Monday, January 26, 2009


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.
Shmot 10:1-2 (Opening lines of Parshat Bo.)
These lines are the introduction to Arbeh, the plague of locusts. This is the last plague that hit the landscape of Egypt. After this calamity Paroh's question, "Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice?” was definitively answered. In the aftermath of this devastation the locusts retreated on their own volition, because there wasn't anything left for them to ravage. Paroh, left with nothing and unable to feign strength confesses, "I have sinned to Hashem."
Rav Simcha Zissel Broide noted that the point of the decimation was not merely to get Par'oh to acquiesce and release the Jews. The goal was to show Paroh who G-d is. Right before Arbeh Hashem states that part of the agenda is to pass on to future generations the story of what G-d did to Egypt, so that they will know who He is.
Rav Yaakov Weinberg takes the reference to ears as a metaphor for speech that is heard only superficially by ears but does not reach the heart. In other words, we should tell young children about these miracles 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 but not hearts still make an impression. And there remains the possibility that greater understanding will follow at a later time.
This relates to the Kotzker Rebbe's comment on a line that we recite daily in Shma. Words of Torah are described as placed upon our hearts. The Kotzker Rebbe explained that words aren't always taken inside a person's heart. Once stated, words rest atop the heart and when the heart opens they will be there to go in. This is why children were taken to the Beit HaMikdash for the Torah reading of Hakhel. This also explains why a day school education is so important even if it seems ineffective.
This approach may help with my childhood friend Scott's haunting lament that Yeshiva taught him Gemora and Chumash and Tefila but not love of Torah. Perhaps the answer is that the best anyone can do for anyone else is put words in ears or on hearts. The absorption of the truth and goodness of Torah is a private process and a personal responsibility.
Rav Yaakov noticed that the pasuk ends by stating that the result of teaching our children is that we, not they, will know what we taught. As Rav Yisrael Salanter said, "It's worth speaking the truth even if only one person gets the message, and even if that one person is the speaker."


esqcapades said...

'Words that enter ears but not hearts still make an impression. And there remains the possibility that greater understanding will follow at a later time.'

Very nice. There is so much in the post. I like the explanation of the words being placed "upon" our hearts not in them. It's not a magic formula. We say them but then have work to do to come to a real understanding. It also brought to my mind (I'm not implying that you meant this) the phrase "going through the motions" and how that is not necessarily a bad thing. For instance with mitzvot - because it can keep us ready for the day our heart catches up with our brain (as when we intellectually know something is good for us but our heart isn't there yet). It also reminded me of stories from the Holocaust and how Jewish orphans would be discovered by an adult starting to recite "shema" in their presence.

rabbi neil fleischmann said...


I think the idea of going through the motions in a good way was there, under the surface. Mitoch shelo lishma ba lishma...

I am fond of those Shma stories as well...

Thanks again.

rr said...

Glad that you are doing Parsha Post again. Haven't checked in in a while and was happy to see it! I had been missing it. I love what the Kotzker Rav says. I think that your friend Scott's lament is valid as is your comment. For sure a day school education is valid and even if only information is learned it is still so much better than nothing at all since at least the materials are on the heart. However, his lament is because it could be so much better if the day schools had teachers such as yourself who make sure that their words are YOTZIM MIN HALEV. Then, you have accomplished the real thing where the education can also be NICHNASIM El HALEV. The way that I see it it is not just the individuals responsibility to get it in (as you said), but the the teacher's responsibility to give it over in a way that it will enter - as I know that you do. Do you agree?

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

I tend to start email replies at the end, not on purpose, that's just generally the part I feel most compelled to answer.

"Do you agree?"

I find that in the trenches of life to do things right than inside one's own head and even heart. G-d knows I try to be genuine and sincere, but I am human and my job (and other aspects of life - particularly those that involve affecting and being effected by others - often feel difficult, sometimes seeming to border on the impossible. Yes, I speak from the heart, but that doesn't ensure that an angry eleventh grader won't shut me out...

There are so many pieces, and the ideal teacher and administrator would have just the right amount of each part. And then every day would also have just the right factors and climate... I wish it was easier for me to take in your high praise of what you believe that I offer and what that can accomplish. In the end the student, the teacher, G-d, and others such as parents and friends and other teachers and and and all combine. HaKol tzrichin mazal...

As of this writing I haven't been in touch with Scott for a while. When we last spoke he had made some level of a return to Judaism, putting on tefillin, re-enterring shul... You really never know. I suspect that today he'd be less likely to blame the school. I wonder.

This question haunts me...

Thank you RR for your appreciation and thoughts. Glad you are here. You seem to be a sincere person and good teacher as well. May G-d bless you to always hold on to your emunah and to persevere in your hishadlus...