How to learn … so our children will too


Rabbi Nochum Mangel

Chabad of Greater Dayton

Our tradition tells us that when God came to give the Torah to the Jewish people, He first wanted a guarantee that this great treasure would be valued and followed.

But no matter what we offered as a guarantee — our ancestors, our elders, our sages — it was not accepted.

Only when we offered our children as guarantors was it accepted, the deal closed and the Torah given, marking the first Shavuot.

This tradition is well known. Rabbis tend to tell it often enough. Let us focus for a moment now on its deeper message.

One needs to reflect for just a few moments to begin to realize that God is a very good bargainer.

The deal was that the children would learn Torah. Fine. That seems to leave the adults off the hook. Until one realizes — who is going to teach the children?

A teacher, of course, needs to know more about the subject than the student. So in order for the children to be able to learn, the adults would have to learn too, and learn well enough to teach.

Now teaching Torah is not like teaching geometry. One doesn’t need to be a triangle to teach the Pythagorean theorem.

But if one teaches Torah, one needs to be a living example of what the Torah is all about.

For the purpose of the Torah is to change the nature of this world. Through it, we learn how to love our neighbors. We learn the parameters of doing business properly, relating well to our parents and spouses, how to relate to spirituality.

In short, Torah gives us a blueprint for constructing ourselves and the world around us to reflect God’s good intent in Creation.

And the point of a blueprint is not to meditate on the plans and achieve enlightenment, but to turn the idea and the vision that inspired the plans into a living reality.

And since the Torah is given to everyone, including the children, it must not be taught only by specialists.

Its teachers must be living examples who mean something special to the young students.

And that means parents: “veshinantam livanecha — you shall teach them to your children.”

So God’s terms mean that we all must learn, both parents and children.

When children see that their parents take Judaism seriously enough to study it regularly, that parents take the moral guiding of their lives at least as seriously as their professions, the children will notice.

And if the opposite is true, if we let teaching and studying Torah be the occupation of a few specialists, the children will notice that too, and it will be something distant from their lives as well.

So the bargain is a tough one, but a good one. We need to be an example for our children — the very best kinds of teachers.

Even if we cannot teach them specific topics, the very fact that they see their parents taking the study of Torah seriously will inspire them to take it seriously as well.

And then we can hope and even expect — as good parents do — that their children’s accomplishments will exceed our own.

And we can apply this lesson even more broadly. The children are not only those who are young in age, but also those who may never have been able or never chose to learn Torah before.

The Torah is given to them and because of them, we as a community are obligated to be their teachers.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, taught that even if you only know alef and bet, there are many people who only know alef, and you can and must teach them.

We all have a role to play — every one of us — in seeing that all our children are guarantors of the Torah.

And as we learn and teach the children in our community and help those in others as well, we know what pleasure we are giving the One who gives us the Torah and wants nothing more than that the gift be treasured, used well, and passed on.

© 2005 Nochum Mangel
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