18 Aug 2016

Va’ethanan 5776: Trust Fund

Download a printer friendly version here.

Va’ethanan 5776: Trust Fund

“Our place in the world, I believe, depends on what we contribute to mankind. We have contributed the Torah, the Mosaic vision of right conduct and of first and last things. It is our life, and the length of our days. As we keep that flame burning, it seems to me, we earn our right to survive as a people before God and men.”

Once I lay head to it (Laig tzu kop! Grandpa would say), the page begins to come alive with the elegant music of the mind which restores a Jewish soul.

— Herman Wouk

The responsibility of legacy is at the core of the Jewish people. Before Moshe dies he imbues into the heart of the nation the duties of trust and transmission. Throughout Va’Ethanan, we are charged with ensuring that the treasury of the nation’s spirit, the Torah, is cherished and faithfully delivered:

Take care! take exceeding care for yourself… lest you turn-aside your heart all the days of your life; make them known to your children, and to your children’s children (4:9). 

These words which I command you today…you are to teach them to your children (6:6-7). 

When your child asks you tomorrow, saying: What are the precepts, the laws, and the regulations that the Lord our God has commanded you? Then you are to tell them… (6:20-21)

We are implored to be prepared to answer our children when they ask us about their identity and the wisdom that is their inheritance. Moshe sets educating our children in Torah as a top priority; this command has stayed strong with our people. At times in world history, when the masses were illiterate, Jewish children were being trained in the subtle nuances of logic and thought. Few would negate that education is a Jewish imperative.

With a bit of scrutiny, though, we find that there is much more in the above references than just a general directive towards the value of education. It is more specifically a command to actively educate. The Torah’s entire educational framework is built not on a charge towards personal learning (although it is certainly included) but on the responsibility of educating others. ‘Others’, however, is strictly defined. The only commands we have concerning instruction are to educate our own children — no one else is specified in the obligation. This means that Torah does not obligate the teacher to teach what he knows to anyone other than his own children[1].

This remarkable insistence, that the educational system of the Jewish people be based on legacy and inheritance, protects it from becoming foreign and externalised. It is personal. It belongs to us and must be held faithfully in trust for each generation. When knowledge is a parent’s legacy and a child’s inheritance, it becomes intertwined with the meaning of one’s identity rather than being a sterile, academic pursuit. This is so strong a principle of the Torah’s educational system that even when a scholar takes on students who are not biological children, they are to be considered nothing less, and the relationship must carry the same depth and earnestness as though they were[2].

It has been several centuries since Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla instituted the first public education system for the Jewish people[3]; he did this to ensure that orphans would not be raised without learning Torah. Through this system, parents stopped educating their own children personally and instead hired teachers to fulfill the obligation for them. It has since become the norm to do so thus driving a huge development in advancing Torah study.

However, a problematic byproduct of this change soon emerged and still exists today. Many of us have forgotten that our schools and teachers are our agents and are doing a job that we were meant to do personally. The mitsvah of taking care to make the Torah known to our children calls to us today as it always has. Historically, it is one that we have taken quite seriously. In our Spanish and Portuguese community in London one of the first institutions that the first Haham, Yaakob Sasportas, established was a school[4]; the prototype for the Shaare Tikvah (Gates of Hope) Hebrew School that still runs today at our synagogue on Lauderdale Road.

Still, our sense of legacy and the teachings that we are meant to hold in trust and intact is a great and challenging responsibility. In much of the Jewish world proficient scholarship in Torah is weak and waning. Enlightened leadership can and should be far more robust than it is. More can be done, and there are many areas on which we can improve but at the foundation of it all is one vital ingredient: care. For any of the logistics to work, financial or otherwise, we as a people must care about our legacy. We might not all become scholars of Torah but we should promote and cherish its scholarship. We might not all be teachers of Torah but we should cultivate and ensure their professional training. We might not all be proper students of Torah but we should facilitate the opportunity for those who would be to find the best possible instruction.

When we care about our inheritance we protect it and faithfully deliver it to its rightful heirs. Moshe’s words still ring in our ears. Take Caretake care.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] Mishne Torah, Hilkhot Talkmud Torah, 1:1-2

[2] Sifre Va’ethanan, 9

[3] Baba Batra, 21a

[4] ‘Sephardim of England’, Hyamson, pp.38-9: ‘In the agreement made with the first Haham, Jacob Sasportas, it was laid down that he should arrange for his son, Samuel, to give four hours a day instruction of ‘such students as may be’ and that the Haham himself should give instruction in Gemara to more advanced students’.

Parsha Perspectives

 II  Va’etchannan 

1f  Moshe is denied  (3:23-29)

2   Revelation and other gods  (4:1-24)

3   Uniqueness of revelation and Exodus  (4:25-40)

4   The 3 Cities of Refuge, eastside of Jordan  (4:41-49)

5a  Covenant. Intro. to Ten Commandments  (5:1-5)

5b  1st Com. – God;  2nd Com. – Other gods  (5:6-10)

5c  3rd Com. – Blasphemy  (5:11)

5d  4th Com. – Shabbat  (5:12-15)

5e  5th Com.  – Parents  (5:16)

5f  6th Com. – Murder  (5:17)

5g  7th Com. – Adultery  (5:17)

5h  8th Com. – Stealing  (5:17)

5i  9th Com. – Perjury  (5:18)

5j  10th Com. – Coveting (another’s wife)  (5:18)

5k  10th Com. (ctd) Coveting (property)  (5:18)

5l  Indirect Revelation  (5:19-6:3)

6a  First paragraph of the Shema  (6:4-9)

6b  Don’t forget God on arrival  (6:10-15)

6c  Don’t test God  (6:16-19)

6d  Retelling history  (6:20-25)

6e  Destroy the seven local  nations.

God’s love for you  (7:1-11)

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS