Religious Life

Teach Your Children. Teach Your Students – Weekly Words of Torah from Rabbi Davis – August 16, 2019

Shalom Chaverim

This past week, one of my teachers, Rabbi Reuven Hammer, died. Rabbi Hammer was a scholar and one of the founders of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel.

I studied midrash with Rabbi Hammer during my year of rabbinical school year in Jerusalem. So, I’d like to share a midrash in his memory.

We read in this week’s parasha, Vaetchanan, words we know so well from our daily davening. Twice a day in the shema, we say, “v’shinantam l’vanecha. Teach your children.”

On this phrase, the Midrash says, “l’vanecha, elu hatalmidim teach your children,” not just your children but also “your students.” The midrash cites verses to serve as proof text. But the point is that the teacher-student relationship is likened to the parent-child relationship.

Rabbi Hammer explains the historical context. He writes that the midrash reflects the actual relationship of master and disciple in 1-2nd CE. The master was attended to by his disciples who traveled with him, tended to his needs and later transmitted his words and the incidents of his life. In this arrangement, the disciple was obligated to his master as if it were his parent. 

Rabbi Hammer tells us about the duty a student owes his teacher. But the midrash also implies the duty a teacher owes his student. The teacher should show love and affection toward his students like a parent shows a child. The teacher should take as much interest to know each student as if they were his own child. The teacher should see his job as more than teaching but helping to raise the student.

It is that time of year again when teachers are readying their classrooms and preparing lesson plans. It is that time of year when parents look ahead to the beginning of school. They buy pencils and backpacks and notebooks, or in my case, airline tickets as they send their children off to school.

As the school year approaches, I ask you consider how can you tend to and provide for the needs of our teachers. And I encourage your children to find and to follow a teacher who is like a parent, a teacher, rabbi, or coach who provides not only instruction in a particular subject but is a loving, caring figure, a role model in their lives.

Zehi yikhro barukh, May Rabbi Hammer’s memory be a blessing and may his Torah continue to teach us.