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To Study Our Children

To Study Our Children


One of the sacred tasks of parents and teachers is to educate the next generation and to impart to our children the knowledge and values of our Torah. We cannot be content with our own study—we have to teach the young.

This mitzvah is featured in this week’s Torah portion in the words of the Shema which we recite thrice daily: “. . . teach them to your children, to discuss them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise . . .”

What is intriguing is that the great codifier Maimonides, as well as R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his code of Jewish law, present the laws relating to teaching Torah to our children before presenting the laws of studying Torah. It seems quite obvious that one cannot teach before studying. Why would the laws pertaining to teaching a child precede the adult’s requirement to learn?

The power and advantage of a developed, adult, mature mind is magnified by life’s experiences. The theoretical insights that are gleaned are enhanced and embellished by the wealth amassed through the challenges and circumstances of one’s past.

But there is a deficiency and handicap in an adult’s approach to absorbing the words of Torah. So often, objectivity, humility and serenity of spirit are casualties of preconceived ideas. Our entrenched frames of reference capture data into existing files predetermined and predefined. Our life’s experiences have formed calluses on our attitudes and philosophies. We cling to familiar paths formed by habitual past journeys. We evaluate with prejudices and perspectives already firmly formed. We begin to judge by our decisions, rather than decide by our judgments.

How often are we left unmoved by a truth because we are self-consciously aware of the ramifications of accepting such truths? We fit teachings into lifestyles rather than confront the challenge of change. We quote and emphasize to subjectively endorse and support, rather then to aspire and strive for uncharted new heights.

The laws of studying Torah are preceded by the laws of teaching a child, to remind us how to absorb the words of G‑d. So often, objectivity, humility and serenity of spirit are casualties of preconceived ideasThe learning of a young child—so eager, so fresh, so open, so inspired and so unencumbered by baggage—is like “ink written on fresh paper,” teaching us the art of true Torah study.

May our spiritual and intellectual journeys always retain the effervescence, passion and innocence of a child. May we, this Shabbat, find comfort, optimism and belief in a world about to be redeemed, by allowing ourselves to peer through the eyes and hope of a child.

Rabbi Dovid Hazdan is dean of the Torah Academy school in Johannesburg, South Africa, and rabbi of the Great Park Synagogue.
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Anonymous NC via August 2, 2015

What do you do if you feel like you have taught your child from the Torah and by deeds but he as an adult has not responded to those teachings. Do you continue. Reply

Anonymous Toronto July 28, 2015

I completely agree with you. Even crossing the street, or driving a vehicle... should be done with teaching our children safety. And the importance of the precious gift of life. Reply

Anonymous July 28, 2015

I think the key is in the phrase, "Our life's experiences have formed calluses on our attitudes and philosophies." If your mind is grounded and rooted in the scripture from a young age, you will find new, exciting and more knowledgeable ways to study G-d's Word. But if you do not know Torah you will not know that which you study. Reply

Michael Feldman Brooklyn, USA August 4, 2009

Intresting Very interesting article but I question the premise. Our sages state that the Jewish elders become more sure of themselves as they age. In other words is not the age but the stage. Its not how old you are – even a child being taught the wrong premises will eventually need to unlearn them – rather it is the trust in G-d – the reverence for his holy Torah – and the childlike innocence that will help anyone at any time. Reply

Paul Minkevitch Newton, Kansas August 3, 2009

Rabbi Hazan "To study our children" What a beautiful and fresh breath of air,may we enjoy more from this writer. Reply

Pini via July 27, 2007

Beautiful lesson masterfully conveyed I look forward to seeing more articles from Rabbi Hazdan Reply

Anonymous new york, 11213 September 30, 2006

Great article its a very nice article can we have some moreof Rabbi Hazdans articles Reply

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