The quintessential model of Jewish education is found in this week’s parsha, Bo, and is played out very dramatically every year at the Pesach Seder. We are enjoined to transmit to our children the story, the meaning and the experience of the exodus from Egypt as the central idea in what formed us as a people. I think it would be extremely valuable, therefore, to examine how the Torah formulates this mitzvah, as a means of understanding an overall model of chinuch—Jewish education—for all year long.
The Torah uses four different verbs in its commandment regarding the telling of the story of the exodus. They are: zachor (remember vocally) in Shemot 13:3, tisaper (tell the story) in Shemot 10:2, v’higadita (tell over) in Shemot 13:8, and v’amarta (say, although from the context this would better be translated as “respond” since it is always preceded by “when your children ask you…”) in Shemot 13:14, among other places in the Torah. Let us examine the meaning behind each facet of the mitzvah of transmitting knowledge to our children.
Zachor. The first aspect of education is developing a shared memory. Part of this involves the creation of this memory—creating opportunities for students, which will serve as a foundation for future growth. Memory, within education, also means that there is always a bridge between the past and the future. We recall what was in order to inform our future with a valuable perspective. Memory shapes who we are and how we see things. There is, however, another element of zachor. Just as zachor requires us to sanctify the Shabbat in saying Kiddush, the vocal recall of the exodus sanctifies the holiday of Pesach. In this sense, vocal recall is an agent of sanctification: It enables our lives to be exalted.
Tisaper and v’higadita. Both of these words mean to tell—to describe and narrate what occurred. What is the difference between them? The Radak, a medieval commentator and expert in Hebrew language, notes in his dictionary that sipur refers to the past, while hagada refers to the present. Yes, we must use knowledge of the past, whether in history or in areas such as science where “the past” means theorems and formulae that have been developed in the past. But this past knowledge has to make a difference in our current lives. Sippur without hagada is only half the story. What meaning does any given area of knowledge have in my current life view? Our children need to learn foundations of knowledge, but these foundations are there for the students to build beautiful structures upon them.
Amira. What is the best way to accomplish the remembrance, the telling and the building of current meaning? The Torah speaks of she’aila and amira—a dialogue where there is give and take, asking and answering. This dialogue may be characterized as derisha—a search. In an exciting odyssey designed to explore, the student and teacher together seek out knowledge and meaning. They interact and learn from each other.
When one takes these elements together, the ideal model of education emerges. There is a vibrancy in this progress; it is dynamic, not stagnant. It has meaning and relevance; it is not merely abstract book knowledge. It bridges the world of the past and the world of tomorrow. And it makes the student a star link in an eternal chain, for his or her own benefit, as well as for the benefit of humanity. Just as the Seder reminds us of the ultimate freedom, this process enables our students to find an ideal sense of freedom as they pursue their bright futures.
By Rabbi Saul Zucker
Rabbi Saul Zucker is head of school at Ben Porat Yosef.