by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green
Jewish education is an issue which generates much thought and discussion.
Much has been written about the subject. It is/was very common in
traditional circles to start learning Torah with young children with
Leviticus. Consequently, this parsha sparks discussion among the
commentaries about Torah education for children.
The underlying issue, which is clear from the commentaries, is that
children are profoundly impressed by the things that their parents are
passionate about. This applies for both good and for bad. For instance,
what a child sees his parent get upset over, makes a strong impression on
him. If the traffic slows down to the parent's dissatisfaction, and the
parent gets irate and puts everyone's life in danger with the short stops
and fancy maneuvers to get past the offending drivers, the child learns
from that what matters to the parent.
On the other hand, if a child sees that a parent conducts himself with
patience and self-control, then the child will take note of this, and it
will take its place in his subconscious. The child will attribute value to
these character traits.
There is a story about a righteous man who lived in Northern Israel. He
would bring his son to shul (synagogue) at communal prayer times. Another
congregant would do the same. This second congregant would constantly
pester his son to be sure to look in the prayer book, and say all of the
words, whereas the righteous man would sit with his son beside him intently
concentrating on his own prayers. One day the congregant asked the the
righteous man as follows. "Why aren't you educating your child to pray
properly? You just let him sit there in shul and you ignore him. How will
he learn to pray properly?" The righteous man replied, "I am educating my
child to pray. I am accomplishing this by praying the right way, and
setting that example for my son. As he grows he will emulate this example.
You, on the other hand, think you are educating your son correctly by
pestering him incessantly. All you are teaching him to do is ignore his own
prayers. He will in turn pester his own children in the same way."
It's clear that if being Jewish is important to us, and we want it to be
important to our children, we must show them that it's important.
There was once a man who was a mason by trade. He had a son whom he was
sending to study with the local melamed (Torah teacher). The man was behind
in his payments to the melamed, and because of his own poverty the melamed
would be forced to drop this man's son, so he could take on a regularly
paying customer. Unfortunately, there was a shortage of bricks at the time,
and the mason was getting little work done. He had heard that a rich man
was looking for someone who would build a brick oven for him. (The brick
oven was used for both cooking and heating.) This mason then took on the
job. Having no bricks available to him, he set out to carefully dismantle
his own brick oven which he then used to build the customer's oven. The
proceeds were given to the melamed to pay for his son's studies. It was a
very cold winter in the mason's house that year. Nevertheless, the mason's
priorities couldn't be clearer. The impression this act left on his son
stayed with him, and it was the foundation of all that he achieved later on
in his life.
We must always know that we can't live in a vacuum. If we are not giving
the values of Torah and Mitzva observance to our children, than other
values will take their place. There is certainly no shortage of negative
influences in the various forms of popular media. Inevitably, children
emulate these examples, and instead of being raised with the attitudes we
would hope to convey, they emulate popular figures whose lives leave much
to be desired. Is that what we really want?
The Torah has been the educational priority for Jews for literally
thousands of years. It has successfully formed in us a desire for
scholarship and great accomplishment. We are known as the people of the
book. Which book has that saying always referred to? Torah has truly been
an elevating factor for our nation. Let us not relegate it to the past.
Make quality Torah education for children your priority.
Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.