"And these are the laws (Mishpatim) which you shall set before them" (Exodus 21:1)

With the expression "set before them" (rather than "teach them") G‑d emphasized that Moses should not merely teach the Torah's laws to the people once, in cursory fashion. The great teacher was to be devoted to his pupils; he was to rehearse the laws again and again until the people became thoroughly familiar with them, as one sets a table before a person about to eat.1

The Talmud relates that the great sage Rav once came upon Rabbi Shmuel Bar Shilat standing in his garden. Rabbi Shmuel was a teacher of young children. Rav took him to task for leaving his young students and going to look at his garden. Rabbi Shmuel replied that he had not seen his garden in thirteen years, and that even now, while in the garden, his mind was still on his pupils!2

Rabbi Shmuel Bar Shilat was one of the Amoraim — those outstanding scholars and teachers of our people. His walk in the garden was for no idle purpose; it was part of his perfect fulfillment of the command to "Know Him (G‑d) in all your ways,"3 to serve the Al-mighty not merely through one's prayer and study but also through one's eating, drinking and mundane activities (by elevating and refining them, and devoting them to a higher purpose).

Nevertheless, there was a complaint against Rabbi Shmuel for "deserting" his pupils — a complaint which he could refute only by showing that he was keeping his mind on the children. And all this even though his departure was part of his spiritual service, and even though it only occurred once in thirteen years!

The narrative of Rav and Rabbi Shmuel Bar Shilat contains a powerful message about the intense devotion to one's students that is required of teachers, be they teachers of elementary or advanced students, university or kindergarten teachers.4