Teach Your Children Well

With apologies to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the idea of transmitting Jewish values through learning and practice derives from a variety of sources in the Torah.

Parental study and knowledge are requisite to parental teaching.  It is for this reason that parents are urged to tell their children about God’s miracles in Egypt.  The Torah clearly posits “ve’da’atem” so that you (parents) shall know that “I am the Lord.”  One would think that parents would instruct their children so that they (children) should know God’s greatness.  The reason for “ve’da’atem” is simply that parents must learn first before they impart knowledge to their offspring.

The importance of transmitting Jewish values to the young is reinforced by Moshe’s demand: “Bin oraynu u’vizkaynaynu maylaich” (“With our young and our elders we shall go”).  Why did Moshe mention the young before the old?  The young needed to go more urgently to participate in an Israelite experience away from the excesses of Egypt, because they were endangered by assimilation.  The old were more secure in their tradition and, therefore, their rescue was less urgent.   Clearly, experiencing Jewish life is one of the best ways to teach Judaism.  It is the best antidote to deculturation.  Pedagogic practice that includes consideration of emotional or experiential learning has more impact on students than cognitive learning only.

Thus said, it is only a short jump until every Jew tackles the enormous – and often uncomfortable – topic of “free will.”  This month’s Torah portions visit this theme throughout the various recitations.   In the telling of the Exodus, it is iterated that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that he would not permit B’nai Yisrael to leave Egypt, notwithstanding the terrible plagues that this people endured.  However, this appears to contradict the basic tenet that all human beings are given free will to obey or disobey God’s commandments.  The Mishne Torah discusses at length the centrality of free will in Jewish thought.  Among the points developed by the Rambam are the following: 1. Permission is given to all humans to choose to be righteous or evil; 2. One should not accept the erroneous idea that a person’s behavior is decreed from birth, but every person can be “as righteous as Moshe or as wicked as Jeroboam.” 3. If human behavior were decreed, there would be no point for the prophets to exhort the people to do good, because the exhortations could have no effect; and 4. There would be no justification for God to reward the righteous or to punish the wicked if their actions were pre-ordained.

From the Torah to Your Table

Sometimes Aaron is mentioned before Moshe and sometimes the reverse is true.  According to Rashi, this indicates that they were equals. The Chatam Sofer points out that equating the two does not mean that they were identical, but they, in fact, possessed different skills.  Moshe was unmatched as a prophet, and Aaron was unrivaled as a pursuer of peace.  However, because each was outstanding in his own field, they were equal in status.  Discuss how we should take note of our neighbor’s distinguishing skills and characteristics and how we should look favorably upon him or her using those traits as our standard of measurement.

A Final Thought

Rabbi Yitzchok Meir of Fur said, “There are only two who know whether a man is truly God-fearing: God and his wife.”  (A Touch of Wisdom)

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Candle Lighting Times and Torah Portions – January 2011 (Tevet-Shevat 5771)

Saturday, January 1

Torah Portion: Vaera (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

Friday, January 7

Light candles at 4:41 p.m.

Saturday, January 8

Torah Portion: Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)

Friday, January 14

Light candles at 4:47 p.m.

Saturday, January 15

Torah Portion: Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16)

Friday, January 21

Light candles at 4:53 p.m.

Saturday, January 22

Torah Portion: Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)

Friday, January 28

Light candles at 5 p.m.

Saturday, January 29

Torah Portion: Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

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