Friday, April 15, 2011

Educating to Love G-d

Today marks one of those "Days" (capital "D") on the American calendar that so few of us ever pay attention to - Earth Day, Dress up Your Pet Day (or as I prefer, Animal Abuse Day, Jan. 14th), Appreciate a Dragon Day (Jan. 16th), and so on. Although, to be fair, there are "Days" and there are "Days". Some are a cultural curiosity, a chance to decompress with some witty repartee around the water cooler at work. Others, however, are acts of Congress, commemorated yearly by the sitting Commander in Chief.

One such day is the Education and Sharing Day, first inaugurated by President Carter in 1978, and since then affirmed annually. It was created in recognition of the work of Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, although I'm sure it didn't hurt that by the late 1970s, the Chabad community was rising in both prominence and numbers, particularly in NY. Education and Sharing Day was affirmed into law by Congress in 1991, as Education Day. Falling each year on the birthday of the Rebbe, according to the Jewish system of months (11th of Nissan), this year we celebrate Education Day today, and President Obama, following in the tradition of five Presidents before him, has done his part.
On Education and Sharing Day, U.S.A., we celebrate the example set by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who dedicated his life to improving education and fostering goodwill for all people. His legacy continues to inspire individuals to carry forward his effort to build a brighter future. Each year, Education and Sharing Day, U.S.A. reminds us of our obligation to create opportunities for a better tomorrow—life lessons we pass on to all our children.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 15, 2011, as “Education and Sharing Day, U.S.A.” I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.
It's a nice tradition, but again, one of those "Days" which passes us by with little notice, meaning or reflection. And so, in order to trip up your fast paced day, so that you fall nose first into a basket of freshly cut roses, here's an excerpt from the Rebbe's distilled teachings. You may read the entire article at Chabad.org:
The question of how to educate is really the same as asking, How should we communicate? How should we do business? How should we live?

The answer is always the same: through love. Without love, education is at best incomplete and at worst, destructive. Love means sensitivity -- not to your ideas and your standards, but to your student's and, most important, to G-d's. Once young people grow familiar with an existence that is greater than themselves and acquire an aptitude and intellectual taste for the spiritual, they become attuned to their purpose in life. They become children who relate to their parents with respect and affection. Children who will not take property that doesn't belong to them. Children who reach out to help other people, and are generous with their time and love. [...]

Without the acceptance that morality is derived from G-d, morality -- and, therefore, education -- is guided by nothing more than human whim and conscience. History has shown us that a society can be extremely well educated and yet, if not guided by G-d's precepts, it may be steeped in immorality and evil.
For anyone interested, and in the interests of posterity, here are the Rebbe's original remarks on the founding of Education Day, of which I've selected a short excerpt:
Education, in general, should not be limited to the acquisition of knowledge and preparation for a career, or, in common parlance, "to make a better living." And we must think in terms of a '"better living" not only for the individual, but also for the society as a whole. The educational system must, therefore, pay more attention, indeed the main attention, to the building of character, with emphasis on moral and ethical values. (Need one be reminded of what happened in our lifetime in a country that ranked among the foremost in science, technology, philosophy, etc.?)

Education must put greater emphasis on the promotion of fundamental human rights and obligations of justice and morality, which are the basis of any human society, if it is to be truly human and not turn into a jungle.
With all that in mind, a Good Shabbos HaGadol ("the Great Shabbos").

On My Bookshelf