Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

April 14, 2011

Students, Teachers and Learning – A Passover Thought

Filed under: Articles and Resources,Uncategorized — by Life's Toolbox @ 2:34 am
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This past weekend we had the pleasure of having two of our sons with us – one is abroad.  And we will have none of them with us at the Passover Seder this year.  They will all be doing what they’re supposed to be doing, just not with us.  This empty table phenomenon, along with a recent request to speak about the role of children in the Passover seder prompted me to reflect.   

It is commonly understood that the essential task of the Pesach seder is education.  We fill the evening with mysterious symbols and practices to engage the children and actually provoke them to question us.   So is the role of children to be the focus of and recipients of our education about the events of Passover and our shared ancestral history?  Is our job on Pesach to educate and transform our children?  Or is it possible that the focus of the education of Passover is not our children, but ourselves.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, in his wonderful book on parenting, Planting and Building , writes about  parents’ responsibility to say prayers, particularly the grace after meals,  out loud.  His comments make it clear that this practice is NOT JUST for the child.

“We must say Birkas HaMazon  (Grace after meals) out loud, deliberately and thoughtfully.  We must do this for ourselves and we must do this for our children.  Such behavior plants emunah  (faith) in the child long before the child can comprehend sophisticated discourses on issues of faith . . . A child is a constant reminder to parents that they must behave properly, as agents who have been entrusted with a valuable deposit that must be protected.”    page 52

Making a similar point, commenting  on the writing in the Sayings of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot):

“ Rabbi Elazar Ben Shammua said, let the honor of your student be as dear to you as your own, and the honor of your student as dear as the honor of your teacher, and the honor of your teacher as dear to you as the honor of the teacher of the Heaven.”

 Bunim writes  “for the alert educator, teaching is never one-sided.  In preparing his lectures, articulating his thoughts . . .  he invariably broadens his understanding and stretches his mental horizons.”    Bunim further considers a commentary on the Oral Law – that just as the Torah is a tree of life and a smaller piece of wood can set fire to a piece of wood as large as a tree, so too a young learner can spark and stimulate an elder’s mind.

It seems clear that the act of teaching influences teacher as well as student.  But is there anything unique about our teaching on Passover night?

In the Talei Oros Haggadah, Rav Meir, the son of Rabbi Levi Yitchak  of Berditchev refers to the comment of The  Ohr HaChaim,  on the passage in Exodus:  “And it shall be when your son will ask you at some future time, what is this” (Exodus 13:14).  This is read as saying that there is a commandment or  mitzvah to tell our children about the miraculous exodus from Egypt at any time of year, whenever they ask.    But on Passover night, the mitzvah is to tell them even if they do not ask. 

Sometimes we teach because we are asked to, and in those cases we are focused on the needs of our students.  On Passover night,  when Jews are required to experience the exodus from Egypt as if we, ourselves were there, we do not wait for questions.  We do not depend on learners.  We teach – for our own sake.

So although I will be at this year’s Passover  table without my children physically present, I will, be thinking them, and about how much I have learned, and hope to continue learning, from teaching my children and students.

Whatever holiday you are celebrating this season, may you be blessed with opportunities to learn from the children and students in your life.

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