3 guidelines for teachers and not only - Avot 1:1

Thursday, 14 October, 2021 - 8:11 am

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Is it better to have a few select students or many students from various backgrounds? Do we need to censure the Torah in order to teach it to the masses?

“Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgement. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:1)

What does a safety fence mean? Just as a fence stops us before we get to the edge of the cliff, our Sages added various rules to help us avoid transgressing the laws of the Torah. We can call it “spiritual safety” which is just as important as physical safety. For instance, it is forbidden to write on Shabbat. In order to help us avoid writing something by mistake and desecrate the Holy Shabbat, the Sages forbade moving around a pen without a reason.

This Mishna includes three different guidelines, which are given together because there is a connection between them. They all give us important advice regarding the education of pupils. Naturally, advice for teachers also concerns parents, as well as anyone with some influence on someone else – that is every one of us.

First, we need to remember the responsibility we hold in our hands. Each of our decisions regarding the children needs to be weighted carefully, patiently, and seriously. Since it is so complicated and demanding, maybe it would be best to only have a few students?

The Mishna though continues by telling us we owe to have many students. We cannot leave anyone out. All deserve an education. Quality should not supersede quantity; both are equally important.

Thus, a teacher must have many students. This means that not all students will have the same level of knowledge and they will all come from different backgrounds. Some will keep all the Mitzvot, but others will not understand why it is necessary to do so. Then, maybe it’s best to “censure” some of the Mitzvot? To teach only half-truths?

No. We need to teach the whole Torah without hiding anything. We need to teach even the prohibitions of our Sages, not only the basics. But since we cannot start to keep everything at once, we start slowly-slowly, adding one Mitzvah at a time, one more detail at a time.

Thus, the Mishna teaches us to combine quality with quantity, not limit the number of our students, and educate our children ethically and responsibly.  

Good luck to us!


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