At risk of stating the obvious, parents and teachers play a central role in molding the next generation of the human race, and it is their responsibility to ensure that their children and students have the necessary tools to thrive in the future. Few issues are more important to the survival of humanity than education. Of course, children must be taught to read and write, to multiply and subtract, but more importantly, they must be taught how to be upstanding citizens of the world.
Education has been the one constant throughout history, and no society can survive without the children receiving an adequate education. A good parent and a dedicated teacher make all the difference in a child’s life, and by extension, they impact who the child turns out to be as an adult.
In Judaism, the emphasis on education and preparing children for their future is the focal point of almost everything we do. The most famous Jewish prayer, the Shema, contains a passage about education, reminding us that while it’s good to believe in G-d ourselves, our faith must be passed on to the next generation in order for it to persevere.
All mitzvahs in the Torah contain an education component, where the youth are to be taught and trained so that they will know how to fulfill G-d’s commandments as adults. But there are three specific commandments in the Torah that have implicit reminders about education and teaching others. They are: The prohibition of eating insects, the prohibition of consuming blood, and the prohibition of a Kohen, a member of the priestly family, to become ritually impure through contact with a dead body.
The purpose of these three reminders is to highlight the need for education in three general situations (and in this context, education applies to all ages, even to adults).
The first, eating insects, is something that is typically considered so repulsive that most people avoid it. So when someone is caught up in such repulsive behavior, it can be tempting for those trying to help him to throw in the towel and give up on him. After all, what can be done to help someone that finds pleasure in vile activities?
The second, consuming blood, was apparently something that everyone did at the time. In fact, today too, only kosher meat has all the blood drained from it, while most meat eaters are not concerned with blood, and some perhaps even consider it a delicacy. So can someone be convinced to change their ways after doing something for so long, especially if everyone else is doing it?
And finally, ritual impurity is something that has little or no basis in logic. Judaism contains many laws that don’t have reasons, some more far-fetched than others; but the laws of ritual impurity are up there with concepts that are just too much for a rational person to come to terms with. So if someone refuses to accept areas of Torah that require faith, because if it isn’t logical he wants no part of it, is there even a point in attempting to change his mind and behavior?
To all three, the Torah replies with a resounding “Yes!”
And not just a simple yes, but Torah emphasizes that this is where education—for both children and adults—is most needed and can be most effective. Not only must nobody be written off, for any reason, but especially those who are most likely to fall through the cracks must be given the most attention and taught to make the most out of their lives, for their benefit and for the benefit of society as a whole.