Love: The Key to Education

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A teacher described a most significant episode which occurred early in her teaching career:

When one morning I reached the school I was surprised to see a youngster waiting near the door.

“It’s locked,” he said, as I tried the knob. I began to fumble for my keys. Immediately he exclaimed with both surprise and delight, “You’re a teacher!”

“What makes you think that?” I asked, amused, and not a little pleased to think that my station in life should be regarded with such delight.

He hesitated not a moment, but said softly with respect, “You have the key.” I was promptly humbled as well as overwhelmed at the magnitude of that simple statement, of the implication and the responsibility involved by merely having a “key.” This was perhaps the most significant statement directed towards me in my entire teaching career. It remained with me forever.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik taught that “teaching involves more than the transmission of knowledge and understanding. It requires empathy between teacher and student, and a sharing of feelings, thoughts and motives. There is an interaction of personalities, an exchange of values and insights.” To teach is to know how to unlock not only the mind, but the heart, feeling and interest of every student, as well. There is no master key. “What we require is the warm embrace as much as the brilliant idea; sympathetic understanding, true befriending, and a human reaching out: a suggestion that we care; the teaching role is inadequate.” We need the key.

Is there a standardized lesson plan from which we can derive instruction as to how to transmit more than just dry knowledge and information to students? Listen to The Master Teacher Himself, G-d, teaching a lesson to his star pupil, Moshe. The lesson’s goal was to convey the specifics of charity – terumah, needed for erecting G-d’s sanctuary. The lesson begins with general instructions to “Speak to the children of Israel, that they may take unto Me an offering,” and moves on to details of implementation. The terumah, Moshe is told, may be offered from gold, silver, copper, skins, wood, oils and stones. But the Teacher is not satisfied to merely communicate dry facts and information. G-d supplements the basic instructions with feeling and emotion: Veasu li mikdash veshachanti betocham – “and let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” A lesson in the art of teaching.

The Kotzker notes that G-d does not implore that He will dwell in his midst, but rather “in their midst.”

Every individual must have ample room and easy access within his very being for G-d to enter and remain as a permanent resident [betocham mamash]. The lesson is not about facts and figures of charity. It is a lesson in character development. Ultimately, all good and effective teaching ought to arouse pleasant feelings and responses.

G-d carefully instructs that the Mikdash be constructed li – “for Me.” But, of course! What other reason might there be in constructing a Mikdash if not in the sharing of G-d’s spirit and knowledge? Rashi comments: “Let them make to the glory of My name a place of holiness.” Success in imparting Torah knowledge can only measured by the ultimate affect the learning has on the total being of the student. If a student’s actions, thoughts and responses are Mikdash like, the educational process is successful. That happens when Mechanchim – the educational producers consider the “for Me” aspect of Mikdash as the finished product to be delivered to every student’s heart and emotion. Such a product can only be delivered by a living and caring teacher, not simply by a creative curriculum

The rabbis taught: Anyone who teaches Torah in public and does not make the words
as pleasant to those listening as honey and milk mixed together – it were better that he
not teach the words at all (Shir Hashirim Rabba 4:11)

The Kotzker once asked, “Where is the Mishkan of G-d?” He promptly responded: “Wherever He will be let in.” G-d feels welcome wherever His attributes of kindness, benevolence, forgiveness, and tolerance are part of the daily routine and atmosphere. If not? “An animal is better than a Sage without sensitivity to people’s feelings.” (Seder Eliahu Rabba 6:7)

Producing a Mikdash just as HaShem instructed and anticipated required enormous efforts. The Avot D’Rebi Natan teaches that G-d instilled His Shechina upon Israel only when He was assured of their willingness to work hard and invest maximum melacha. Producing a student just as G-d expects, requires much greater efforts, devotion, imagination and creativity. Building the Mikdash was accompanied by Moshe’s loving guiding hand and spirit, which eased the ever present burden, pressure and anxiety. Teaching a Talmid, we are often left to our own devices, inadequacies, insecurities and prejudices, and with Moshe-less supervision. Yet, we know that G-d does not accept the task “for Me,” unless effort, devotion, and maximum melacha are ever present.

The Aron, considered the permanent abode of Torah knowledge and wisdom, is cited by the Chachamim as existing miraculously, without reliance on a measured and specified site (mekom aron eino min a’mida, veomed b’nes) True, we find students emerging from schools unblemished and untarnished even where little attention if any is placed on love, sensitivity and sympathy; whose focus is primarily on quantity of pages and chapters covered, with little concern for feelings and emotions.

But, should we rely on miracles when it involves our children? When the key is lost, it is almost impossible to replace.

Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as OU Kosher’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.