A message to all new (and experienced!) teachers of Torah
No one should ever enter the field of chinuch because it’s “the right thing to do”; because it is expected by their family, school, or community; or good for a shidduch. Every teacher must be eager and passionate in embracing this holy profession. Suffice it to say that Hashem calls Himself “HaMelamed – the Teacher.”
Years ago, I taught grades 9, 10, and 11 in Bais Yaakov. Although my subject was mitzvos, I always started class by asking, “Who lied during the past few days? Why did you have to lie? In retrospect, how could you have avoided lying? And was it worth it?” I always had students who voluntarily answered these questions, and the entire class participated in the resulting discussion. Scores of grandmothers — former students —have commented to me over the years, “I haven’t lied since I left Bais Yaakov.”
Teaching Torah as a way of life must be transmitted in a tangible, hands-on fashion or it may not last. The Midrash tells us that all of the 613 mitzvos are incorporated into the Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments.
That’s where my “Ten Commandments for Chinuch” come in.
1) I am Hashem your G-d
When we speak of Hashem as our personal Creator and King, we must remember that He created us all. Just as He loves me, He also loves my neighbor and every Jew equally and unconditionally, no matter how different they are from me.
We must find ways to have our students treat all Jews the way we want Hashem to treat us — with love. The students must show and be shown, again and again, with personal examples, how to manifest this love of others who are different.
2) There shall not be to you any other gods
“Other gods” come in every shape and form, taking the form of money, fashion, all sorts of bad habits, and being overcome and possessed by our yetzer hara.
We must demonstrate how being obsessed with, and controlled by anything but Torah will eventually take us away from being controlled by Hashem’s will. With practical examples and discussion, we must help our students overcome tendencies that would lead them to any type of obsession.
3) You shall not take the Name of Hashem your G-d in vain
The most observable difference between the animal world and humans is the power of speech. Speech can bring us to the highest spiritual heights and also to the lowest of the lows, harming and destroying individuals as well as entire nations.
We must not take for granted that our students know how to use proper speech, words, pitch, tone, and body language. Teachers can point out how something uttered by a student could have been said better or not at all. Ask the students what they heard and how it could be said in a better way. Keep telling them: “See how saying the same things a bit differently can make your friend feel so much better?”
4) Remember the day of the Shabbos to sanctify it
Shabbos is one of the greatest gifts the Creator gave His people. He asked us to honor and keep it in every way possible — the best food, the best clothing — so we can enjoy His gift to the best of our ability. We must never look upon this wonderful gift as a burden, as only a day of prohibitions. To properly enjoy Shabbos one must perceive it positively in every way including the prohibitions, there to enhance the beauty of Shabbos and make it complete.
To help our students enjoy and look forward to their Shabbos, their dvar Torah should be well prepared so they don’t have to break their teeth on the parshah sheet; the meaning of the zmiros should be taught so they will enjoy participating in them, they should enjoy the seudah through their participation in its preparation, and should be encouraged to set and clean the table with a smile (boys as well!). Clothing for Shabbos should be the finest the family can afford and nicer than the ones worn for simchahs. Bnos, Pirchei, and Oneg Shabbos groups should be arranged. If done well, Shabbos will be a positive experience and the question “When is Havdalah?” will disappear. If youngsters have too much free time on their hands, it might be misused, and we must ensure they use their free time on Shabbos well. While all of this is certainly the responsibility of the parents, teachers must make this one of their priorities as well.
5) Honor your father and your mother
Kibud av v’aim shows our appreciation, our hakaras hatov, for everything our parents do for us. But we must even show hakaras hatov to inanimate objects, just as Moshe Rabbeinu showed hakaras hatov to the sand and water. If so, how much more so should we show hakaras hatov to other people?
In the classroom we must show our students how to show hakaras hatov to one another, with practical examples. We must teach our students to be mindful of their actions and why they are doing it. All of this should be verbalized and discussed.
6) You shall not kill
Hashem commanded us to be fruitful and multiply and not to destroy our world by killing others.
We must instill in our students the concept that anything Hashem created must not be destroyed unless it is “weeds of destruction.”
Once, a rav and a talmid were walking together and the talmid ripped a leaf from a nearby tree. The rav exclaimed “How can you destroy Hashem’s creations?” Another story relates that when a gadol discarded his kapote because of wear and tear, he folded it lovingly and exclaimed, “A dank, du hast mir gut badint – thank you, you served me well.”
Such stories are not simply stories about great people. They are told so we can try to emulate the gedolim. A teacher can show students, with examples from daily life, how these stories apply to them personally.
7) You shall not commit adultery
Humans should always know who they are and where they come from. Only through yichus, purity of lineage, can the kedushah of Klal Yisrael be perpetuated.
We must learn and understand why being tzniyus — in what we wear, what we see, what we read, and what we say and do — is so important
8) You shall not steal
This actually refers to kidnapping another Jew. What a kidnapper is actually doing is depriving the victim of his independence and controlling his actions, but punishment is not administered until the kidnapper sells the victim into slavery.
We must eliminate the destructive force of bullying, in its entirety, from our community. A bully wants to destroy and to control his victims. He wants to show his superiority to others and, because of his low self-esteem, cannot demonstrate this in any other fashion.
Even teachers who have not personally witnessed bullying among their students should play-act such incidences and show them why bullies act the way they do. Someone who has tendencies to bullying will hopefully get the idea and desist from such practices. Again, I must underscore that “one swallow does not a summer make” and this little theatre in your classroom should be performed the entire season.
9) You shall not bear false witness against your fellow
Emes, truth, is the seal of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. He created the world we live in only through emes and He warns us to stay far from sheker, falsehood. As all disputes are resolved through human testimony, false witness is the prime reason for the ruin of a community.
Some people may tell lies that extract money, kill livelihoods, destroy families, etc. It is no wonder that the Torah tells us “midvar sheker tirchak – distance yourself from falsehood.” We must impart to our students that even if one tells a white lie or rationalizes to himself why it is permissible, it is still repulsive to Hashem.
Let your students put pen to paper and write a serious essay, once a year, on the damage a private “small” lie can do to an individual and the entire community.
10) You shall not covet the house of your fellow
If a person decides he must acquire an object that he craves from another Jew, he will stop at nothing to obtain that object. He will even take it from the other Jew by force and might even kill him. An example is the case of Achav who desired the vineyard of Navas, and as Navas didn’t want to sell the vineyard, Achav had him killed to obtain it.
We must demonstrate to our students what can come from jealousy. Studying it in Navi is not sufficient because one cannot fully and personally relate to a rasha of so long ago. A teacher must find, with the help of the class, examples of jealousy and its consequences and have students demonstrate how they can overcome nisyonos of jealousy.
I believe that every important facet of chinuch can be found in the Ten Commandments, far beyond what I’ve briefly mentioned here. See Rav Saadiah Gaon, who demonstrates how each mitzvah fits into the Ten Commandments.
Note: In the implementation of my “Ten Commandments” educators must be extremely careful when pointing out to a student something he may have done incorrectly, and demonstrating how to correct it, that we don’t do more damage than good by embarrassing him.