Our Pupils – Our Children
As we advance through the book of Devarim, we are actually learning how our greatest leader, Moshe Rabbenu, summarised the Torah. In this parashah he recalls the episode of our receiving the Ten Commandments at Sinai. Further on, he writes the first of the three paragraphs of the Shema – the epitaph of every Jew’s allegiance to G-d. In it (Va’etchanan 6:7) we are instructed: “veshinantam levanecha”
– “and you shall teach your children.” Our Sages tell us that this verse, in fact, refers to our pupils, i.e. that we should teach our students the mitzvot, values, ethics and the ways of our Torah. This is a “legacy of life.” Our aim and goal should be to educate ourselves and the next generation, in order to ensure that our Torah is learned and upheld.
Why, however, does the Torah write “you should teach your children,” if it is really referring to one’s pupils? Let it simply write “you shall teach your students?”
We may deduce from here a key rule about teacher-student relationships. A teacher of Torah must view his students as if they were his own children. If he does not view them as such, then he cannot act as their teacher in the true sense. In practice this means, that just as a father has mercy and cares for his child, so a teacher must have mercy and care for his pupil. When this rapport is achieved, the pupil will be able to accept from his teacher. The more the student feels that his teacher relates to him as a father would to his child, the more
he will be able to accept, understand and retain the Torah that he is passing on to him. Moreover, just as a child will more readily accept rebuke from his parent because he knows it is rooted in his love for him, so too, a pupil who feels a relationship of love will internalize his teacher’s reproach. Thus, he will come to grow and climb, and become a link in the chain of our eternal inheritance, the Torah.
Additionally, just as a child remains the responsibility of his father, so too, a pupil always remains his teacher’s responsibility. For these reasons the Torah chooses no other description of a student, other than “your child.”
The teachers that treated me “like their child” made so much more of an impression on me than those who were just “in the job” to pass on information. The Torah is not just information, and in order for one to connect to its spirituality, it must be given over with fatherly emotions.
The definition of a child is the combination of the physical, biological connection that it has to its parents, and the physical and spiritual nurturing that it receives from them. A child is a receptacle to observe their parent’s example and to learn from them. For this reason, a pupil can also fit into this category. Therefore, our Sages tell us, that anybody who teaches his friend’s son Torah is as though he bore him. He becomes a father, and the pupil, his child. Just as a biological father contributes to a child’s physical capabilities, so, one who teaches Torah bequeaths his student the spiritual capabilities necessary to acquire eternal life. For this reason, we are termed “the children of G-d,” as we learn His Torah and emulate His ways. [Just as He is kind, merciful and generous, so we must endeavour to be.]
In life, we are often confronted with opportunities to teach. Let us understand that our pupils are also our children, and do our utmost to constantly give them what they need, whatever the situation.