Based Primarily on the Writings of Rabbi Yosef Dov Ha-Levi Soloveitchik Z”L

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The Educational Experience of Sippur Yeẓi’at Miẓrayim:

A Didactic Manual For the Jewish Educator

Based Primarily on the Writings of Rabbi Yosef Dov Ha-Levi Soloveitchik Z”L

This project attempts to present, based on Rav Soloveitchik’s analysis, the Pesaḥ Seder as the Torah’s teachers manual for successfully transmitting the Jewish heritage to ones children. The paper delineates many of the educational tenets set forth in the Pesaḥ Seder and how they can be inculcated into a yearly curriculum. Numerous nuances of the Seder night come alive, through the penetrating comments of the Rav, as educational emeralds bursting with divine didactical wisdom. Hopefully, delineating the Seder’s educational message and methodology will help achieve its realization in all forums of Jewish education at all times of the year.

Benjamin Zimmerman

Benjamin Zimmerman is a member of the Kollel and teaching staff of Yeshivat Shaalvim in Israel. He is currently involved in a number of new programs spearheading the effort to strengthen the community of Anglo Olim in Israel, both spiritually and organizationally.

Introduction: Education and Sippur Yeẓi’at Miẓrayim

The importance of education in Jewish tradition is indisputable. The Torah makes numerous references to the obligation incumbent upon a parent to teach, inspire, and shape the knowledge and worldview of his child1. However, while the Torah stresses the obligation to teach ones child, it does not inform us how to do so. The Torah never dictates a curriculum with step-by-step instructions for how and when to teach what. The Torah specifies certain elements and historical events that cannot be overlooked or forgotten2 in ones schooling, but beyond that it provides few guidelines.

An analysis of the general mitzvah of Ḥinukh underscores the difficulty of grasping how the Jewish tradition, with its emphasis on scholarship, knowledge and respectable behavior attempts to achieve its goals. Nowhere in the Five Books of Moses does it explicitly obligate a parent to educate ones child to fulfill all the positive mitzvot. In fact, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the author of the Shulkhan Arukh Harav, writes that the only subject that a father3 is biblically duty-bound to be meḥanech, educate, his child to perform is the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, Torah Study4; teaching a child to perform all other mitzvot is only a rabbinic obligation5. Rav Meir Simchah of Dvinsk6 disagrees and contends that parents are biblically obligated to educate their children to fulfill all positive commandments. However, even Rav Meir Simcha seems to assume that this obligation is only to teach a general appreciation and love for G-d’s commandments7. The numerous requirements upon a father to teach and ensure that his child fulfills positive commandments and does not violate prohibitions at a young age are seemingly fully rabbinic in origin. How could there be so few biblical guidelines for the seemingly all-important educational imperative of Judaism? Could it be that the Torah left it to individuals to decide on their own how to educate, without imparting some biblical wisdom on how successful education can be achieved?

It is the purpose of this paper to postulate and attempt to prove that the Torah clearly sets forth and defines the most basic principles of successful Jewish education in its elucidation through the Oral Law of the mitzvah of Sippur Yeẓi’at Miẓrayim. The biblical imperative to once a year, on the night of the fifteenth of Nissan, tell one’s self and one’s children the account of G-d’s deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt to freedom is not only an individual mitzvah; it is the biblical textbook for successful Jewish education. Through an analysis of this mitzvah and the Seder night in general, based primarily on the insights of Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveichik (the Rav), it will become clear that the lack of specificity in the Torah’s general educational requirement is filled in through its clarity and explicitness in this ever-so-fundamental mitzvah.

At first glance, the mitzvah of Sippur Yeẓi’at Miẓrayim does not have much in common with the general requirement of Ḥinukh. It is limited to a specific time, has specific subject matter, a particular rabbinic text, and distinctive teaching requirements. One could view this mitzvah as an educational anomaly, possibly even a once a year commandment with little relevance to the rest of the year. After a careful analysis, though, it becomes abundantly clear that the uniqueness of this educational commandment is not intended to distinguish it from yearly educational obligations, but in fact quite the contrary; it is a directive to shape and mold the system of Jewish education based on the model we see implemented on that night. Sippur Yeẓi’at Miẓrayim is not merely one specific mitzvah performed once a year, but it is the manual for successful Jewish instruction year round8.
A heavy emphasis was put on the importance of the children being awake for the Seder (to the point that Rabbi Akiva stopped shiur early, what he only did otherwise on Erev Yom Kippur). Our Rabbis tell us that on the Seder night לפי דעתו של בן אביו מלמדו one must teach according to the knowledge of his child9. The mitzvah of Sippur Yeẓi’at Miẓrayim requires that the father identify who his son is, and what is the proper way to instruct him. Moreover, the yearly mitzvah of Sippur insures that the father will re-focus on his child at least once a year, to define where he is now and how he can best be educated is he a Ḥakham, a Tam or a She’aino Yodea Lishol.

Torah education in general, and on the Seder night in particular, though centered on the son is not limited to him. When an adult performs the Seder he must also focus on educating himself; 10 when one is educating himself the requirement of le’fi da-ato millamdo seemingly applies as well. A person is obligated to come to terms with who he is, to identify his own strengths and weaknesses, to determine the ideal way to educate himself, and spend the night doing so through the medium of Sippur Yeẓi’at Miẓrayim. The self-knowledge that he gains from this didactic experience will guide him throughout the year in all other instances of Talmud Torah.

In short, the once a year mitzvah of Sippur Yetẓat Mitzrayim is in fact a prelude to year-round education as well as a model for that education. It imposes upon the father that throughout the years education he remembers to identify his child and analyze the proper way to educate him; that he observe the nature of the questions the son asks and the answers that he understands; that he inculcate within him the desire to continue the education throughout the year.
The centrality of Sippur Yeẓi’at Miẓrayim, of knowing the foundations of our nations humble beginnings and Hashem's miraculous salvation require more than one night a year of intense study. The Ramban points out that the Torah places numerous reminders to these events, including a daily reading of אני ה' אלוקיכם אשר הוצאתי אתכם מארץ מצרים להיות לכם לאלקים, אני ה' אלקיכם (אמת) I am Hashem your G-d who has removed you from the l of Egypt to be a G-d to you, I am Hashem your G-d11. The purpose of these numerous reminders is to stress and ingrain within us the knowledge that Hashem saved us and why he saved usfor him to be our G-d.
Once a year we learn and tell in depth the story of our exit from bondage to freedom, from our humble beginnings (Ge’nai) to our glorious exit (Shevakh). However, it is not sufficient to focus on this just once a year, as we are human and prone to forget. It must become rooted in our conscious through daily reminders.

The mitzvah of Sippur Yeẓiat Mitzrayim, with its numerous elements and its many lessons, is a shining example for the Jewish educator of how to impart the knowledge and effect of our history and its implications. What the Torah did not specify in its various other ḥinukh requirements was specified here, not only in order to outline this unique commandment but additionally, and perhaps no less importantly, to set the guidelines for the educational imperative throughout the year. Only a comprehensive analysis of this commandment can provide us with a glimpse into the Torah’s view of the essential methods and principles to be employed in Jewish Education.

The Mishna and Gemara give basic explanation of the text of the Haggadah. The Rambam compiled a summary of all facets of the Seder night, which became the major text of analysis for Rabbi Soloveitchik. Every segment of the Seder is part of that educational enterprise created to develop a text for successful Jewish education. Each element contains numerous educational emeralds; every facet becomes a page of the Torah’s handbook to successful Jewish education.

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