As we prepare to celebrate Pesach, the Yom Tov of “Vehigadita L’Bincha”, we are reminded of the importance of education and the impact it has on our lives.
Yet, when I think about the central role our Chinuch system plays in our lives, I sometimes find myself wondering if the hours upon hours and years upon years that our children attend school is actually meaningful. Do our children really need years of preschool, eight years of elementary, and another four to six years of high school-level learning and beyond? And for so many hours too! What are our children really learning in those long days of schooling? Isn’t some of it just glorified babysitting?
Do all these hours in school really matter?
I recently heard a story about the Rebbe from Rabbi Moshe Feller. For many years, the Rebbe had a custom on Leil Pesach where he would often stop by various public Sdarim hosted in Crown Heights for a quick visit before returning home for his private Seder. During one of these visits to Machon Chana, the Rebbe inquired about who would be reciting the Ma Nishtana at the Seder. Rabbi Feller, who was leading the Seder for the girls in the dormitory, answered that his son, Mendel, would be asking the four questions. The Rebbe then asked little Mendel if he knew the four questions by heart, and Mendel replied in the affirmative.
The Rebbe then asked who would answer the questions. The group replied that Rabbi Feller would. The Rebbe then turned to Rabbi Feller and asked, “And do you know how to answer the questions?”
The next morning, the Rebbe asked to meet with Rabbi Feller and explained that his question was not in jest. When a child asks the Mah Nishtana, it is not just memorization or a song. The questions are legitimate. The child is filled with genuine curiosity and interest. Why are we having the Seder? Why are we doing this all over again, year after year? Why are Matzah and Maror still relevant?
The questions are real. And every year, we must experience them anew.
Today’s children are not easily placated. They ask hard questions and want to know the reason why. They search for meaning and answers, and our Chinuch system must provide those answers with clear meaning and purpose. We cannot simply do things because “that’s how it’s always been done.” We must impart the experience of Yetziyas Mitzrayim as if it is the very first time. We must impart to our children that they are not simply in school to learn facts and figures but to discover their own purpose. Every moment of every day, they are making decisions that matter. Hashem cares about them individually and every detail, from the exchanges between friends to the Brachos they make on food, matters.
This is why our children spend hours and years in school. Because every moment of learning matters. But it only matters to them if it is real and matters to us.
As we prepare for the Pesach Seder, we, as parents and Mechanchim, must live the example of Yetziyas Mitzrayim on a daily basis, and only then can we give over that purpose to our children. We need to fill our schools and classrooms with inspired teachers and personnel who are committed to fostering meaningful learning for our children.
Because our children’s learning is the foundation of our world and our future.
May this Pesach be a time of renewal and purpose for all of us, and may we continue to inspire and educate our children through every step of their educational journey.
Wishing you all a Chag Kasher V’sameach!
Rabbi Zalman Shneur