Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Re’eh

In his video D’var Torah for this week, the Chief Rabbi refers to the teachings of the Prophet Isaiah in this week’s haftarah to advocate against forcing Torah down our children’s throats.

In the haftarah for Parashat Re’eh, the Prophet Isaiah in Chapter 55 declares Hoy kol tzamay l’chu lamayim, Let all who are thirsty, go to the water. Elsewhere, in Chapter 21 Isaiah says likrat tzamay haytayu mayim, Towards the thirsty, take some water. So what should we be doing? Should be waiting for the thirsty to come to the water? Or should we be taking the water to them?

The Gemara in Masechet Ta’anit daf zayin amud aleph understands that water here represents Torah and therefore a thirst for water represents the thirst that every single soul has for Jewish knowledge and for a life of Torah and Mitzvot. Should we wait for people to come towards their Torah values, or should we take it to them?

‘When he tells us to take water to the thirsty, he is referring to those who are passionate and who are enthusiastic.’

The answer given in the Gemara to them by Rabbi Chanina Bar Papa is when the Prophet tells us that the thirsty should go to the water, he is referring to those who are disengaged, those who are ignorant, the unenthusiastic. And when he tells us to take water to the thirsty, he is referring to those who are passionate and who are enthusiastic.

Now, I would think that perhaps the opposite should be the case. But the Maharsha gives this beautiful explanation.  He explains that one of the worst things you can do in an educational context is to force Torah upon students. The danger is that if you try to push it down their throats, G-d forbid, they will reject it.

Instead, if you have someone who is ignorant, who is not involved, disengaged – the best way to bring them to Torah is to show how wonderful and majestic and unmissable a Torah way of life is. Let them take those steps themselves in order to embrace it for themselves and to internalise its values. Once you have got someone who is readily enthusiastic, let us take Torah to them and shower it upon them because they are absolutely willing.

‘Let us take Torah to them and shower it upon them because they are absolutely willing’

I find this of great relevance in our age. Not so long ago, when children would say to their parents ‘why?’ the answer many would give was ‘because we say so’. Those same children, when they were parents facing the same question, they would give the same answer and they would get away with it.

But our children and grandchildren of today, many of them are demanding the right to make up their own minds based on logic and rational matters. Therefore, we need to show them how great our Torah tradition is, how appealing it is, as a result of which they will come forward of their own volition to grasp the opportunities that it provides for their lives.

Instead of forcing it upon them, let us guarantee that our children of today will recognise that if they are not there, they are missing out on something very special.

Shabbat Shalom.

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