A knowledgeable young man with good pedagogical skills once asked to be accepted as a teacher in a Torah school. The principal was impressed by his resume, but after meeting him, declined to offer him employment.

Surprised, the younger man asked why he was not being accepted.

“Quite obviously, you have studied a lot and mastered much information. You are also a good communicator,” the principal replied. “But, there is one difficulty. Forgive me for saying so, but it appears that your faith in G‑d and your fear of Him are somewhat lacking.”

The applicant did not attempt to disagree. He knew that the principal was speaking the truth. But he still wanted the job. So he contended: “Listen. What difference do my beliefs make? I understand your standards and will stick to the curriculum. I’ll teach them exactly what you want them to learn.”

“No,” the principal responded. “Children learn by example. You’ll produce students exactly like you. They will know what the Torah demands of them, but will lack the desire and inspiration to commit themselves to it.”

Parshas Emor

This week’s Torah reading begins with the verse: “Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and tell them.” Our Sages associate this command with the obligation of chinuch, the education of children, commenting: [It is written:] “Say” and [it is written,] “tell them.” [Why the redundancy in the same verse?] To adjure the adults concerning the children.

Lihazhir, the Hebrew word translated as “to adjure,” shares the same root as the word zohar, meaning “radiance.” This teaches a fundamental lesson with regard to education; it must be characterized by radiant light. In general, there are two ways to persuade children to reject undesirable behavior: to emphasize how base it is, or to show the positive alternative. Lihazhir underscores the importance of spreading light, for “a little light dispels much darkness,” and by shining light, one will kindle the inner light which every person possesses.

Simply put, when a child appreciates light and warmth within Judaism, he is attracted and will want to internalize it within himself. A smile, a glint in an eye, something which indicates that this is the path to true and genuine satisfaction and meaningful joy: these are the motivators that will be effective in encouraging Jewish practice and involvement. If they are lacking, even when the child understands that it is correct and proper for him to identify and practice Jewishly, it is going to hard for him to persevere and do so. Even as adults, we have difficulty overcoming our desires for immediate gratification. Can we expect more from a child? Instead, positive rewarding experience has to be an integral part of education and educators should beam forth the kind of energy and vitality that invites a student to make Judaism part of their lives.

This approach gives us a new definition of who a Jewish educator must be. He is not merely a reservoir of information. He is a person whose Torah knowledge has been internalized to the point where it has shaped his character and invigorated him with joy, direction, and purpose. When a person sees such an individual, he is anxious to learn from him and seeks out the opportunity to do so.

Perhaps this is the implication that the command to educate is derived from a command regard a person’s own service. Education should not be looked at as an additional obligation beyond one’s own Divine service — another task to be accomplished — but rather as a natural outgrowth of that service.

When a person has studied to the point that the Torah has become part of his inner being, its G‑dly power will fill him with life and light. He will then naturally become a teacher, for others will watch him and seek to emulate his way of life.

Looking to the Horizon

The prophet teaches us that in the Ultimate Future, this approach to Torah will be an integral part of all men. G‑d promises: “I will place My Torah within them and I will write it upon their hearts.... They will no longer teach — each man his fellow, and each man his brother — saying ‘Know G‑d,’ for all will know Me.” The Torah will not be seen as a body of knowledge, containing laws and concepts, but a medium opening our hearts to the awareness of G‑d.

The best catalyst to hasten the oncoming of that era is to begin conducting ourselves in that manner at present. True, then the awareness of the Torah’s G‑dliness will be visceral, while today it is merely intellectual. Nevertheless, our minds control our feelings and we can identify with the Torah to the extent that we can feel a foretaste of that future truth in our conduct at present. When we internalize the message of this prophecy in our lives, as a natural consequence, this approach will spread to others. This natural process of diffusion of light will hasten the time when it will blossom into fulfillment.