Governor Otter and Mayor Bieter have both proclaimed today, April 7, 2017, to be Education and Sharing Day in Idaho and in Boise, respectively.
They follow a long tradition of proclaiming the Rebbe’s birthday, 11 Nissan, as a day of reflection and commitment to the values of education and good deeds. Every United States President since 1978 has made this annual proclamation for Education and Sharing Day USA.
The Rebbe, the only rabbi to receive a Congressional Gold Medal, emphasized that education should not be limited to the acquisition of wisdom and pursuit of a career. Education, the Rebbe taught, must build character and ethics.
As a student of the Rebbe, it’s natural for me to think of the Rebbe in terms of education. I would, however, surmise that many people may look at the Rebbe as a teacher, but might not look at themselves as students.
Why is it that the Rebbe’s life and vision is summed up by the virtue of education? His contributions to Jewish life were vast, larger than life. So, why the emphasis on education?
We are all familiar with the Four Questions, the Mah Nishtana, that is recited at the Pesach Seder. We have come to view the Seder as a multigenerational experience. Our children look to us for answers. We reply to their questions.
The Haggadah tells us of four sons to whom we must respond – the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who does not know how to ask. We might assume that the primary target of our discussion is the wise son. Or, perhaps our goal is to win over the wicked son.
The last son the Haggadah addresses is the son who does not even know how to ask. This child, too, deserves an answer.
Interestingly, this last son is not an afterthought. In fact, the primary target of the Haggadah is the son who does not know how to ask. The mandate to tell over the story of Passover is derived from the verse referring to this fourth child (in fact the name Haggadah is a derivative of the word in this verse, v’heegadetah).
Why is our main focus on the least involved participant?
In the 1970s leaders of the Jewish Federation of North America visited the Rebbe. They were initiating a campaign to encourage every Jewish home to place an extra seat at the Seder table. This empty chair would remind people about the Jews that had perished in the Holocaust and the Jews behind the Iron Curtain, who were unable to participate in a Pesach Seder. They sought the Rebbe’s blessing and support.
The Rebbe applauded the idea of adding a seat to the table. However, he insisted on one dramatic modification. The chair should not be empty. Rather, it should be occupied. Invite someone who, otherwise, may not attend a Seder. The Nazis endeavored to ensure the Seder table would be empty. Our job is to ensure it’s full. Every Jew deserves a seat at the Seder table.
To the Rebbe, there was no Jew that did not belong. There was no Jew whose questions should not be answered – even if she had not thought about asking them.
Perhaps the Rebbe took a page out of the Haggadah’s playbook – insisting that the ultimate objective is not the wise, engaged child. Nor is it the mainstream or the rebellious child. It’s the disengaged, apathetic child whose questions deserve and demand a thoughtful and caring response.
This is the educational revolution that the Rebbe created. It’s no wonder that so many of his followers have taken up posts all over the world to teach one more Jew.
As I absorb the outsized influence the Rebbe has had on our generation, I cannot help but marvel that – just as the fourth son of the Haggadah – countless Jews are students of the Rebbe without even knowing it. Their questions may be unasked. But, to the Rebbe, answering the unasked question is simply the Jewish way of education.
Please join me in observing Education and Sharing Day by answering the unspoken call of your fellow. Educating others is not only for professional teachers. The Rebbe often quoted the Chassidic saying, “If you know Aleph, teach Aleph!” Today, reach deep inside and find the “Aleph” that will be meaningful to someone else.