Posts Tagged 'mishnah'

Educational Philosophy: How Do We Start Learning Torah?

Earlier this year Yadid came home all excited that they were learning a Mishna at school that we learned together. Not shocking, it was from Elu Metziyot. There are a few reasons that it is customary to start learning Mishnah with Elu Metziyot, but one is assuming that teaching children the laws of lost and found will start them off with a real life application and lifelong framework of personal responsibility. I was thinking about that this week when we start reading Vayikra, the book of Leviticus. It is choked full of rules regarding korbanot sacrifices. About Vayikra the Midrash shares it imagination of educational philosophy. There we read:

Rav Assi said that young children began their Torah studies with Leviticus and not with Genesis because young children are pure, and the sacrifices explained in Leviticus are pure, so the pure studied the pure. (Leviticus Rabbah 7:3.)

I understand why people might think that the story of Genesis is too nuanced to be a young child’s initiation to learning. But, just because we are not starting off with the Garden of Eden does not mean that we should start off with all of the blood and gore and guts of Leviticus.

The word “korban” (sacrifice) derives from the word that means “that which is brought close.” Bringing a korban was not just the process of giving something up to the Tabernacle or Temple, but the process of becoming closer.  Maybe this is what we need to be teaching out children.

Education is not about the blood of the sacrifices or for that matter any of the data. It is about relationships and making those connections. When I add that to starting the Mishnah with  Elu Metziyot it starts to make real sense. Relationships and responsibility are the basic building blocks of  menschlichkeit. Education is not just about knowledge; it is about wisdom.

Do Not Separate Yourself

This past week I had the pleasure of going to a number of camps. At one camp I was asked to do a session  with their LIT-Leaders in Training program. This is the program for their eldest campers who are being trained to become staff. After exploring their different leadership styles and how they are needed in different situations we learned a Mishnah from Perkey Avot. Together we learned:

Hillel would say: Do not be separate from the community. Do not believe in yourself until the day you die. Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place. Do not say something that is not readily understood in the belief that it will eventually be understood. And do not say “When I am free I will learn,” for perhaps you will never be free. (Perkey Avot 2:5)

The Mishnah reinforced the message that we need to recognize that all different styles of leadership are needed for the community to be successful. We needed to bring their talent to the group.  We cannot be judgmental of the other people before we come to a profound understanding of where they are in their lives. In knowing where they are we will communicate with them more effectively. We need to practice situational leadership  to ensure that we are heard. And of course, the process of learning helps us sharpen our understanding of our own leadership styles which will in turn help the community move forward.

In preparing for that lesson I found another girsa– version of the Mishnah. Instead of it saying “אל תפרוש מן הצבור – Do not be separate from the community” it said “אל תפרוש עצמך מן הצבור- Do not separate yourself from the community”. Most times the Mishnah is already translated this second way, what is the implications of this extra word?

It is one thing to see yourself as separate from your community, it is another to have to separate yourself into different parts in relation to your community. In many of our lives we are forces to be different people to different social crowds. Camp is a very special community in which we are all encouraged to strive for a certain unity of being. In unifying the separate parts of ourselves we are able to bring a better version of ourselves to make a better community.

In the wake of the landmark Supreme Court Decision to strike down DOMA and Prop 8 it is important to celebrate our nations move toward a more perfect union with equality for all. With these laws out of our way  less of us are being asked to “separate ourselves”. The question now is, will more of us bring our whole selves to our communities? We have the opportunity to make better communities, but there is still a lot of work left to do to make a more perfect community.


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