Parashat Teruma describes the aron, the ark that was situated in the inner chamber of the Mishkan and contained the stone tablets which Moshe received at Sinai (25:16). The aron, we read, was covered by a solid gold layer called the kaporet, which featured two “keruvim” (25:17-18). Rashi, based on the Gemara (Sukka 5b), explains that the keruvim were images of young children.
The image of the keruvim has been viewed by many writers and darshanim over the centuries as a symbol of education, and a number of features of the keruvim were seen as indicative of various principles relevant to the education of children. For example, it is told that Rav Meir Shapiro made an observation – perhaps tongue-in-cheek – about the halakha forbidding fashioning the keruvim from any material other than gold. When Benei Yisrael could not afford the precious metals required for the various furnishings of the Mishkan, they were allowed to be made from wood, but the keruvim could be made only from gold (Mekhilta to Shemot 20:20). Rav Meir Shapiro quipped that this halakha reflects the necessity for financial investment in Torah education for children, and that no compromises should ever be made in order to cut costs.
More recently, the Tolna Rebbe found it significant that the entire kaporet was made from a “miksha” – a single block of gold (25:18). The keruvim could not be formed and then attached to a sheet of gold to produce the kaporet. Rather, the artisans needed to chisel a block of gold to form the images of the two keruvim. The Rebbe suggested that this process might be symbolic of the essence of education, and its overarching purpose. The objective is to help the youngster reveal his inner talents and potential, so he or she can then work to maximize them. The educator should not endeavor to make the student into a desired mold, but rather to help the student find his or her inner strengths which the student then develops. Just as the artisans who produced the ark did not actually create the keruvim, but rather chiseled a gold block until the keruvim appeared, similarly, a successful educator does not strive to actually “build” the students, but rather to help the students build themselves, to show them who they really are, so they can then strive to bring out the very best of their inner selves and achieve to the best of their ability.