Is everyone in your life really a teacher?

The Gemara states in tractate Avodah Zarah 19a:18 that anyone who learns Torah from one teacher alone never sees a sign of blessing, as it is necessary to acquire knowledge from many teachers.

If Torah encompasses everything, then each of us is a teacher of Torah. That means all the good, and challenging, and in-between moments become our lesson plans. Do you agree? As I work through this idea myself, I imagine that you may wish to come along, too, and explore what our teaching and taught moments could look like. Here are a few personal scenarios I wrestle with…

I was at JCC Day Camp, as usual, happy as a little clam. We were running relay races outside and I was pretty fast. I was proud of myself. In the formation of teams, I was usually picked quickly. I knew I was “bringing it home.” in this relay, I was the last leg. The dust was flying! I crossed the finish line, full concentration on my face, and one of the boys said, “Your face looks really ugly when you run.” Ouch. I never forgot it. It really hurt and I never ran quite as freely again in my childhood. Was my camp friend a teacher?

I’m tending to my grocery list with fervor. I’m a mom who has left the kids with their dad so that I could quickly and easily grab a few things for dinner and the kids’ sack lunches the following day. The cries of a distraught toddler jarred me out of my task and I looked up immediately to see if a little one was in trouble. Unfortunately, his distress was becoming worse due to his frustrated mother squeezing his arm and speaking harshly to him. I tried to be a help so that she would not continue to be harsh to her child. It was the line where you have to determine if a call to Child Protective Services is the best course of action. Is this mother a teacher?

Several weeks ago, I chanted 13 verses from Vayera. My hands were shaking. I worked on my breath so that the words of the Torah could come out of my mouth with gusto and meaning. I am a fairly new adult Torah reader. Many of the worshippers present have chanted Torah probably more times than they can count. As I walked down from the bimah, one of the women who is, perhaps, the most knowledgeable, squeezed my hands and looked right into my eyes. “Yasher koach, “she said, slowly, and with love and admiration in the squeeze of her hands and in her gaze of her eyes. I believed her congratulations. Is she a teacher?

Last one. At Preston Hollow Elementary, in the sixth grade, we were given a piece of poster board and charged with completing and creating a project about Poland. Each student stood near Mrs. Summer’s desk and explained their work.

My project had been assembled the night before. In our home, there were four of us kids and usually the hottest fire was the one that got put out first. So I went to our encyclopedia set and learned everything in the entry that I could about Poland, and then began gluing the label from Vlasic pickles and a tiny tea party porcelain dish to my poster board. More items that spoke of Poland were found and glued.

You should have seen the magnitude of these projects. The most beautiful Polish alphabets in calligraphy, gorgeous renderings of churches, in-depth language translations. Gulp. My turn. Mrs. Summer loved my assembly of the various gifts we all enjoy from Poland. She made an example of my work. Although I was relieved that I was not “found out” for starting my project the night before with little time, I never forgot that my mom was too busy with my siblings to notice my assignment. Was my mom a teacher?

“Yes” to every instance, I would say. These compendiums of life experiences carve us more fully into who we are. We are gifted the opportunities to learn from joy and pain and all those in-betweens to cement our values. Torah is everywhere. Hashem’s teachers are everywhere. I agree with the Gemara, “It is necessary to acquire knowledge from many teachers.”

Debbi K. Levy is a student in the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute.

Leave a Reply