A pedagogical rule - Mishpatim

Thursday, 11 February, 2021 - 8:01 am

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When I studied this week’s Parashah Mishpatim, something very interesting caught my eye.

After reading last week about the Giving of the Torah, we now start learning various laws and commandments. Before starting, G-d tells Moses: “And these are the laws that you shall put in front of them” (Exodus 21:1). What does it mean to put the laws in front of them? The commentator Rashi explains that this is a pedagogical mandate. Moses should transmit the law to the Jewish people in the same manner that he would dress a table for them, ready for the meal. He should not be content to teach the Law and repeat it 2-3 times until the Jews knew it well and could observe it. He should devote time to also teach them the explanations and reasons for keeping these laws. As a rule, we keep all the laws because this is G-d’s will and by doing it, we unite with Him. But there are also specific reasons for each law.

As a student to become a teacher, in this last year of my studies, I teach several hours a week as part of my practice. I teach (currently though Zoom…) 4th and 5th grade. Yesterday actually, I had my teacher watch a class that I taught. (Thank G-d, it went well. Thanks for asking).

Rashi’s explanation about this pedagogical principle, fits exactly with the teaching of modern education, even though it precedes it by hundreds of years. Having the children understand the class and being able to repeat it is not enough, we need to study with them until they understand its essence.

If we think about it, why is there a need to understand the laws? The laws need to be observed. Does it make a difference if, when lighting the Shabbat candles or putting on Tefilin, we understand what we are doing?

Our actions, as ourselves, have both a “body” and a “soul”. The technical action, the “body”, does not change if we know the explanation of the action or not. We only need to know what we have to do. But the “soul” of the action, that is the feelings and the thoughts that accompany the action, are not the same. If we study the explanation of the specific action, we will do it more happily. In order to have the perfect action, we need both the “soul” and the “body”, the action and the feeling.

Since I am a teacher, today, I will give you homework 😊. Think about various actions we do as Jews, in our everyday life, during the cycle of the year or the cycle of life. Which Mitsvah do you observe but do not know its reason? Choose a Mitzvah and look for information about its explanation, reason, and symbolism. I am sure you will find it interesting and that it will help you observe it with more “soul” and enthusiasm. I’ll be glad to hear from you about which Mitzvah you chose.

A good starting point for your research can be here...

Shabbat Shalom,


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