Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
June 25th 2015 -Volume 5, Issue 33 8th Tamuz 5775
Old School/New Tricks
(This Weeks Insight was written about 9 years ago, although it’s message is just as timely if not even more so. I have added the epilogue to it though which is interesting and perhaps telling as well. Make of it what you want- It was a busy week touring this week so once in a while I can recycle tooJ)
I never liked school. Too be honest, I don’t they think liked me much either. They certainly never told me so and I was anything but the model student. The impressions I had of the educational systems only got more re-enforced as I got older. Didn’t like High School, didn’t like college much either. But I passed and finished and even did quite well (3.9 GPA thank you very much) hating it the whole time. Don’t get me wrong I made many friends, had lots of fun and all of my schooling was in private schools venue which had great facilities. No it wasn’t the environment. It was the teachers, the classes, the lessons, the tests and most of all the endless amount of tiresome, boring homework. It was us against them and they usually won. So to get back I became a teacher.
Now I certainly never really took a job in a “traditional” teaching environment. Kinda like a soldier who doesn’t wanna go back to the war zone anymore. Also I didn’t really believe that the whole system could be changed. So why bother? Anyways that is the way I assumed school had to be. You go, you hate it, finally finish and then send your kids and hope you never have to go back. Sort of like a dentist, except for 15 years and without the benefit of Novocain.
So I became an outreach Rabbi, studying with adults and college students who actually wanted to be there. With individuals who had chosen to re-explore their Jewish roots. This was despite the negative experience that an overwhelmingly amount of them described their Hebrew, Sunday and even Jewish Day School experience had been. I mean think about it, most of the synagogues offer these learning opportunities after a full day of school, or on days off so already you're starting with some resentment from the average, fun loving adolescent. And quite frankly the role of the educator is to cram as much information into those limited time frames as possible. It’s not to make it fun. This would never be a good way to motivate a client in business and its not one that has proven to be successful in inspiring and motivating children to love learning as well; despite the hollow forced speeches they are trained to make by their graduation ceremonies
But we keep doing it. Maybe because it worked in the old days, maybe because we can’t come up with a better system, or maybe because we are just to scared of change from doing things the way it's always been done. What is the Torah’s perspective on teaching? Is there a traditional approach, is there precedent for change? Let’s take a look at this week's Parsha, at certainly our greatest Teacher and take some tips… or maybe not.
One thing that is beautiful about the Torah, that makes it unique among historical and religious texts of all societies, is that our leaders and great men and women are never whitewashed. We are always presented with their failings, shortfalls, mistakes and even sins. Many times the literal reading may even be significantly harsher than the Talmud and Midrash actually suggest it may have been. In this weeks portion we read about what is certainly considered the greatest mistake of Moshe's career. In fact this seemingly rather minor error that he makes becomes the reason why he is told that he will not be able to fulfill his life-long dream and the culmination of his journey. He will die in the desert and never step foot in the Holy Land .
For many of us I’m sure this has been a difficult portion to understand. Particularly because the Torah is not explicitly clear about the offense. We are told that the Jewish people are complaining once again. This time about lack of water (lesson 1: when your teaching Jews always make sure there is enough food, a little something to drink never hurt as well). God’s command to Moshe and Aharon is to take the staff and speak to the rock, which will miraculously produce the water. This solution should sound familiar as about 40 years earlier in the beginning of their wandering during the last water crisis, Hashem had told Moshe to produce water from the rock too. However that time it was through striking of the rock. Moshe this time strikes the rock as well, producing water and rebuking the Jewish people quite harshly. For that act God calls out
“Because you did not believe in me to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel therefore you will not bring this congregation to the land I have given them.”
The verse and harshness of the punishment seems hard to understand. Does it really make a difference if he performed the miracle through hitting or speaking to the rock? Why is this considered a lack of faith in Hashem, and why are the consequences so severe? After all this was really Moshe’s lifelong dream.
The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni answers the question with the following parable: When a teacher is teaching young students, he may sometimes be justified in using corporal punishment. However, with older students, this is never appropriate. So, too, Hashem said to Moshe:
"When the stone was young, you were right to hit it, but now the stone is older and you should have talked to it.”
