D’var Torah: Parashat Ki Tisa
Some of the best things in life come to us without any fanfare. This certainly was the case with the Ten Commandments.
They were given twice. On the first occasion, when Hashem himself delivered the first of the two commandments directly to the nation, there was a huge amount of fanfare with thunder and lightning. It was an unprecedented and unmatched spiritual encounter. But those tablets only lasted for forty days before Moshe smashed them.
On the second occasion however, as is described in this week’s parasha, Ki Tisa, it was a modest and quiet moment. Moshe went up to the mountain for a second period of forty days and he came down with the tablets – no fanfare, no noise and no fuss.
Those were the tablets that remained with our people, to guide and inspire us for all of time.
I believe that the key difference between these two occasions was the use of one word: ‘Lecha’. On the second occasion, Hashem commanded Moshe, “Psol lecha shnei luchot avanim karishonim” – “chisel out for yourself two tablets of stone to appear just like the first set.” “V’chatavti al haluchot et hadvarim” – Hashem said, “I will then engrave on these tablets of stone the same words that were engraved on the first.”
For the giving of the first set of the Ten Commandments, Moshe was simply on the receiving end – they were given to him ‘on a silver platter’.- but they didn’t last the test of time. On the second occasion, Moshe was invited to become engaged in the experience. He was a partner of Hakadosh Baruch Hu and as a result, those tablets remained with us, sustained us, and continued to inspire us today.
I believe that emerging out of this, there is a most important lesson concerning education.
When a teacher presents material to students ‘on a platter’ and the pupil is not personally engaged, the information will be received, but it will likely go ‘in one ear and out of the other’.
However, if the pupil does coursework, is engaged in answering some challenging questions, and comes up with his or her own answers with the guidance of the teacher, then although the knowledge may be the same as in the first example, this time, the student will feel ownership over it. It will have real meaning. There will be pride associated with that knowledge and the chance of it being retained will be far greater.
At the end of our parasha, we have a description of Moshe coming down from Mount Sinai. He wasn’t aware of his appearance, but the nation looked at him and saw – “Ki karan or panav” – “his face was radiating a spiritual glow, a reflection of Hashem’s presence.” The nation noticed something they hadn’t noticed the first time around: Moshe was a different person and it was because he had partnered with Hashem in receiving information, stimulation and inspiration, through education.
Questions are central within traditional Jewish education.
We have the Im Tomar and the Yesh Lomar as it appears in Tosafot; the dilemma – the ‘kushya’ – the problem. Once the student grapples with the issue, and together with the educator, comes up with a solution, they attain ownership over it. The glow, the radiance, and the excitement that comes from us is something palpable and it can be seen by others.
The central message for us is that for education to succeed it must be a genuine partnership between educator and student.