Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bo: Relate Into The Ears

Hashem said to Moshe, "Come to Par'oh,
for I have made his heart
and the heart of his servants stubborn
so that I shall place these signs of mine in his midst.
And so that you may relate in the ears of your son
and your son's son that I have amused myself with Egypt,
and my signs that I placed among them
- that you may know that I am Hashem.

We're instructed to tell our children of all that G-d did, specifically to tell it into their ears. I want to deal with the ears, but first an aside, which understands the command described here differently than the conventional understanding we will adhere to in the rest of this piece.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski addresses the question of why Moshe is not mentioned in the Hagada. He suggests based on a close reading of our text that the command herein described only applied to Moshe. His children were the only ones that didn't experience Yetziat Mitzrayim and therefore Moshe had to tell them about it. The reason Moshe's name is not mentioned is that it allued to his telling in which due to his humility he left himself out of the story. (And the moral is for us to learn from Moshe's humility).

Years ago I asked friends and students why ears are singled out here. Jeff Korbman, a dear friend, pointed out that "we whisper in ears at moments of intimacy and importance." Dani Rabinowitz, a student, said that "the Torah probably specifies ears to make sure that the children would actually hear what was being said and weren't just pretending". (She astutely added that today many are especially expert at feigning attention while actually tuning out what they're being told). These ideas echo the words of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch who states that emphasis on ears indicates the imperative to "tell right into him, to impress it so deeply that through the ears it enters the heart".

Rav Yaakov Weinberg takes the mention of ears as a cue in the opposite direction. He takes speaking to ears as a metaphor for speech that is spoken only to ears, heard only superficially. Such words are spoken onc and not transmitted further (as in the expression "falling on deaf ears"). In Rav Weinberg's view we should tell very young children about the miracles of Mitzrayim despite the fact that they can't really comprehend. This is why we teach kids the fundamental statements "Torah tziva lanu Moshe…" and "Shma Yisrael". Words that enter ears even partially make an impression. There is the possibility that greater understanding will follow at a later time.

In Shma words of Torah are described as placed upon our hearts. The Kotzker Rebbe explained that words aren't always taken into a heart. But once stated they can rest on top, and when the heart opens they will be there to go in. This explains why children are taken to the Beit HaMikdash for the public Torah reading of Hakhel. This also explains why a day school education is important even if it may seem ineffective.

Perhaps this can help us deal with my friend Scott's haunting lament that Yeshiva taught him Gemora and Chumash and Tefila but not love of Torah. Perhaps the answer is the best anyone can do for anyone else is to place words in ears and on hearts. The absorption of truth and goodness is a private process, and a personal responsibility.

One last thought - Rav Weinberg noticed that the pasuk ends by stating that the result of teaching our children is that we will know what we taught. As Rav Yisrael Salanter said it's worth speaking even if only one person gets the message, even if that one person is you.


uriyo said...

Thanks for this. Is Rav Twerski's idea in his Haggadah commentary?

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

sorry, just noticed this comment now - need to check where he says that. i don' think it's in the haggada...