What the Medrash and other commentaries seem to be suggesting is that God was trying to send a lesson to the Jewish Nation. In their earlier younger days perhaps the only way they could understand or relate to God was through the recognition of his power and his force. But ultimately as this great nation is standing at the entrance gates to their next level of growth, the settlement and conquering of the Holy Land, they were meant to be taught and understand that God can be recognized through a more positive motivation; Through the power of the words of Moshe, the power of inspiration and prayer, the power of love. Moshe, a teacher of the old school couldn’t lead this people in to the land of Israel. Perhaps as a result of his humility, perhaps as a result, as the verse suggests, of his lack of faith that the word of God alone would be sufficient to inspire this stubborn and un-motivated people he has been bearing for so long. Regardless, it couldn’t be he that would bring them in and be their teacher any longer. It would take someone else that could and would raise them to a higher level. The people needed a different system of learning.
Truth be told, although as I told you I did not have much faith (or even hope) in the educational systems of today my opinion has been dramatically changed. Even a hardened Rabbi can change his mind. The reason for this has been because I have been privileged to have my children attend a new school that has dramatically changed the mold.(THIS WAS 8 YEARS AGO WHEN THE SCHWARTZES STILL LIVED IN AMERICA) My son, as well as most of the children in this brand new school, actually enjoy school. They come home and ask to learn and review the exciting things they have learnt. They beg their teachers for more advanced studies (he as well as many others in his 3rd grade class are already up to a fifth grade level. And no they are not geeks or super smart. They are just as rambunctious as I was…O.K…. maybe not that much).And perhaps most importantly they are visibly developing a love for learning and for personal growth in all areas. Now I’m sure your thinking well how do I sign up? What’s the catch? What’s the secret?
The secret is they have thought out of the box. They have focused on the most negative aspects of education and done away with them. There is no homework in this school, although kids regularly ask their parents to learn with them. There are no tests or report cards even. Instead the kids and their parents receive various personalized assessments according to their level that focuses on each child’s personal strengths and weaknesses and their learning needs. The primary focus of the school and its staff is to make the learning in any subject fun, interesting and challenging. The kids become partners in their education rather than captive prisoners or patients being force-fed their rations and doctor’s prescription. Is this different? Yes. But perhaps it's time to think about doing things different. We are parenting differently, our business models are being done differently, maybe it's time we focused more on inspiring the next generation rather than indoctrinating them.
The wisest of all men King Solomon advises "Chanoch L'naar Al Pi Darcho Gam Ki Yazkin Lo Yosur Mimeno -Educate a child according to his way; even when he is old he will not turn from it.” The Torah Day School of our community lives and inspires by that model. It is my hope that they continue to flourish as they raise our most precious jewels to greater and greater heights in their love and dedication to the sanctification of God’s name and the love for learning. Thank you for an incredible year.
EPILOGUE- At the time I wrote this E-Mail there was a tremendous amount of backlash from the old school in the community we lived in as well as from other community members. I think I even had to write some type of apology. Which is really not a big deal for me. One of the lessons I learned in school that my teachers didn’t teach me but I figured out for myself was that it’s easier to apologize than to ask permission. My kids really had a great experience in that school. They tinkered and played with a lot of the initial ideas a bit adding some tests some homework. The principal was under a lot of pressure and in the end, after we moved he left the school. The school has gone through some more metamorphosis over the years from what I understand and they have had quite a few administrative changes as well. It’s not the same. It’s not the ideal that they had planned it to be. Although many of the original principles it was founded on are still there. I still liked the original plan. But change is not something that happens radically. Who knows maybe when Mashiach comes-hopefully soon- he can help us create a better system. Our teachers and Principals are all working hard and are underpaid and do their hardest to insure our children have the best education and the love for Torah and knowledge as is possible within the standardized systems we have. They deserve all the credit and appreciation we can give them. But as every Jewish parent knows when it comes to our kids… We can always…we need to always do better.
Have a spectacular Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
Why Moses hit the Rock- sort of funny at the end but cute
In honor of the Red Heifer in this weeks Parsha check out this one born recently near Lakewood
Beautiful new song by a young man with quite a nice voice Hu Shayashiv
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
While in the states I picked up a great book with yiidsh quotes and wisdom and I have always wanted to teach my kids Yiddish so here we go each week another great proverb in yiddish maybe you guys will learn it too!!
