Reading is my passion — I can’t be anywhere without a book and I am thankful that now I can read on my smartphone.
Does that mean that I am really a “person of the book?” Yes, Jews are named “People of the Book” because of reading the Torah and also all the millions of commentaries and today, even Jewish fiction. Jews read, Jews study, Jews learn — it is part of who we have always been.
Our people are also teachers — we pass on our learning and our passion for learning. I just reread Becoming a Soulful Educator: How to Bring Jewish Learning from Our Minds, to Our Hearts, to Our Souls — and into Our Lives by Aryeh Ben David. The book begins by telling who the book is for — “A soulful educator is someone who wants to enable students, whether children, adolescents or adults, to discover their better selves through learning.”
There is a story in the Talmud about Rabbi Tarfon and the Elders raising the question, “Is study greater, or practice?”
Here is the response: “Rabbi Tarfon says that practice is greater. Rabbi Akiva says that study is greater. The Elders answered that study is greater, for it leads to action.” (Talmud, Kiddushin 40b) This discussion has been argued and challenged for generations. The answer from the Elders should remind us that we do need both. If we only study or only practice it is not enough — we need both.
The soulful educator teaches so that knowledge is transformative — life changes happen! How do we make sure that our teaching impacts changes in lives? First, we must ask how learning and knowledge can change our lives. There is a story from the Midrash (Talmud, Niddah 30b) that an angel visits the baby before birth and teach it all of Torah, then touches the baby’s lips during birth, causing the baby to forget all of its learning. This loss creates the yearning to learn and remember Torah.
Ben David says that we are “hard-wired to yearn for something after we have lost it.” We are hard-wired to learn and grow — just watch a baby learning to walk.
Here is the challenge: If you are an educator, become a soulful one. Every encounter with your students should guide them to grow and change their lives. If you do not think you are an educator, think again. Each of us is a teacher — embrace the task. We are all teaching and it just depends on where we do that teaching and who our students are. And last thought on being a soulful educator: We are all teaching ourselves!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.