Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ve'zot Ha'bracha- Be'reshit 74 - Simchat Torah - Torah Learning- Achievement or Process

On Simchat Torah we celebrate the completion of the yearly cycle of the weekly Torah reading. We end with Ve'zot ha'bracha and start the book of Genesis with Be'reishit.  We do the same with si'yu'mei ma'sechtot = completing  ' tractates of the Talmud and other holy books  by  immediately making a new beginning and starting the  new ma'se'chet= tractate.
 There is very little time spent on celebrating 'achievement.' In fact we express the  urgency in getting along with the 'process of learning' by the way we call up the  'Chatan Be'reishit '- the person who is honored with starting the new Torah reading  cycle. We say ' ma'heir   u'mod, u'mod, u'mod chatan be'rei'shit' -  quickly , get to your feet the chatan Be'reishit!.
We do see the importance of ' achievement ' and completing the study of the various books, but the focus is on the process of learning. Each word and moment of learning is precious and eternal. We learn in order to put into practice what we learn and teach others, but learning  is important because of its  intrinsic value and so  the mitzvah is not just to learn but to enjoy learning.
Focus on the process rather than on achievement is vital if we want to ensure that every person finds their place in learning and discovers their unique share. We ask in our daily prayers – ve'tein chelkei'nu be'toratecha and please give us our share in your Torah. 
If the focus is on ' achievement and competition ', it is only the high achievers and the' mitz'tza'yanim' who  feel  that they have a share in the Torah. They  also lose out on the intrinsic value and reward that one gets from learning itself , and also  don't have  feeling of satisfaction of helping the weaker students that comes with a cooperative learning environment.
 The weaker students feel inferior and alienated from Torah. They come to believe that they have no place in the Beis ha'medrash = study halls. The focus in schools is on achievement instead of trying  to build a  caring community of life- long learners. Kids should be helped to focus on what they are learning and why they are learning. Instead schools and parents drive kids to focus on just 'how well they are doing'.

The Torah speaks of the importance of every child being  provided with a Torah education and everyone feeling that they share the Torah heritage .
In chapter 33:4, 'the Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage =mo'ra'sha  of the congregation of Jacob.' The commentators note that the word ' heritage =mo'ra'sha ' is used as opposed inheritance= ye'ru'sha. An inheritance belongs to the heirs who have the right to dispose of it as they please. A heritage is the property of generations before and after and it is the responsibility of heirs to preserve the Torah intact and pass in on to future generations. The sages explain that the word mo'ra'sha can be read in the Hebrew as if it were spelled m'ora'sha = married, meaning that Jewish people and the Torah are considered like bride and groom. This refers to the entire nation, for everyone, rich and poor alike, has an equal share in the Torah.
If we want kids and everyone to be able to connect with Torah and discover their share in Torah, we have to focus on the process of learning. The process of learning is not about memorizing  what others have said, and  it is not memorizing facts and laws and then throwing it back to the teacher in the exam. Deborah Meier , the American educationalist said , that' learning is essentially talking and teaching is essentially listening'. Learning is about talking,  it is about asking questions, making mistakes and learning from them. It is trying to find meaning in the learning, trying to dig deep into one's mind to understand a text rather than being satisfied with what someone else before has said.  It is not sitting quietly and listening to what the teacher has to say and then giving back the answers the teacher wants to hear. 
We start the book of Be'reishit /Genesis and we soon discover that we have to wait for the book of Exodus/Shemot to be exposed to God's commandments. The truth is that all the stories of the book of Be'reishit are part of Torah and the personalities – the forefathers and others used their God given intelligence, their da'at to come to the conclusions of the Torah in their personal behavior. Rav Nissim Ga'on in his commentary on introduction to the tractate of Be'rachot says  - all people from the time of Adam's creation have an obligation to commit themselves to  any commandment or call for action/non action etc which based on logic and the sound intuition of the heart. In order to connect and understand Torah, we have to delve into our souls and minds. For the Torah is close by, in our mouths and in our hearts. The process of learning is not to get the Torah into our hearts and the hearts of our children , but to help them and us delve into our hearts and find Torah.

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