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You shall teach them to your children… (11:19; second paragraph of Keriyat Shema).
In many ways the second paragraph of the Shema: Vehaya im Shamoa, is similar to the first paragraph, Shema Yisrael (6:4), towards the end of the previous Parasha. Both focus on the obligations of loving and serving G-d every day, and on the following other Mitzvot: teaching Torah to one’s children, Tephillin, and Mezuzza.
There are, of course, many differences. The first paragraph focuses on kabbalat ol malchut shamayim – the daily renewed acceptance of G-d’s Authority on ourselves as individuals (Talmud: Berachot 13a). The second includes sechar ve-onesh – Divine Reward and Punishment. This is detailed to promote kabbalat ol mitzvot – our obligation to serve Him by carrying out His Commandments.
The Mitzva of teaching Torah to one’s children is mentioned twice, but expressed differently on each occasion. The first paragraph states ve-shinantam; whereas the second paragraph uses ve-limadetem. What can be learnt from those two different expressions, which appear to express the same thought?
A clue may be found in looking at the two paragraphs in their respective contexts.
The first paragraph is brought after Moses recounts the Ten Commandments, which, according to Saadia Gaon contain the entire 613 Mitzvot in microcosm (quoted by Rashi to Shemot 24:12). When the Israelites received the Torah, and when Moses repeated the Torah to them before his death, they were close to the Torah. The Revelation at Mount Sinai was an experience the older generation actually remembered. However in life, even the most powerful experiences become only of maximum use if we learn from them, we recall them frequently, and we discuss them with others. Thus the use of the word veshinantam – as Rashi explains, means that the Torah must be communicated in such a way that it is ‘sharp’. The Torah experience is passed down intact to the next generation with such accuracy and enthusiasm that it becomes a de facto living experience even for those who did not personally witness Matan Torah.
This is only fully practicable for those who lived historically close to the Revelation. As generations succeeded one another, the impact of Matan Torah began to fade. Indeed, earlier in this Parasha the context is different: the Torah warns us the consequences of what will happen if you forget the Lord your G-d (8:19-20). For, over time, the Torah experience was not ‘sharp’ in the mind and consciousness of the average Israelite, or later, the typical Jew. Just repeating and talking about holy writ was not sufficient by itself recreate the Torah Experience. It required a new process… ve-limadetem – ‘and you shall teach them’. Teaching is not just instruction, but education; involving in depth study, questions, probing texts for the Shivim Panim La-Torah, and – the most difficult task of all – recreating the Torah Experience as if it happened today (Sifri 58). (Indeed Rashi on 11:18 specifies that this section of the Shema applies even following G-d’s expulsion of the Israelites from Eretz Yisrael to the Golah).
The distinction thus made between ve-shinantam and ve-limadetem may be seen to have the following consequences in Torah Education, by the standards and realities of the present generation. Both have their applications, as suggested below.
Some children – especially in Israel - grow up in an all-embracing Torah environment. Their actuality is such that their entire experience is Torah. Their lives virtually never encounter a non-Torah thought – from the moment they get up until the last beracha before falling asleep at night. Their Cheder education, and the circumscribed society in which they mix are designed – as Matan Torah - not to allow a single non-Torah related expression or activity. Teaching such children is indeed in the context of the Torah being a fresh, intensely-lived daily experience. It is something that already has meaning by itself, given their background, and needs to be learnt, repeated, expanded and repeated again. The key word and approach is ve-shinantam.
It goes without saying that today, others grow up and experience Torah in a very different context. This includes mixing in a much wider society even as small children, and non-Torah influences exemplified by those viewed on television make up part of their existence. Such people need a deeper, more probing, and questioning approach for the Torah to have maximum impact. They will have the experience to question Torah teachings in a manner unthinkable to the secluded individuals discussed above. So teaching such children is not in a context of the Torah being lived in all its purity every waking moment, as Matan Torah. Rather, the emphasis is on ve-limadetem – having to teach and re-create the Torah experience to such an extent that they will be committed to Torah values so that ve-shinantam will follow.
As King Solomon writes in Mishlei: Educate a young man according to his way so that when he ages it will not depart from him (Mishlei 22:6).
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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