A Torah Teacher’s Guide (1)

Last year, in Parshas Titzaveh, we expounded on Chazal’s
statement that the lighting of the Menorah alludes to the teaching of Torah to
Bnei Yisroel.

This year, we will try and offer some new insights into a
teacher’s approach to his job, his relationship to his students and what he
should expect from them. All this, through analyzing the wording of the first
posuk in our Parsha, which refers to the lighting of the Menorah, as follows:

תמיד" – "And you (Moshe)
shall command the Jewish people and they shall take to you pure olive oil, cut
for light, to lift up (light) a continual candle (flame)"
(Shemos 27:20).

Personal Example


"And you (Moshe) shall command"

Question: It appears that the addition of "ואתה"
("and you") is redundant, for its meaning can be included in "תצוה"
("you command"). Why is it added?

Answer: "ואתה"
comes to separate the command from the commander and to emphasize the commander,
i.e., that he should not only offer instructions, but serve as a personal
example of how to best fulfill the command, as well.

In the context of education, we learn that it is not
sufficient for a Rebbe to simply teach Torah or to explain the mitzvos. Rather,
he must serve as a personal example of how a Jew should learn Torah and
fulfill mitzvos. The impression the lesson and its contents have on the students
is directly dependent on the worthiness and the personal example of the teacher.

The Power of a Rebbe


– Rav Friedlander z"l in his sefer Mesilos Chaim Bechinuch, p.126,
explains that one could and should discuss principles of faith with young
students, for they still have a pure heart and they receive things clearly and
simply. This is hinted to in the word "תצוה",
as the Rebbe has such a strong effect on young students that it is though the
Rebbe commanded them, as a king commands his servants.

Installing Fear in Students


– On one hand, a teacher should show a deep concern for each
student. However, just as important is to instill a sense of fear in his
students. This is done by – "ואתה
תצוה" – by commanding
them; giving them obligations, responsibilities and limits. Only when a child
knows that there are lines he cannot cross and there are obligations he must
fulfill, will he see his teacher as one he must respect and listen to. The fear
of a Rebbe is a necessary ingredient in a student’s growth as the posuk states,
"You shall fear Hashem" (Devorim 10:20) and the Gemorah (Pesachin
22b) says that the word "את"
comes to include talmidei chochomim. Similarly, the Torah says in Avos
that one should fear their Rebbe as he fears Hashem. The Gemorah in Kesubos
(103b) adds, "זרוק
לתלמידים" – "Make it bitter
for your students"
and Rashi explains מרה
to mean fear, that the students should fear their Rebbe. A Rebbe can and should
make life difficult for his students if his intention is to have them fear him.
This fear has the ability to settle down the student, clear the distractions in
his head and open up his channels of thought and concentration.

Demanding of Students

– In contrast to Parshas Terumah, where Hashem told
Moshe to speak to Bnei Yisroel and tell them to bring material
with which to build the Mishkan, in our Parsha Hashem tells Moshe to
תצוה – command – them to bring
the olive oil. Why is the command form used here?

As here we are dealing with the teaching of Torah, the
command form tells us that a teacher is to demand of his students. This
for two reasons:

  1. In order to push off the proddings of the yetzer hora,
    i.e., to reduce the influence of extraneous involvements and pleasures a child
    is connected to which dulls his interest in learning, and

  2. In order to pull the student toward discovering his own
    potential to understand, to perform and to grow as a ben Torah.

Am Yisroel is compared to a seed (זרע)
in many places. We find, for example, that when Hashem spoke to Avraham after
Lot had left him (Bereishis 13:15), He told him, "כי
עולם." – "For all the land
(of Israel) that you see, I will give it to you and to your seed

Why this comparison? For just as a seed implanted in the
ground needs to force its way upward through the ground in order to grow and
develop, so too a child needs to be commanded or pressured to remove himself
from the darkness of his youthful ideas and pleasures and to reach upward toward
the light of Torah understanding, desire and fulfillment.

The Rebbe’s Growth


– A Rebbe, especially if he is a well-versed talmid chochom, may feel
that teaching children is a deterrent to his own spiritual growth. The Toldos
Yaakov Yosef
, among other commentaries, points out that just the opposite is
true. He says that when a teacher makes an effort to raise his student’s
spiritual level, his level is raised as well. This we find at Har Sinai when
Moshe gathered the people together to receive the Torah. He helped them reach a
great level of unity and purpose, as the posuk says, "…ויחן
ההר" – "…and the Jewish
people encamped (as one) there across from the mountain (Har Sinai)"
19:2), and Rashi explains that ויחן
is in the singular for they encamped as one person with one heart. Through his
efforts, Moshe, himself, reached new personal heights as the very next posuk
says, "ומשה
אלקים…" – "And Moshe
went up
to Hashem…"
(ibid. 19:3).

This is the message alluded to in "ואתה
זך", that when you make an
effort – "ואתה
תצוה" – to raise the level of
your students, (even though you may temporarily lower your level –
לתולדות) they will help you
raise your own level afterward, alluded to in
זך – to pure, clean oil. The
Meor Veshemesh adds that the very seeking of a student to improve himself
brings new insights to his Rebbe.

Look for the conclusion next week

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