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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas VaEschanan

Honor your father and mother …so that your days of your life will be lengthened. (5:16)

Who is lengthening the days? Ostensibly, Hashem; who grants life, is the one who determines the length of one's days. The pasuk should have read, "Lemaan yaarich," "so that He lengthens" (your days). The plural "yaarichun," seems to imply another approach. The Viznitzer Rebbe, zl, the Imrei Chaim, asks how we are to understand this. The story is told that in 1910, shortly after the Rebbe came to Vilchovitz, members of a family whose father had recently passed away approached the Rebbe to render judgement regarding the division of their father's estate.

The Rebbe was aware that while their elderly father lay sick on his deathbed, some of the heirs had given him prepared cards to sign. These cards divided up the properties according to the heirs' preferences. Now it was after the fact, and there were differences about the division of properties. The Rebbe listened to their statements and said, "I will render my judgement on Shabbos during Seudas Shlishis."

The Rebbe's response was enigmatic, astonishing the members of the community. First, before one renders judgement, he should listen to each of the litigants claims. Second, Shabbos, especially during Seudas Shlishis, was certainly not an appropriate time to render an opinion. What was the young Rebbe planning?

The answer to their query soon became clear. During Seudas Shlishis, the Rebbe asked the above question: Why does the Torah employ the plural form for "lengthening the days?" If it is a reference to Hashem, it should be written in the singular. The answer is that, in accordance with the course of nature, people grow old and feeble. They become sick, and someone must care for them. A person is very fortunate to have children who care about his health, not his death. These children turn to a physician; they purchase the medicines necessary to provide for their father. When a father sees this overwhelming love, this devotion to his health and well-being, he is encouraged; he is given succor to go on to fight his illness, to continue living. The grandchildren who observe this display of Kibud Av v'Eim and its consequences are inclined to follow suit when the time comes to respond to their parents' needs.

In the tragic circumstance, however, when instead of calling a doctor, children react in haste to divide up their parents' possessions, to take advantage of their parents' incapacitating illness, they catalyze their parents' premature death. From where should a parent's will to live emanate? Witnessing their children fighting over their possessions surely is not a motivating factor for longevity. We can well imagine what the unsuspecting grandchildren will glean from their parents' Kibud Av v'Eim. Indeed, they will encourage them to take as much property as they can, so that they will have more to inherit when their Kibud Av shortens their own parent's life.

"We now understand," said the Rebbe, "the meaning of the pasuk. If you honor your parents in such a manner that increases their longevity, then your reward will be that your own children will increase your life-span. Obviously, a blemished attitude towards honoring one's parents will generate the opposite: a shortened life-span. We must always remember that our children watch and observe they way we relate to our parents. Our greatest reward or punishment will occur when their treatment of us coincides with what they have perceived from our behavior."

You shall teach them thoroughly to your children. (6:7)

Rashi says that the words, "your children," apply equally to one's students, because the Torah views one's students as his children. Horav Gadel Eisner, zl, interprets Chazal's dictum, "He who teaches his friend's son Torah, it is considered as if he caused him to be born." In other words, he becomes like his natural son. He suggests that when one is about to punish his student, he should stop and ask himself: Would he act in a similar manner if it were his son, or does the rule of the student double standard reign in his life? Do we treat our students as children, or are we simply paying lip service to this halachah? Second, Rashi ponders: If the pasuk is referring to students and our attitude towards them, then the Torah should have said so. It should read, "V'sheenantam l'talmidecha," "You shall thoroughly teach to your students." He explains that the Torah is teaching an important maxim of education: View your students as if they were your children. If our lessons are to shape and mold our students, developing them to become like our children, then we must perceive them as such.

In a thesis on education, Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, derives many meaningful lessons from the language and maxims of Judaism. He begins first with the word, "lamod," which denotes the most select method of education: learning by practice and habituation. In the training of the intellect, lamod is a constant process of perception, comprehension, delineation and judgement. In the development of creative skills, it is a constant process of forming, creating, shaping and producing. In both situations the process is constant, repeated over and over until it becomes second nature. A requisite for this pursuit in patience is more than simply a virtue for the educator; it is an essential quality that must be either inborn or acquired.

Next, there is "shanen," which is the optimal form of communication for the educator. This term best describes the terse, precise and incisive manner in which a good teacher can impress upon his students, in the clearest, simplest, and most definitive way possible, the ideas and values he wants them to acquire. There are no ambiguities, no questions, no doubts as to the teacher's goals, objectives and demands of the student, or how the subject matter is to be understood. The constant redundancies and verbosity that present only a glimpse of the subject matter are replaced by well-defined images. This is accomplished only after the teacher himself has developed a clear understanding of the material he is presenting. He must also be sure of the ideas he seeks to convey. Last, he himself must represent the paradigm of these ideas. One whose knowledge is not supported by his own genuine conviction cannot expect his students to assimilate his lessons into their lifestyle.

The student who absorbs his teacher's message is "taking" it to himself. Hence, the Hebrew word "lekach," which defines Torah doctrine -- or teaching -- not as a tradition passed on by rote, but as a process of the student "taking," "grasping," as he integrates the lesson into his mind and essence. That is Torah!

The word "rebbe" or teacher is derived from the word "rabah." It characterizes the teacher/rebbe, not as one who is "more" or "greater" than his student, but rather as one who increases his student's knowledge. This indicates that the teacher's objective should be to reproduce aspects of himself in his students, to mold the character of his students in his own image. He thereby "increases" the student. This idea is accompanied by enormous responsibility. The teacher who understands his obligation toward his student makes it his first duty to work tirelessly on developing his own mind and character. If he is to impart Torah and middos tovos, positive character traits, to his charges, then he must mold himself, both intellectually and spiritually, to become the kind of person whose "reproduction" would enhance another persons' well-being. Indeed, he has a moral obligation to guard himself scrupulously against any deficiency in character.

