and learn more, the child who resists and rebels against the educator and educational system that offers him knowledge.

In a more general sense it represents the person who is set in his/her views and ways, closed to new prospects and perspectives.

Encountering this disinterested student can be most disheartening, as it pits the educator against a lack of interest rather than lack of ability. The latter can be worked with, the former less so.

The Torah’s choice of this unique context as its first call for education is its way of proclaiming its first rule of education: There is no such thing as a person who cannot be reached or redeemed. We are forbidden to view any child (in-age or in-knowledge) as un-teachable.

In a 2003 address about his relationship with, and reflections on, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Professor Alan Dershowitz5 related:

“About 15 or 20 years ago, I had the chutzpah - in the worst sense of the word - to write an arrogant letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I had read in the newspaper that the Lubavitch movement was honoring Jesse Helms, and there was no man in America I despised more than Jesse Helms. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he absolutely stood for everything that I was opposed to in those days, including being strongly anti-Israel.

I wrote a letter saying, in essence, "How can you honor a man who stands for everything that is opposed to Jewish values in America?"

And I received a letter back from the Rebbe, a very, very respectful letter; a letter that I cherish for its content. And he lectured me, but in the nicest way, telling me that you never give up on anybody. You never, ever give up on somebody. Today Jesse Helms may be against Israel, but tomorrow, if we know how to approach him and speak to him, maybe he will turn out to be a champion of Israel.

And I have to tell you, I had my doubts about it, but as they say, the rest is history. Although I still disagree with Jesse Helms on many issues, when it comes to Israel, he has become our champion…”

A Bloody Habit

The second area of behavior parents are obligated to police is their child’s intake of blood, per the biblical prohibition against ingesting blood6.

A revealing comment in the Midrash suggests that there was a time when Jewish people were (animal) blood consumers, having been influenced by contemporary Egyptian culture and cuisine.

Hence the verse,7Be strong not to eat blood…,” as if it takes courage to cut down on blood.

But it did take strength and courage, since over time it had become part of the Jewish appetite and diet.

Thus, blood-eating represents bad habits entrenched in one’s character and psyche, or a lifestyle that is not consistent with the refined ideals of Judaism.

Here too we encounter a challenge common to educators. No matter what one may teach his or her charges or the elevated atmosphere one may create in the classroom, so much of a child’s molding depends on the environment s/he goes home to at night, and the worldview espoused by their parents and extended family.

It must feel so futile for a teacher to teach one thing at school only to have it discounted or contradicted at home.

This is equally, if not especially true of adult education. The added challenge in trying to influence older people is that, having reached a certain comfort zone in life, they are less prone to the youthful openness and excitement necessary to achieve real change.

Yet again, the Torah’s message is clear: Don’t underestimate the power of education. You never know which insight or story, or which classroom experience or memory, will someday propel your student towards positive change.

And as far as adult students are concerned, some of Judaism’s most prominent scholars and leaders got off to a late start: Abraham, Moses, (Jonah), Rabbi Akiva and Onkolos to name a few.

Supernatural Beginnings

The third area of Jewish law that calls for parental supervision is the one referenced to earlier – the commandment to maintain the purity of priestly children.

According to Jewish thought8 the laws of impurity are not governed by the laws of logic, and thus come to represent the aspects of Judaism that are supra-rational.

Some educators believe that a child’s Jewish education should commence with the rational aspects of Judaism, and only as the child grows older and becomes more receptive to supernaturalism, should s/he be taught about splitting seas and talking donkeys. The rationale behind this philosophy is to avoid “overwhelming” children with ideas that are beyond their frame of reference and experience.

This notion could not be further from the truth. Firstly, children have a special capacity for faith. They have not yet been indoctrinated by society to view logic and its “immutable” laws as the sole arbiter of truth. Secondly, if ever there is a time to teach a Jewish child faith it’s in his/her formative stages of development, so that the supernatural and supra-rational aspects of life and religion not be superimposed and thus forever extrinsic to their being and worldview.

Indeed, so important was it to one Chasidic Rebbe that his children begin their education by studying the miraculous aspects of Torah, when he found out that his children’s instructor had skipped the account of Creation, he had him immediately replaced.

The same perspective applies when introducing uninitiated Jews to Judaism. One approach is to begin with the logically and emotionally appealing aspects of Torah, so as not to “overwhelm” the child-in-knowledge with ideas that are beyond his frame of reference and experience. This approach even calls for Jewish observance to be delayed until the student has mastered Jewish thought and is mentally “comfortable” and “ready” to move on.

This philosophy is fundamentally flawed, as it introduces G‑d through the mind not the soul, essentially declaring logic as the basis of the Jewish faith and not faith as the basis of Jewish logic.

Who better to learn from than G‑d, Who chose Genesis as the starting point of education, beginning His children's schooling with the awesome and supernatural account of creation.

Based on a letter of the Rebbe printed in Likutei Sichos vol. 2 pp 679