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A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth

A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 29 – The "Beauty" of Education

As we saw at the outset, the basic root of chinuch appears most frequently in the Bible in the sense of "inauguration" and "initiation" [see footnote #1]. However, the word chinuch can also be broken down into parts, producing chen meaning "grace/beauty" and uch, a word fragment which has meaning in itself, but which has significance by virtue of its numerical value (gematria).  This numerical value is 26, the same as the value of God's unique four-letter Name, the Tetragrammaton.

Based on this etymological information, we can now more precisely define chinuch as the process of revealing the latent and particular beauty which God has planted in each soul. The measure of successful education becomes the extent to which an educator can draw out this inherent grace of soul causing it to shine forth through the student's life.

The Hebrew language has eight synonyms for beauty, each emphasizing a different facet of that elusive and seductive quality. Grace (chen) is the aesthetic of symmetry whether in movement, form, or proportion. It is a state of balance and harmony between elements which implies a higher, hidden point of synthesis. The lure and enchantment of grace is its ability to suggest unity within a state of multiplicity through the balanced arrangement of parts.

Yet beauty is not intrinsically holy. Only if it brings with it a deepened appreciation of God does it enter the category of true grace, otherwise it remains bound to the external and physical, an end in itself, and is called false grace (sheker ha-chen). This illusory beauty is the ultimate ugliness, for it seduces human beings into worshipping vanity and appearance rather than unity and essence. The kind of inspiration that is the beginning point of a good education process must orient students' tastes and passions toward the beauty of truth and holiness, strengthening them to withstand the temptations of false pleasures and ideals.

King David teaches that the "Torah of God is perfect; it restores the soul." The Ba'al Shem Tov explains this to mean that no matter how much knowledge of Torah we many obtain, its essence and ultimate beauty is completely beyond our comprehension; an untouchable, unknowable wisdom that is immune to, and unadulterated by our limited perceptions and conceptions. Anyone who studies Torah–appreciating that the individual details and even the most profound understandings all hint to another level that is absolutely awesome and inconceivable–will find that this type of learning "restores the soul."

The educator begins the task of unlocking and revealing the beauty of soul by identifying the sensitivities and talents of each student. These abilities, as they develop, become the channels through which the soul finds expression in the physical world. Every personality has predispositions and aptitudes, strengths and weaknesses, and these are the raw materials of an educator's craft. He reinforces his students' natural gifts, minimizes or eliminates their blocks, and thereby creates the possibility of self-fulfillment. His students will be satisfied when they feel they are realizing their potential; they will be frustrated whenever they feel they are being prevented from doing so, whether by internal or external obstacles. Peace is the sense of well-being–the aura of grace and beauty–that surrounds those who are utilizing their sensitivities and talents in a way that is consistent with God's Torah for the benefit of  the community.


[Footnote #1]

Chinuch can be broken down into two-letter sub-roots which form words that give additional clues to its deeper meaning. For example: chen, meaning "grace" or "beauty"; chech, meaning "taste/palate" (chech is also a the sub-root of chochmah, meaning "wisdom," as we saw earlier); and of nachah,meaning "strike" or "smite" or "conquer."

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