By Joel Lurie Grishaver
We all know that the Jewish tradition values teachers and teaching. What I intend to this year is look at Jewish sources that can inform our teaching. To conduct this search for an authentic vision of Jewish teaching, we will be examining the Jewish tradition While many of the values and insights we will find can also be found in other disciplines, I believe that through Torah we will discover a thick, three-dimensional, dynamic picture of the act of teaching that as a totality enriches our actions because of its connection to the Jewish tradition. We are looking for the difference between being a Jewish teacher and a teacher of Judaism.
I am at present editing an Instant Lesson of Friendship by Rabbi Ron Isaacs. I was looking for a few sources to “doctor” a hevruta study activity. In a book by Zelig Pliskin called Gateway to Happiness, I found this text:
Every person in the world waits for signs of recognition and affection from others. Students strongly wait for signs of friendliness from their teacher, and the truth is that the teacher also waits for signs of friendliness from his students. Children want signs of empathy from their parents, and parents too hunger for signs of affection from their children. Children have a large degree of influence on the emotional state of their parents. A customer wants a salesperson to understand her situation and her needs. But the salesman also has a need that the customer should not belittle him or his merchandise. (A lai Shur, p. 191)
The A Lai Shur is an anonymous Mussar (ethical) work. Its core teaching here is that people need connection with other people—and the act of teaching begins with connection. In the same chapter on friendship, Pliskin quotes a wonderful verse from Proverbs: “Just as face answers face in a reflection in water, so should one person’s heart answer another” (Proverbs 27:19). It is a wonderful image of what should underlie all Jewish teaching.
The Rav, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, wonderfully expressed the same idea during a Sheva Brakhot talk in honor of Jacob and Cheryl Holzer at the home of Rabbi and Mrs. Solomon B. Shapiro, June 15, 1977: “I like being around young boys, and I become one of the gang. That is the only way to teach. A teacher who does not lose years in the classroom and does not become one of his class cannot teach Torah successfully. You teach pals and friends. You do not teach anything to anyone who is below you! This is my philosophy of teaching Torah!”
So no one misunderstands: this is not to say that a teacher does not act like a teacher, that a teacher confuses the role of teacher and friend. It is to say that teaching starts with liking, caring, and relating. This is one authentic Jewish insight.