Some two-and-a-half thousand years ago, Mordechai gathered 22,000 Jewish children in the courtyards of ancient Shushan, taught them Torah, and showed them how to pray for the welfare of their people. In no age since then has any tzaddik repeated this scene on such a scale, as in our own generation, when the Rebbe Shlita devotes such a substantial proportion of his time to initiating and directing countless educational projects involving children. To take a simple example, tens of thousands of children are gaining their first lesson in tzedakah from the coin which the Rebbe Shlita personally puts into their little hands, as he gives them his blessing.

Drawing on a variety of works originally published in Hebrew and Yiddish, the present essay assembles some of the Rebbe Shlita’s teachings on the spiritual sensitivity and unique potential of children, and presents them in accessible fashion, together with references to their respective classical sources. Characteristically, these teachings throw light not only on the distinctive spiritual personality of children, but also show how their positive qualities are manifested in adults and, indeed, by the Jewish people as a whole.

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At this time, we and all those people whose lives have been touched by the Rebbe Shlita join in prayer that G‑d send the Rebbe a complete and speedy recovery.

“It was They Who Recognized Him First”

Our recognition of redemption comes in stages. When Moshe Rabbeinu first announced G‑d’s promise of redemption to the Jews in Egypt, they believed him and bowed to G‑d in grateful acknowledgement.1 Nevertheless, when that promise did not materialize immediately, “they did not heed Moshe because of broken spirits and hard labor.”2 Indeed, even after the redemption had become a reality and the Jews had left the land of bondage, their spirits remained in exile. As soon as they heard the Egyptian chariots pursuing them, they were so terror-stricken that they spoke of returning to slavery.3 It was only after the miracles of the splitting of the sea that they were able to fully conceive of themselves as free men.4

As those miracles transpired, there was one group which stood out prominently. The Jewish children had experienced G‑d’s miraculous providence during the time He protected them in exile, and at the Red Sea, “it was they who recognized Him first.”5 Even the youngest infants joyfully joined in the song of redemption.6 Consequently, in recognition of the connection between children and redemption, the name Tzivos Hashem, “the army of G‑d,” the name given to the entire Jewish people from the time of the Exodus,7 has been applied in particular to Jewish children.8

Children Know What the World is Lacking

Our Sages9 highlight the connection between children and redemption by interpreting the verse,10 “Do not touch My anointed ones (meshichai),” as referring to Jewish children. Why are children given this title? — Because they have no other genuine concern besides Mashiach.11 A child truly wants to live in a world of peace, harmony, knowledge and joy, and these are the very qualities that will characterize the Era of the Redemption.

Adults often find it difficult to think beyond the mundane details of their day-to-day existence. Children, by contrast, do not have to grapple with such concerns, and thus their true inner desire can express itself. Although their feelings and thoughts may lack sophistication, the simple genuine power of their desires is greater than that of adults. And this fundamental desire is focused on the coming of the Redemption.

This inner will is reflected in the song first sung by Jewish children, “We want Mashiach now.” The word “want” also implies “lack.” Intuitively, children feel an actual want, a real lack, because Mashiach has not been revealed.12

Nurturing Our Children’s Yearnings

We should cultivate our children’s inner desire for the coming of the Redemption and allow it to develop by exposing them to the teachings of pnimiyus HaTorah13 and, in particular, by educating them about the Redemption and Mashiach. One should not hesitate for fear that these subjects are too difficult or too complex. Quite the contrary, experience has shown that children have responded with sensitivity and inspiration when these subjects have been presented to them in a form which they can relate to.14

A child’s connection with the Redemption should also be reflected in the structure of the environment in which he lives — his home, and in particular, in his individual room. Every child should make his room a “sanctuary in microcosm” by the prominent display of a Siddur, a Chumash, a Tanya, and a tzedakah pushka, reflecting “the three pillars on which the world stands,”15 Torah study, prayer, and deeds of kindness. By “making this place Eretz Yisrael,”16 structuring his environment in a manner that reveals G‑dliness, he hastens the coming of the era when “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d.”17

Since “tzedakah brings the Redemption near,18 children should be actively encouraged to give tzedakah. Not only should they give money that was given to them for that specific purpose, but they should be given an allowance so that they become trained to contribute to tzedakah out of their own funds. Ultimately, this will prepare them for the time when they will make their own contributions towards the construction of the Third Beis HaMikdash.19

The Child in Each of Us

On a larger scale, the positive dimensions of childhood relate to the Jewish people as a whole. This parallel is reflected in the chassidic interpretation20 of the verse,21 “For Israel is a youth and I love him,” to mean that it is Israel’s youthlike qualities which arouse G‑d’s love.

A similar concept can be derived from the verse,22 “Who will arise on behalf of Yaakov, for he is small?” Positive influence on behalf of Yaakov, the Jewish people, is called down from Above by the fact that “he is small,” by virtue of the quality of bittul, selflessness, which characterizes the Jewish people. This quality is the foundation for all positive attributes and the repository for all blessing.

“And a young child shall lead them”23

In one of the prophecies of the Redemption,24 we are promised, “Behold I will send you Eliyah[u] the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day.... And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children.” Rashi25 interprets the latter phrase to mean, “he will turn the hearts of the fathers to G‑d through the medium of the children.” Children will awaken in their parents an earnest desire to turn to G‑d.26 Similarly, in the present context, the sincere desire children have for the Redemption should inspire a similar yearning in their parents.

And we will not have to wait long. We are at the pinnacle of Jewish history, the most appropriate time ever for Mashiach to come. The very next moment can be the last moment of exile, and the moment which follows, the first moment of Redemption. At this time, our energies must be directed to “opening our eyes,”27 appreciating the Redemption and living our lives in its spirit.