7 January 2011
2 Shevat 5771
We returned from winter break this week to the somewhat confusing disjunction between our Jewish holiday cycle and our annual Torah reading cycle. While it is the heart of winter and just the second day of the month of Shevat, tomorrow we will continue our reading of the Exodus story as we move through the opening Torah portions of the Book of Shemot (Exodus). Embedded in the beginning lines of this week’s Torah portion and throughout much of Parshat Bo are both a theory of Jewish identity development and a philosophy of education.
God tells Moshe that He hardened Pharoah’s heart “l’ma’an shiti ototai eileh b’kirbo u’l’ma’an t’saper b’oznei vincha uven-bincha et asher hitalalti b’Mitzrain v’et ototai asher samti bam vidatem ki ani Hashem – in order that I may display My signs among them, and that you may tell your children and your children’s children about all I have done to Egypt and about My signs among them, in order that you may know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10:1-2)
The order of God’s explanation indicates that it is not through direct experience of God alone that we know and understand God; rather, it is through the telling of our story that we know, understand, and truly appreciate the role God has played in our People’s story and the presence of God in our own lives. Our theology and faith are intimately linked to our story and our storytelling. We tell our stories to the next generation not only to fulfill our obligation to them and the Jewish future, but also as an instrument for forming our own Jewish identities and as a foundation for our own relationship with God.
This also teaches us something else about how people learn that is counterintuitive for a more traditional approach to education: students learn best when they become the teachers, the storytellers. According to the Torah, this is how we come to know God, and this is how we learn. “First you will experience Me, then you will tell your future generations about Me, and then you will really understand Me.” This has significant implications for teaching.. In the words of the scholar of education Deborah Meier, “Teaching is listening, learning is talking (or telling).” This belief about education drives Gann’s approach to teaching, learning, and Jewish identity development, both in and out of the classroom.
As we prepare for the end of the first semester, may our students not only review and recall all they have learned and experienced, but may they also find ways to retell what they have learned and to become each others’ teachers and our teachers in the process.
Rabbi Marc Baker