A number of years ago I received an email from my son who was studying music at Rice University at the time. A world-renowned teacher came to give master classes and my son was writing to tell about it (and, of course, send pictures). His words were simple, yet so telling of the relationship between student and teacher. He wrote, “My teacher’s teacher is here.” From those words, I heard the reverence of a student for a teacher which, for centuries, has been part of our Jewish tradition. We are continually reminded that “we are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us.” All of our knowledge is expanded by learning from others.
Judaism is the religion that may be credited with the early beginnings of copyright law. When you read Talmudic text it says, “Rabbi This said to Rabbi That who said it in the name of Rabbi Who…” However, copyright law is meant to protect the original, whereas the Jewish tradition is to give honor to those who said it first. Citing your “sources” gives credit to them, but also gives weight to your ideas and thoughts. When my son tells me whom he has studied with, he is raised in esteem as well.
All professions honor those who came before — for us, as Jews, we trace our lineage all the way back. It is said that we all came from one man, Adam, so that none of us can say, “My dad’s better than yours!” This, too, is an important message to remember.
Finally, reverence for teachers is a very important Jewish value. When my son spoke of “his teacher’s teacher,” he was honoring his teacher as well as the elder teacher. This respect and reverence for the teachers in our lives is lacking in many schools. However, today in many Jewish day schools the tradition still continues for students to stand when their teacher (or any adult) enters the classroom. Our Jewish tradition values learning and those who help us learn — let us demonstrate with our words and our actions the respect and reverence we feel for those important people in our lives.