Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

How to Educate a Child

When it comes to education, there are many theories on best practices, such as how to talk to children, what to say, and so on. Having a preschool at Chabad, I am privileged to witness on a daily basis our teachers talking gently to the children. Not just to the older children, who can talk back and clearly understand what the teachers are saying, but even to the little ones.   

One day I asked Devorah, why do the teachers talk to the little babies telling them what they are going to do, as if they understand every activity that is being done? Devorah explained the reason behind this behavior to me by saying that education is not just about the big things in life, but even about the little things. Focusing on the child as an individual, a world all their own and truly inherently good. An educator’s job is not to change the child but to help them channel their inherent dispositions and personality to be their best selves. It is about “anchoring” a child with a positive disposition and attitude. Immersing and surrounding them with love, kindness and respect which builds a foundation for the rest of their lives. When speaking to a child using a calm and gentle voice, explaining to them everything that is being done to them, the teacher is not talking down to them, but bringing them into the “tent” of learning and experience.
Although this made sense to me, it didn’t sink in fully until I learned in this week’s Torah portion about the courtyard walls surrounding the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Torah tells us that the beams were held up with strings tied to anchors, but it doesn’t say whether the anchors were weights that sat on the ground, or were posts sunken into the ground. Rashi infers that the anchors were sunken into the ground. The reason for this is to teach us that even the outermost part of the Mishkan has to be well grounded. There is no part of the Mishkan that can be overlooked.  
If we look at a person as a mini-temple, a mini-Mishkan, the lesson is clear. A baby has to be educated to its fullest capacity; there is no part of its education that should be left out, or just sit on the surface. All aspects of their education have to be tended to. Education should be anchored, so that the full benefit of the experience can be taken in.   
Such an education doesn’t stop with the young as a child matures. Attention has to be given to all of a child’s needs, even external ones, since every need is an important one. 

Being Connected

We are people who are moved by visuals. That is why one of the most effective teaching tools is show & tell, using such aids as handouts or books. In business we know that a face-to-face meeting is always better than a phone call, and even more so than just an email. That is why it makes a lot of sense to us that Moses would ask G-d – in this week’s Torah portion - if he can see Him. However, G-d responds with an emphatic, “no!” and goes on to explain why: “No one can see me and live.” However, G-d does show Moses his “back.” 

What does it mean that G-d shows Moses his back (does G-d really have a face and a back)? Rashi, the famous commentator, posits that this means that G-d showed Moses the knot for his Tefillin that sits on the back of G-d’s head. 

Wait a minute: If G-d doesn’t really have a head to begin with, how is He wearing the Tefillin with a knot that Rashi is referring to? 

What is a knot?
A knot, by definition, is something that causes two objects to become connected.  Although they might seem to be two independent objects, once they are knotted together they become one. 

Moses did not want to see “G-d’s face” just out of curiosity. Moses wanted to confirm the deep connection that the Jewish people have with G-d. Just like when we look someone in the eye we can see if there is a real connection or not as we are visual people, it is hard to feel this connection by just learning the Torah; we want to see “G-d’s face.” 

However, G-d responded to Moses, “You cannot see my face, but I want you to know that you are still connected to me. See, here is the ‘knot,’ that connection, that you are looking for.” 

There are times in our lives when we are looking, searching, to see G-d. Where is His face? We cannot find Him. We need that confirmation. Then G-d appears to tell us, and tells us, “You will find Me in the knot of the Tefillin.” In the actions that we do, in the Mitzvot that we do, we will find ourselves bound up with G-d. This is what really makes us connected. 

Stronger Together

This week we saw something very interesting in the news. The slogan “Stronger Together,” a unifying message from Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was adapted/borrowed/stolen by President Donald Trump. 

A slogan that was meant to unify the nation, ended up pulling us apart. 

Regardless of your views on the matter, whether this is an infringement on trademark law, a compliment to Hillary, or a sign of true unity, is not for me to say. What I do find fascinating is that this week we also note the concept of “Stronger Together” mentioned – in a more important place than the media – in the Torah. 

This week’s Torah portion talks about the clothes of the High Priest: On his chest he wore a breastplate  made of twelve precious stones, each stone engraved with the name of one of the twelve tribes. The breastplate was held in place with strings. Another set of two stones that sat on each shoulder also had the names of the tribes engraved on them, six on each side.  

The question is: In what order were the 12 tribes listed? Jacob had four wives. Were they listed in the order of birth based on their mothers or based on their father? 

This is not a trivial question. The answer has a lot to do with how we are viewed. Are we made up based on our essence, our nature, which comes from our “father,” the seed? Or are we who we are based on how we developed, our nurture, which comes from our “mother,” the nine months in the mother’s womb? The role of the parents, nature and nurture, continue as a child grows up, but what is the stronger unifying factor? 

We are “Stronger Together” not when we choose the mother or the father, one or the other, but when we realize that we need both.  

That is why it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that looking for the answer as to the order of the names on the stones, we have two opinions because we need both orders, nurture and nature!  

How can we reconcile the two views? Perhaps the nurture order could be worn on the shoulders, and the nature order worn on the breastplate.  

We can be stronger together without arguing. 

Do We Need Synagogues?

There is a lot of chatter in our Jewish community today about how to “measure” one’s involvement in Jewish life, as will be evident in the questions and focus groups of the upcoming Jewish community population study, or as it is being called, “Community Portrait.” Is our connection with G-d a personal affair, such as a family experience that is celebrated at home? Or is it a community connection, such as an event celebrated at a synagogue? Or all of the above?

In this week’s Torah portion the verse says that “They shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell amidst them.” However, the question is, now that the Temple is no longer standing, what does the verse mean?

We can explain this verse in a few ways.

1-     In Hebrew, the verse says amidst “them” when it should say amidst “it” (the singular, meaning within the Temple). From this we learn that G-d’s presence should rest within each and every one of us.

2-     The verse comes to include even the “mini temples,” i.e., synagogues (hence the plural).

3-     The holiness of the Temple Mount remains, even after the Temple’s destruction.

Based on the first explanation, clearly Judaism starts with us. We must bring G-d into our lives, and into our homes. Our lives and our homes should be infused with Judaism. But we shouldn’t stop there. Once we are living a “Jewish life,” we should want to share it with others. We want to celebrate what we know, what we love, and the joy that we find in our lives with like-minded people. This is done in the “mini-temple” called a synagogue.

In Hebrew, a shul (synagogue) is called a Mikdash Me’ot, a miniature Temple, meaning that although it is not as holy as the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, it does carry a certain aura around it, a holiness, that our homes do not have. That is why it is not enough to celebrate Judaism in our homes, all alone; we go to shul as a community to celebrate together. So, the shul is a tool for us to  strengthen our Judaism, and then bring that strength home, and continue building on it at home.

So we have a cycle. We start with ourselves, it spreads to the family, it spills over to the synagogue and to the whole community, and we bring it back home. And it starts all over again.

May we merit growth in our Judaism and in our connection to G-d, and the verse mentioned above should be fulfilled: G-d will dwell in our midst. G-d should be part and parcel of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Shaya Deitsch


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