Photo Credit: Jewish Press

If you want to learn better, become a teacher.

Learning by teaching – or what is sometimes termed “The Protégé Effect” – is an effective strategy. Research shows that when learners take on the role of teacher, they become more motivated and understand the material they wish to learn better.

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In a foundational paper on the topic in the Journal of Educational Psychology, John Bargh and Yaacov Schul outline the mechanisms that can account for this cognitive benefit. One important factor is that when people learn something to teach it, their thinking becomes more organized, they look for relationships between ideas, and they actively think about how best to communicate it to others.

The time had finally come for Bnei Yisrael to be freed from slavery. At this pivotal moment in history, Moshe gathers the people to deliver important commandments related to the rituals they will perform before they are redeemed, as well as future rituals that will commemorate this momentous occasion.

In relaying these commandments, Moshe could have spoken about several directly relevant topics particular to that moment. He could have stressed the evilness of slavery or underscored the responsibilities of freedom. He could have connected the present to the tradition of their ancestors or prepared them for future challenges and tribulations. Instead, though, Moshe spoke about children and education. At that moment, in Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s words, “the Israelites were told that they had to become a nation of educators.”

In what set the stage for the “Four Sons” of the Haggadah, Moshe prepares the Children of Israel for what their children will ask them in the future regarding these commandments: “And when your children say to you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’” (Shemot 12:26), “On that day tell your son…” (Shemot 13:8), “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’” (Shemot 13:14).

The message is critical and explains the “why” of education. Education is an essential pillar of Jewish life. Teaching our children is foundational to freedom. Again, in Rabbi Sacks’s profound words, Moshe “realized that a people achieves immortality not by building temples or mausoleums, but by engraving their values on the hearts of their children, and they on theirs, and so on until the end of time.”

Yet, embedded within the narrative is not just the essential “why” of education, but also a strategy for “how” to be effective learners and educators.

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Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Schiffman is an assistant professor at Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education, the assistant rabbi at Kingsway Jewish Center, and a licensed psychologist practicing in Brooklyn. He can be reached at PsychedForTorah@gmail.com and on social media @psychedfortorah.