Home January 2014 Nature or Nurture

Nature or Nurture

“Jews” and “higher education” are synonymous, and it is not a mystery that the “People of the Book” have amassed a grossly disproportionate number of Nobel prizes and other esteemed honors in a variety of artistic and intellectual fields.
Education is central to Jewish life, and the study of Torah is a cardinal principle of the faith.  Knowledge and study are not only a means to religious and ethical behavior but are, in themselves, a mode of worship.  Jewish liturgy reflects the fact that worship finds expression in intellectual, aesthetic and emotional planes in combining prayer with study.
Transmitting Jewish values through learning and practice has several Torah sources.  For example, before the plague of the locusts, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart for two reasons: “In order that I may display my signs among them [the Egyptians]” and “That you [the Jewish people] may recount in the hearing of your sons and of your sons’ sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians.”  While the second reason may seem superfluous, it is entirely appropriate.  Memory is an important dimension of Jewish continuity.  The only way each new generation can remember its past is by hearing and learning about it.  The Or HaHayyim notes that God added “that you may recount” to engrave these miracles permanently in the memories of B’nei Yisroel in order to strengthen their belief in God.  “Recount” suggests “longevity” and indicates that by continually reinforcing events of Jewish history in the minds and hearts of our children, greater impact will be achieved.
Parental study and knowledge are requisite to parental teaching.  It is for this reason that at the end of the statement urging parents to tell their children about God’s miracles in Egypt, the Torah clearly states “So that you [parents] shall know that “I am the Lord.”  One would think that parents would instruct their children so that they (the children) should know God’s greatness.  But 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, “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 the Israelite experience, away from the fleshpots of Egypt, because with the young, the threat of assimilation is greater.  The old were more secure in their beliefs and tradition and, thus, their rescue was less urgent.  Experiencing Jewish life is one of the best ways to teach Judaism and the best antidote to deculturation.   Practical experience provides a greater educational impact that cognitive learning alone.
Moshe instructs B’nei Yisroel, “And you shall tell your child . . . .”  From this statement we learn the basic function of Jewish education.  We lead our children to faithful observance of God’s Law by personal example and by explaining the way we observe mitzvot without waiting for them to ask.  In the Passover Haggadah, when the child will ask the father, “Mah zot (what are those)?” and points to the symbolic foods, the Sages urge parents to take the instructional initiative when it comes to Jewish study!  The question is asked by “the simple son”  and suggests that parents and teachers must be attentive to the questions and needs of all children, even the misbehaving child, the simple child and the child with special needs, who may not be able to even form the question(s).
The Torah offers a wonderful blueprint for chinuc’ (Jewish education) and illustrates that Jewish continuity depends largely on effective Jewish education.  And in order to be effective, Jewish education must involve parents who both learn and take the initiative to teach, and utilize appropriate experiential learning,  adapted to the needs of all types of children.

JANUARY 2014
TEVET-SHEVAT 5774
Candle Lighting Times
and Torah Portions

Friday, January 3
Light candles at 4:37 p.m.
Saturday, January 4
Torah Portion: Bo
(Exodus 10:1-13:16)
Friday, January 10
Light candles at 4:43 p.m.
Saturday, January 11
Torah Portion: Beshalah
(Exodus 13:17-17:16)
Friday, January 17
Light candles at 4:49 p.m.
Saturday, January 18
Torah Portion: Yitro
(Exodus 18:1-20:23)
Friday, January 24
Light candles at 4:56 p.m.
Saturday, January 25
Torah Portion: Mishpatim
(Exodus 21:1-24:18)

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