One of the sacred tasks of parents and teachers is to educate the next
generation and to impart to our children the knowledge and values of our Torah. We cannot be content with our own study—we have to teach
This mitzvah is featured in this week’s Torah portion in the words
of the Shema which we recite thrice daily: “. . . teach them to your children, to discuss them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise . . .”
What is intriguing is that the great codifier Maimonides, as well as R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his code of Jewish law, present the laws relating to teaching Torah to our children before presenting the laws of studying Torah. It seems quite obvious that one cannot teach before studying. Why would the laws pertaining to teaching a child precede the adult’s requirement to learn?
The power and advantage of a developed, adult, mature mind is magnified by life’s experiences. The theoretical insights that are gleaned are enhanced and embellished by the wealth amassed through the challenges and circumstances of one’s past.
But there is a deficiency and handicap in an adult’s approach to absorbing
the words of Torah. So often, objectivity, humility and serenity of spirit are
casualties of preconceived ideas. Our entrenched frames of reference capture
data into existing files predetermined and predefined. Our life’s experiences
have formed calluses on our attitudes and philosophies. We cling to familiar
paths formed by habitual past journeys. We evaluate with prejudices and
perspectives already firmly formed. We begin to judge by our decisions, rather
than decide by our judgments.
How often are we left unmoved by a truth because we are self-consciously aware of the ramifications of accepting such truths? We fit teachings into lifestyles rather than confront the challenge of change. We quote and emphasize to subjectively endorse and support, rather then to aspire and strive for uncharted new heights.
The laws of studying Torah are preceded by the laws of teaching a child, to remind us how to absorb the words of G‑d. So often, objectivity, humility and serenity of spirit are casualties of preconceived ideasThe learning of a young child—so eager, so fresh, so open, so inspired and so unencumbered by baggage—is like “ink written on fresh paper,” teaching us the art of true Torah study.
May our spiritual and intellectual journeys always retain the effervescence, passion and innocence of a child. May we, this Shabbat, find comfort, optimism and belief in a world about to be redeemed, by allowing ourselves to peer through the eyes and hope of a child.