As we noted in our last column, each of the first two paragraphs of Shema includes a verse commanding us to teach Torah to children.
The first contains “v’shinantam… – you shall teach [Torah] thoroughly to your children and you shall speak about them” (Devarim 6:7), which our Sages say refers to teaching Torah to students in general. And the second contains “v’limadtem… – you shall teach them to your children to speak about them” (ibid. 11:19), which our Sages say refers to teaching Torah to our own children, or at least ensuring they get a Torah education.
This second verse, which appears in this week’s parshah, continues: “to speak about them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the road, and when you lie down and when you rise.” These words are usually interpreted to mean that we must study Torah and read Shema twice daily. Yet, there is a Torah rule that “no Scriptural verse departs from its simple meaning” (Shabbos 63a). In other words, in addition to our Sages’ deeper interpretations, a verse’s literal interpretation is also true (unless the context makes it clear that a literal interpretation is impossible). Thus, this verse teaches us the vital importance of immersing ourselves in Torah education.
The fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom DovBer (the Rebbe Rashab, 1860-1920), once announced at a gathering, “Just as putting on tefillin daily is a Torah obligation for every Jew, regardless of whether he’s a great Torah scholar or a simple person, it is an absolute obligation for every Jew to devote half an hour every day to thinking about the Jewish education of children and to do everything in his power – and even more than his power – to ensure that children follow the [Torah] path on which they are being guided.”
As urgent as this call was at the beginning of the 20th century, it is even more urgent in this era when Jewish communities are more exposed than ever to the influences of the secular world. Thus, based on the above-mentioned verse in Shema, the Rebbe of our generation said that we can no longer suffice thinking about children’s education for half an hour. Today, he said, we need to think about it all the time – when we sit at home and when we walk around busy with other important affairs.
Even, said the Rebbe, when we arrive home exhausted after a day’s work and prepare to lie down for our night’s rest, our cheshbon hanefesh (our nightly reckoning of our day) should include the state and future of our children’s education. And as soon as we get up in the morning, our first thoughts should be about their education, too.
A Torah education isn’t just about attaining knowledge or learning skills. It includes developing a relationship with Hashem based on yiras shamayim and ahavas Hashem, both of which must be grounded in belief and faith in His power to help us and answer our prayers.
Also essential are middos tovos. The Torah teaches us how to act and speak at all times and even how to control our thoughts. Torah comprises a comprehensive way and view of life, molding our attitudes with ethical and commonsensical approaches to all of life’s vicissitudes.
Naturally, some Jews absorb the lessons of a Jewish education more than others, but all of us have benefitted to some extent from the Torah education we receive. And we must ensure that the next generation receives the benefits of a Torah education as well.
As we prepare for the new school semester, we thank Hashem for past successes and pray that our efforts continue to succeed in the future.
(Based on teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)