Parshas Mishpatim:
When the teacher is ready the student will be too

By Rabbi Yisroel Leichtman

And these are the laws that you shall place before them (Shmos 21:1)

    The Parsha begins with G-d instructing Moshe to teach the Torah’s laws to the Jewish people. Interestingly, this is expressed by telling Moshe to place the laws before them.

    Rashi paraphrases the Mechilta, that placing the laws before them means that one should teach Torah just as one would set a table for guests, with everything prepared and in its proper place. It is not enough to teach the information two or three times until the student can repeat it by rote. Rather, one must insure that his students understand the underlying principles and reasoning as well.

    This Rashi teaches us what is expected of both the teacher and the students of Torah. The teacher is expected to prepare a feast for his students. As the Yalkut Lekach Tov brings from Sefer Zichron Meir, a teacher must take his raw knowledge and put it through the whole cooking process, so to speak, before it can be brought to the table. The student is expected to do more than just repeat what he has learned, he should truly digest it. As Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt"l writes, "one has to work through the subject to the point that he feels as if it is his own." It is not enough that the student goes through the material, rather the material must go through him and become part of him.

    From the Talmud (Eruvin 54b) we can see to what degree one must apply himself as a teacher and a student, and what the eventual reward will be.

    The Talmud relates that Rav Preidah had a student whom he would have to teach the same material four hundred times until he would grasp it. One time there was a mitzvah that Rav Preidah had to go to perform immediately following his lesson with this student. This time the student did not absorb the subject matter even after the customary four hundred times. The student explained to Rav Preidah that he was unable to concentrate as he was constantly anticipating Rav Preidah’s imminent departure. Rav Preidah calmed him and assured him that he would remain with him until he understood. He then taught the material another four hundred times at which point the student finally said that he understood. The Gemarah concludes that a heavenly voice asked Rav Preidah if, as a reward, he would prefer to live an additional four hundred years or that he and his entire generation go to Olam Haba, (the World to Come). Rav Preidah answered that he would prefer that he and his generation merit Olam Haba upon which Hashem responded that he would receive both.

    This story provides a lesson and source of encouragement to both the student and teacher, both in the classroom and in the school of life. The student must know that perhaps the reason he did not comprehend the material is because he did not review enough. Alternatively, there might be external factors impeding his concentration or causing him anxiety. He shouldn’t despair, but rather apply himself fully and go over the material once again. The teacher must be prepared to make numerous attempts to reach his students before conceding defeat. Sometimes the teacher’s only answer is patiently reteaching the material time and time again, frustrating as this can sometimes be, all the while reassuring the student that with enough review he will eventually comprehend.

    Perhaps G-d’s granting Rav Preidah extra years of life was to demonstrate that all the extra time spent with his student was not wasted. Rather, this time would be paid back to Rav Preidah tenfold.

     Through his efforts, a teacher, by successfully reaching those he is teaching, will merit that not only he himself but also those he touches and indeed potentially his entire generation, will reach new heights in the World to Come.

Published and İFeb 20, 1998 by the Chicago Community Kollel

Rabbi Yisroel Leichtman, a Rebbi in the Arie Crown Hebrew Day School, is a founding member of the Kollel’s Zichron Aharon Mechanchim Division. He also develops and maintains the Kollel’s web site.



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