A Torah Teacher’s Guide (2)

A Teacher’s Humility and a Student’s Clarity

"כתית למאור" – כתית
refers to cutting and dividing which represents humility, while מאור refers to
light and growth. The more humble a teacher is and the more he emphasizes not
understanding of the Torah, but that of his students, the greater his
students will grow and the greater will be the light of Torah which fills their
minds and their lives. The Degel Machane Ephraim says that a teacher
should remind himself that the only reason Hashem raised him up was to light the
way for others.

Understanding and Joint Effort

”ויקחו אליך…כתית למאור לעלות נר תמיד”

"ויקחו אליך" – The individual students should direct
their understanding and participation toward their Rebbe.

"כתית למאור"
The Rebbe should then show them their mistakes and improve their understanding,

"לעלות" – and
take hold of their good points

"נר" – and
combine the contribution of all the individual students until the students feel
that all their comments have contributed to the clarity of the lesson<. (See later in “Weaker Students”).

This idea of combining the students efforts is seen as well
in the introduction to our posuk, "ואתה תצוה" – where one of the meanings of "תצוה"
is בצוותא – a joint effort (the commentaries).

"תמיד" – If the
teacher follows this approach he will see his students’ growth spiral upwards –
תמיד – continuously.

"תמיד" – The
underlying function of a Rebbe is to implant in the hearts of his students the
desire to cling to the Torah and its teachings throughout their lives. And so we
find that the נר מערבי on the Menorah lit continuously without interruption.
When a Rebbe instills this feeling in his students, their personal נר מערבי will
light without end, meaning, they will continuously desire to learn Torah and
grow in yire Shamayim long after their formal years of education have
elapsed. This is the meaning behind Chazal’s comment, that the Menorah must be
lit until the flame can sustain itself, without outside help – עד שהשלהבת עולה
מאליה – i.e., only when the child’s interest and devotion to Torah is ignited
from within does a Rebbe know that he has been successful.

Potential and Fulfillment

– Question: Why is the future tense used in "ויקחו" and the infinitive
used in "לעלות"?

Answer: "ויקחו" refers to the bringing of the שמן (oil) which
represents potential. "לעלות", on the other hand, refers to the lighting of the
oil, which exemplifies fulfillment. The main job of a Rebbe, alluded to in the
infinitive, is to bring the child’s potential to fulfillment. In order to
accomplish this, the Rebbe needs to clearly understand the child’s background,
abilities and personality.

Weaker Students

"את בני ישראל"
– The word "את" comes to include weak students; they too deserve to be educated
and given a chance to grow in avodas Hashem.

The posuk concludes, "לעלות
נר תמיד"
in the singular, for although on the individual level one child may
be weaker than another, on the community level, each one’s contribution is vital
and helps to form the shape and the future of the community. The necessity of
even the weak individual’s contribution is reflected by the words of the Tanah
in Avos (4:1), "איזהו חכם-הלומד מכל אדם" – "Who is a wise person? One
who learns from every man."
Each individual adds to the collective
– wisdom – of the whole and as such, each person merits to have a
part in the accomplishments of the whole.

Avoiding Distractions

"לעלות נר"
The Menorah, representing Torah learning, was lit in the evening, as the posuk
says, "מערב עד בוקר" (Shemos 27:21). Is there significance to the time of
the lighting? Yes! The evening is a time when the activities of the day have
subsided and one is free to pursue learning without distraction. This is the
idea stated in the Yalkut Shimoni (Melachim I: 176) which says that
"Jewish people are compared to stars, for just as stars only rule at night, so
too, the Jewish people can only rule over Torah at night", for nighttime is void
of distractions and one can concentrate on his learning.

The classroom should be set up to allow for a minimum number
of distractions. It should be organized, with assigned seats and shelves for all
the students. Windows should be above eye level of the students and the door
should be closed at the time of the lesson. The tables should be clean, free of
writing, scratch marks and stains, and the room as a whole should be clean.
There should be proper fluorescent lighting which reaches above every child’s
table. The students’ books should not be covered with attractive pictures or
logos and he should have all the writing utensils he needs in a handy
pencil-case. It goes without saying that a child should not go to school without
all the books and materials he needs for all his classes. Otherwise, he will
spend a great deal of time searching for an "unused" book, borrowing a pencil,
etc. The teacher should make sure that during the lesson the child has his
finger on the place and is giving his full attention to the subject matter. The
teacher should avoid discussing matters which interrupt the flow of the lesson,
for two reasons: (1) not to distract the child, and (2) not to make if appear as
though extraneous topics have the same value as Torah learning.

The children’s behavior during the school breaks should also
be scrutinized. They should not be allowed to play something that will remain in
their minds when they return to class. Hobbies should not be allowed to be
brought to school for they will quickly lower the learning to a secondary

In conclusion, in order to prevent a child from being
distracted during the lesson, both his personal belongings and the classroom
should be neat and organized and no extraneous influences should be allowed to
penetrate the classroom.

To be continued.