Adapted from
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 522ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5751, p. 598ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Matos-Masei, 5743

The Goal of Education

In a single verse:1 “Educate a child according to his way; even when he grows older, he will not depart from it,” King Solomon communicates several fundamental concepts regarding the Torah approach to education.

The goal of education is not merely to transmit information, but to mold the student’s character, to set his feet on a path which he can follow all his life.

Every child will set out on a “way,” for life does not allow us to stand still, and as we undergo transitions, a route will be forged. But a child should be prepared for these transitions; they should not take him by surprise. That is the purpose of education to give him a standard of values and principles that teach him how to look ahead, to face and overcome life’s challenges.

Moreover, these guiding principles should be more than intellectual truths; they should be integral elements of the child’s makeup. This is the core of the learning experience to internalize ideas and make them part of oneself, instead of merely comprehending them in the abstract.

When a child is educated in this manner, he will be prepared to proceed on his way. Not only will he possess the focus, direction, and inner strength to confront challenges, he will have the initiative to seek them out. For knowledge empowers and energizes. When a child has learned principles and values which ring true, he will feel energy welling up within him which will naturally seek expression in positive life experiences.

Encouraging Individuality

Important in this process is the realization that every child has “his way” a nature of his own. As the Previous Rebbe would say:2 “Every individual Jew has a spiritual mission in his life.” Although we all share the common goal of transforming our world into a dwelling fit for G‑d,3 each of us has individual gifts and tendencies. Expression of these different tendencies allows the Divine purpose to be manifest in various paths, giving it a more comprehensive scope.

A teacher should therefore not try to push all his students in a single direction. Instead, he should appreciate the gifts of each individual and cultivate their expression.4 Even when teaching the universal truths of the Torah, a teacher’s goal should not be conformity. Instead, he should try to enable every student to internalize these truths in a manner that suits his own nature.5

Shining Lamps

These concepts are alluded to in this week’s Torah reading which begins with the command to Aharon to kindle the menorah in the Sanctuary. The menorah symbolizes the Jewish people,6 for the purpose of every Jew’s existence is to spread Divine light throughout the world, as it is written:7 “The soul of man is the lamp of G‑d.” For with “the light of the Torah, and the candle of mitzvos,”8 our people illuminate the world.

The menorah extends upward in seven branches, which symbolize seven different paths of Divine service. And yet it was made of a single piece of gold,9 indicating that the various qualities of the Jewish people do not detract from their fundamental unity. Diversity need not lead to division, and the development of true unity comes from a synthesis of different thrusts, every person expressing his own unique talents and personality.

Independent Efforts

When relaying G‑d’s command to Aharon to kindle the menorah , the Torah uses the phrase,10 Behaalos’cha es haneiros, literally: “When you raise up the lamps.” Rashi explains that this means the priest should apply the flame to the wick “until the flame rises on its own,” and shines independently.

Interpreting this concept allegorically, each of the expressions Rashi uses reflects a fundamental concept.

“The flame” Every person is potentially “a lamp.” But a flame realizes the potential, producing radiant light.

“Rises” A person should not remain content with his current level, no matter how refined. Instead, he should seek to proceed further, searching for a higher and more complete degree of Divine service.

“On its own” A person must internalize the influence of his teachers until their light becomes his own. The knowledge he learns should endow him with the power to “shine” independently.11

Moreover, he should “rise on his own,” i.e., the desire to proceed should become one’s own nature. Even without the encouragement of others, he should continually seek to advance.

Similarly, when teaching others, our intent should be that they also become “a flame which rises on its own” independent lamps who spread the “light of Torah” throughout their environment.

Journeying Forward

Behaalos’cha is not only the beginning of the Torah reading, it is the Torah reading’s name; the lessons it communicates relate to the reading in its entirety. This is expressed by the bulk of the Torah reading, which describes the preparations for and the initial stages of the journey of the Jewish people through the desert. The Baal Shem Tov explains12 that these journeys are reflected in the journeys of every individual through life.

The Jewish people did not remain at Mount Sinai, where they received the Torah and constructed the Sanctuary. Instead, they took the Torah and the Sanctuary with them as they set out on their journey through the desert of the world. Similarly, the kindling of the light in a person’s soul the goal of his education should enable him to take this “light of Torah,” with him in his journeys through the world. By spreading the light of Torah through these journeys, every individual contributes to fulfilling the purpose of all existence the establishment of a dwelling for G‑d in our material world.

In that vein, the journeys of the Jewish people through the desert are also interpreted13 as an allusion of the journeys of our people through the ages toward the consummation of that purpose, the revelation of the light of Mashiach. And then we will join in the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, where we will see the priests again kindle the menorah.