Keeping in mind the educator's mission, we understand the joy inherent in successfully executing one's mentoring experience. After all, how often can one say that he has been directly involved in shaping the spiritual and moral future of another human being? To paraphrase Horav Hirsch, "Even if he is unknown, unsung and unappreciated among men, such an educator becomes immortal already here on earth in the eyes of G-d. For with every seed of goodness and truth that he has sown, with every skill that adds to human happiness and prosperity that he has contributed to the intellectual and spiritual assets of his students, the teacher has inscribed his own name before G-d into his student's book of life." What a beautiful and meaningful legacy for a person to bequeath: to have himself, his work and character "reproduced" in his students, so that he lives on even after his actual work has ceased.

There is one term left that quite possibly best describes the art of teaching in terms of its aims and methods. This term incorporates in one word the essence of the profession of teaching, the type of subject matter imparted by the teacher, and the teacher himself. The word is "horah," the transitive form of "harah," which literally means "to become a mother." This is also the root of the word "Torah", which simply means, "teaching." This word defines the profession of teaching as an act of spiritual transmission. Hence, the term, "moreh" is used both for the "teacher" and the "early rains" that soften and fertilize the soil. This analogy should give the thinking teacher something to consider. He is to view himself as the spiritual progenitor of his students, enriching the spiritual organism of each individual student with the seeds of Torah and middos, character refinement, that will develop and yield fruit as the student matures.

The function of teaching is defined conceptually as an act of spiritual seed-planting or "horaah." We may not teach by rote, but rather with vibrancy and enthusiasm, stimulating the student's heart and mind to absorb the material. The subject matter must be presented with regard to the student's cognitive ability and maturity level. The two go hand in hand; material that coincides with the mind and ability of the student, creatively presented in a manner that bespeaks verve and passion, excitement and feeling. The teacher loosens up the soil of the mind and prepares it for the seed that will develop with nurturing.

Viewing himself as a gardener in Hashem's nursery of mankind, the teacher will be patient, availing each student the opportunity to grow at his own pace. He will carefully study the personality of each particular student and his background, including family, friends and circumstances in their lives, responding to each one individually. He will be fair, seeking to earn the respect of his students, so that they relate to him out of love and admiration - not fear and resentment. Last, but not least, we may add that just as the gardener looks up and prays to Hashem for His Divine grace and assistance, so too, should the teacher implore Hashem that he succeed in his efforts to raise a "dor yesharim," a generation of upright Jews, who will be mekadesh shem Shomayim, sanctifying the Name of Heaven.

For you are a holy People to Hashem, your G-d. Hashem, your G-d, has chosen you to be for him a treasured people…not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did Hashem desire you. (7:6,7) The Chosen People is a term which is applied to Klal Yisrael. Obviously, not every nation on the face of the earth agrees that this term is appropriate and applicable. Why, really, are we the Chosen People? What did we do to deserve this unique appellation? The Ramban explains that our extraordinary history earned us this distinction. Hashem loves us because of our ability and devotion; because of our ability to withstand the onslaught and devastating persecution to which we have been subjected, because of our boundless devotion to Hashem. We have been "soveil" Hashem, bearing the heavy yoke of justice upon our heads, regardless of what decrees emanate from this justice.

To paraphrase the Ramban, in explaining the meaning of "choshak" "desire" (you): "Hashem has bound Himself with you with a mighty bond that He will never be separated from you…He saw in you to be worthier than all peoples to be loved by Him and to be chosen for love…for he who is chosen to be loved, is known to be ready to suffer whatever comes upon him from his lover, and the Jews are more qualified for that than any other people…Indeed, when challenged by the nations, Klal Yisrael has stubbornly declared, 'O' Yehudi, O' tzlav,' 'Either (we remain loyal) Jews, or (we will be) nailed to the stake.'" These are powerful words which define the essence of the Jewish People --a nation that despite all of its hardships remains steadfastly committed to the Almighty. Is there still a question regarding our chosen status?

Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, derives from the Ramban that Klal Yisrael's attribute, the sole reason for Hashem's choosing them as the am ha'nivchar, is their ability to tolerate, accept and justify Hashem's hanhagah, manner of dealing with them. A true friend is there in times of bad, as well as good. A true friend is there even when he is seemingly mistreated, when the going gets rough, because he has a true love for his friend. This is the meaning of zechus avos, the merit of our ancestors. They were moser nefesh, served Hashem amid self-sacrifice, their conviction remaining resolute, their commitment unwavering throughout the most cruel and painful persecutions. We follow in their footsteps, accepting the good with what might seem to be the bad. This is why Hashem chose us, and why He will continue to choose us.


1) Hashem's _____________ hand is stretched out to receive those who perform teshuvah.
2) A. To what does Ha'har Ha'tov refer?
II. To what does Levanon refer?
3) What aveirah does one transgress if he has five species in the Lulav bundle?
4) How long was Klal Yisael in Eretz Yisrael before they were exiled from it?
5) At what point did the arei miklat on the Eivar ha'Yarden side provide refuge?
6) Where was the first place Klal Yisrael was commanded regarding the mitzvah of Kibud Av v'Eim?
7) How many stones comprise a matzevah?


1) Right.
2) A. Yerushalayim. B. Bais HaMikdash.
3) "Lo sosifu," "Do not add [mitzvos]."
4) 850 years.
5) After the arei miklat in Eretz Yisrael were set aside.
6) Marah.
7) One.

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