“A yung baimeleh baigt zikh; an alter brecht zikh.”- A young tree bends an old one breaks*
(How do you understand the depth of this one-discuss…)
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S FAVORITE QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“We spend the first twelve months of our children's lives teaching them to walk and talk, and the next twelve years telling them to sit down and shut up."— Phyllis Diller
"Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school."— John Dryden,
"Education: the inculcation of the incomprehensible into the indifferent by the incompetent."— John Maynard Keynes
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
(New exam this week these questions are from the most recent tour guide exam-let’s see how I do)
answer below at end of Email
The “matmon” hidden find of Nachal Mishmar contained mostly vessels made of
.RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL MIDRASH OF THE WEEK
The Midrash mentions a parable to explain why The Mitzva of the Red Heifer mentioned in this weeks Torah portion is taken with female cow as opposed to most other offerings that call for a Bull. The Midrash says the story of a young boy who was the maid in the palace’s son who made a mess in the palace. The King cried out “ where is the mother of this boy let her come clean up the mess of her son. Similarly the Jews sinned with the golden calf So Hashem told the “Mother” cow to come rectify that sin. Besides the obvious important message that Mothers should clean up and not fathers that is implicit in this Midrash J Reb Eliezer Hakalir the great poet composed a whole poem on the connections between the sin of the calf and the Red Heifer. I just list some of the more fascinating ones (you can see the rest on the Poem recited in many synagogues Before the month of Nisan when we read this Parsha.
By exchanging Hashems Glory for a calf the Jews forfeited atonement let it’s mother serve as atonement
Their faces reddened. Let them be granted atonement through its red-faced mother
For the Golden calf’s sake they assembled around a Kohen who thereby incurred heavenly wrath Let its mother be given to a Kohen atoning for the Kohen sin
As the calf’s dust was mixed with water so shall the cows dust be mixed with water.
As three thousand Jews fell so three different species (cedar, hyssop and red wool) shall perish in the fire of the heifer
As the sin of the Golden calf is preserved for all ages so is the water of the heifer.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL THINGS TO DO IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Interact with Jewish Soldiers from a Jewish army – Can’t do that anywhere else in the world. A photo album of your trip to Israel is not complete without a good Chayal or Chayelet Picture. Every Tour guide knows that it is his or her responsibility to make that happen. But the really good tour guides try to do a little more. How about buying some Pizzas for our boys in green or some cold sodas as they put their lives on the line to protect us and our country. Many soldiers are more than happy to speak with Americans and practice their angleesh on you. Tell them how much you appreciate them. Tell them that they are in your prayers ask them for their Hebrew names and put it in your siddur when you go back to the States and have them in mind. This will mean a lot to them and even more to you. But most of all to our Father in Heaven who loves nothing more than when His children are all together.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COW JOKES OF THE WEEK
What does one call a red cow? Either Cowmunist or Cowmrade
The World explained with Cows
Socialism -- If you have 2 cows, you give one to your neighbor.
Communism -- If you have 2 cows, you give them to the government; and the government gives you some milk.
Fascism -- If you have 2 cows, you keep the cows but give the milk to the government, who then sells you the milk at a high price.
Nazism -- If you have 2 cows, the government shoots you and keeps the cows.
New Dealism -- (FDR Version) If you have 2 cows, you shoot one, milk the other one; then pour the milk down the drain.
Capitalism -- (Reaganomics) If you have 2 cows, you sell one and buy a bull; you then sell all the excess milk to the government who in turn ships it to fascist and communist governments.
Anarchism -- If you have 2 cows, your neighbor on your left takes one cow, and the one on the right takes the other; while your backyard neighbor takes the milk, the bucket and the stool.
Utopianism -- If you have 2 cows, Mother Nature zaps the cows, turning their udders into eternal milk-shake dispensers.
Radical Feminism -- If you have 2 cows, you declare an amazonian state free of bull oppression and sit around waiting for the cows to procreate on their own.
What does a cow do after writing a book? Has it cowpywrighted
What happens when a cow stops shaving? Grows a Moostache
Who is a cows favorite cowmposer? Some like Mootzart, others like Tchaicowfski
Answer is D: This is one of the questions where either you know it or you don’t know guessing, hints or clues from the question. I didn’t. I remembered the story of the hoard that was found in the 60’s that was connected to the Chalcolithic Temple in Ein Gedi. I remember because it was an annoying few hour hike up the not fun side of Nachal David to see some silly pagan Temple that was like a bunch of rocks in a circle and I promised I would never bring a tourist here to see it. Unless they were really bad tippers J. But what the vessels were made of? I don’t know and don’t really care. I would’ve guessed stone because I just remembered it was the like Stone age time. But…. Rabbi Google told me it was copper which of course made me hit myself on my head because calcolithic is of course the copper era…duhhhh. They still could’ve been trying to trick me but. I should’ve been able to guess better.