Vayeira: What Is Jewish Education

My wife and I got into a fight two hours before Shabbos last week (what’s new).  It was about a lamp that we found and have been using for years.  Shortly after bringing it to our house, we realized it was thrown away because the piece that connected the bulb to the lamp itself was practically severed.  No problem, I thought, I have duct tape.  So, using my trusty gray duct tape, I fixed the lamp, with the now greay head.  Two Shabbosos ago, near the end of Shabbos, somebody touched the plug, there was a bang, and the electricity went out.

Okay, no problem, I thought.  I have duct tape.

That’s where things got ugly on erev Shabbos.

My wife said "no," we’re going to get a new lamp and not fix the old.  I said that this one works perfectly fine and we don’t need to waste time and money on a new one.  She tried to “reason” that when a lamp gets plugged in and blows the electricity of the entire house, it’s not called “fine.”  I explained that it’s not a problem.  I have duct tape.  She retorted, “You think everything can be fixed with duct-tape!”

“Woman!” I said (yes, I did say that, and I continue to quote), “If I were stuck on a desert island, all I would need is duct tape, WD-40, zip ties, Uri (my good friend), and a television…and a very long electric cord.”

Needless to say, it was getting ugly, so I called my friend Uri, as I do every time I get in a fight with the shrew wife.  His wife picked up the phone.

“I want to speak to Uri, NOW.” (Yes, that was a quote.)

She sighed, and said, “Uri is in the valley (right behind their building in Yerushaliyim) with the kids, working on the plans for a treehouse he’s going to build” (note: Uri has older children…the treehouse is clearly not for them, and Uri does not exactly have free time).

“Are you telling me, two hours before Shabbos, Uri is risking a divorce to build a treehouse???”

“Yes…” she said with clinched teeth.

“Uri is sooo awesome!”

He called back a few minutes later, and after discussing the perfect tree he found, and his plans for a secret door (no, I’m still not making this up), he listened to my problem.  His official halachic decision: “Anything that is held together with duct tape is considered as new.  And why waste the money on a new lamp, if you’re going to have to cover it with duct tape anyhow to make it look good?”

Why women cannot understand basic concepts like this, I have no idea…

“For I have loved him, because he commands his children” (Bereishis 18:19).

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein remembers very clearly an incident when he was a young child learning at Eitz Chaim Talmud Torah in Yerushaliyim.  One day, his rebbe showed up to the cheder in a taxi, which, back in those days, was no small amount of money.  It was so out of place, the kids were in shock.  Seeing their faces, his rebbe explained, “You know that I do everything in my power to come on time to teach you Torah.  Today, something came up that was very important, and when I finished with it, I realized that if I took the bus or walked, I would not make it here on time.  So, instead, I hired a taxi.”

Hearing this, the boys, like all good Israeli boys, started doing calculations based on how much he most likely makes and how much a taxi costs, and realized that it was a real expense for him.  Needless to say, this made a lasting impression on the children, that Rav Zilberstein remembers it so clearly after so many decades.

The Jewish “definition” of education, is not “preparing them to earn a livelihood” nor is it “teaching them how to learn Gemara.”  It’s about how to live like a Jew should live.  How to learn the Torah and how to live it accordingly.  Many people mistakenly think, “I’m sending my kids to school…I did my part.”  That’s simply not true.  Your actions, your behaviors, your priorities, all these things are part of your education to your children.

Recently, my wife heard a story from a friend of hers.  During the recent lockdown, when we were not allowed to travel between cities unless for specific reasons, her neighbor, one Friday morning, packed up her kids, and took them to another city for Shabbos.  On the way back, they were stopped at a checkpoint, and, in front of her children, told the officer that she’s been stuck at her parents home for weeks on end, and she just needs to get home finally.  The officer, who could have given her a ticket, even for that, let her go.  My wife’s friend was shocked, “you lied like that right in front of your children?” “Whatever…it was only the police, who cares?”

We know of another case, in a city not to be mentioned since it’s a dirty word in my house, of a school being opened illegally.  The parent told my wife, proudly, how the kids, every time the police came because of complaints from the neighbors, would run into the forest before the police would show up.

Around a year ago, I was listening to a talk by Rav Yitzcok Breitowitz while I was working.  He was speaking about secular education in Judaism. He discussed the different views and how different demographics and locations view how much and which type to give their children.  It was nothing controversial.  Just pointing out the different viewpoints.  At the end, he said something very powerful (and I’m not quoting, but it’s pretty close): “No matter what your view is on secular education, regarding what or how much, it’s very important never to attack it or those who learn it.  It’s not anti-Torah, and I’ve seen many times over, those parents who attack things that (are not anti-Torah) they don’t agree with, are teaching their children to attack things.  But those children take it further and in turn, will start attacking the Torah itself.”

Obviously, this is not specific to Corona, but Corona is presenting “wonderful” examples and stories.

Our job is not to teach our children Torah.  Our job is to teach them how to LIVE Torah.  When we show them with our own actions and teach them openly to lie and to degrade authority, do we really think that this will not circle around?  Do we really believe that they will …limit…their lying to “only the police” or “only to the government” (as if that were allowed)?  Of course not. We, in the end, are educating our children to leave Torah, because we, in reality, are teaching anti-Torah concepts.

Our actions and attitudes play a far bigger role in how our children are raised than what they learn in school.

By doing our best, and raising our children to follow the Torah, instead of “what I want,” we are making a long-term investment that we will be able to capitalize on in this world and the next.