Rabbi Naftali Kassorla
Parshat Vayikra 5778
The Great Communicator
The D’var Torah for this week is dedicated in memory of:
ר׳ אלחנן יעקב בן מו״ח ר׳ שמואל פנחס ז״ל
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This week's parsha welcomes us to a new Sefer and the world of Korbanot. The parsha begins: וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר - “He called out to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying” (Vayikra 1:1). Rashi explains that ויקרא, which appears superfluous, comes to teach us a rule – that every statement, saying, and command from G-d to Moshe is preceded with a קריאה (a “calling”) which is a language of endearment, the same language that the ministering angels use.
In communicating with this endearment, G-d does so only with Moshe. The rest of the nation could not hear. Meaning, that this was a prophecy to which only Moshe was privy. Rashi says: “The voice [of G-d] would go, and reach Moshe’s ears, and all of Israel could not hear it.” Rashi continues: “One might have thought that there was a ‘calling’ at breaks (i.e. the breaks in the text indicated by blank spaces).” One might have thought that a break indicates the beginning of a new and distinct prophecy which would be preceded with a new “calling”. The Torah teaches us that no, only when G-d actually speaks is it a new prophecy, but the breaks do not indicate a new prophecy. (Mizrachi, translated by Artscroll.)
If the breaks in the text did not serve the purpose of indicating a new and distinct prophecy, what purpose then did they serve? Rashi continues: “to give Moshe the time for contemplation of one parsha and the next, and between one topic to another. קל וחומר (all the more so) that time between subjects is necessary for a הדיוט (an ordinary person) who learns from another הדיוט.”
Rashi, quoting the Torat Kohanim (1:9), explains that G-d gave Moshe the time to contemplate and to understand the subject, and from the rule of kal vachomer we learn that ordinary people must also give and be given that time to contemplate.
However, what is the logic and reasoning behind this deduction? We can understand that while Moshe was the greatest prophet to have ever risen, and was master of all wisdoms, perhaps even he needed that time to contemplate when learning from G-d Himself. When learning the Torah from G-d, Whose wisdom cannot be fathomed, His essence cannot be grasped, and His grandiosity cannot be comprehended, of course Moshe would need the time to properly digest the concepts. But, who is to say that in the case of two “ordinary” people, where both are on the same level, that time must be given for the other to comprehend? What is the reasoning of the Torat Kohanim?
In truth we have to ask, what is the intention of the Torat Kohanim? Is it trying to tell us that due to the “lack” of the student we must give the רווח (space) to understand? Or perhaps it is telling us that when a teacher teaches, whether or not the student is lacking, he must be careful to teach in a way that the students have the ability to comprehend. If it is due to the lack on the part of the student, then our question stands. But if the Torat Kohanim is giving a lesson about the mark of a good teacher – that a teacher is lacking if he does not giving ample time for his students to comprehend – then we have our answer. From the fact that G-d gives Moshe – the most wise and humble of the prophets – the time to contemplate, we can learn that in our dealings, as “ordinary people” we must present our ideas in a way for them to be comprehended. It’s a lesson about the method of teaching, not the lack of the student.
This idea can be helpful in a myriad of aspects of teaching, including how loud one projects, how slowly one speaks, or a hundred other pedagogical methods which can aid the clarity of the message and comprehension of the student. But this is also a powerful lesson regarding the most basic underpinning of teaching: the teacher’s mindset and motivation for teaching.
A Rebbe is not there for himself; his objectives in teaching should be based solely on the comprehension of the students. And, barring other factors, if the student is not understanding, then he has failed his mission. For if they are not walking away with more clarity and understanding, what then is being accomplished?! That the Rebbe himself said a good shiur? That he felt honored? That he understood the subject?
I was once talking to someone who had a thirteen-year-old son in a “top tier” Yeshiva High School, and he was decrying the amount of sources and analytical approaches the teacher was “cramming” into the students. He felt his son was not understanding. This father, who himself is an accomplished scholar, told me that he was not the only one; other parents had also expressed concern that their children were not comprehending. When the parents finally mustered the strength to confront the Rebbe and express their concerns, he responded, “I teach the students on the level where I am holding. I was the top of my class, and I want them to witness true scholarship.”
When I heard this, I was blown away. How is it possible for someone, who has been entrusted with the holy task of חינוך (education) to think in such selfish terms? How could he get it so wrong? I believe the the truth is that this “Rebbe” is teaching for all the wrong reasons. He is not teaching with the aim of התבוננות and הבנה of his students, which would clearly warrant a tapering down of the level of the shiur. Rather he is involved in a nihilistic and self-serving pursuit under the guise of virtue, all while using the students as his footstool to raise up his own honor. I once heard from a very prominent Rabbi, that this type of teacher would be included in the prohibition of being המתכבד בקלון חברו - putting down others to raise up your own honor; for a teacher that neglects the progress of the students, while using them to honor himself, is the same as one who actively degrades them.
One of my most favorite quotes is in the name of Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik זצ״ל who would often remark that his favorite title was not Rav, Rosh Yeshiva, or Posek (halachic expert); rather it was מלמד, just a simple teacher, for G-d Himself is called teacher: המלמד תורה לעמו ישראל. Rabbi Soloveitchik felt that the highest calling, that which emulates G-d himself, is that of מלמד. And we learn from Hashem, in giving that “space” to Moshe to contemplate and comprehend, a demonstration of the proper way to accomplish the holiest of tasks – teaching Torah, with the holiest goal: to better the student.