I Learn, Therefore I Teach

June 24, 2009

4 min read


Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16 )

We all believe in God, but we constantly struggle with the same issue: how do we increase our faith in Him? Is there anything active that we can do to deepen our belief in God? This week's Torah portion provides the answer.

The second verse in Parshat Bo states God's goals in bringing forth more plagues in Egypt:

"And so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son's son that which I have played with (punished) Egypt, and My wonders that I placed among them. And then you will know that I am God."

It seems to be black and white. God desires to ravage Egypt with plagues so that we will have material to use in order to tell our children. Beyond the basic purpose of punishment for Egypt, the wonders and signs of the Exodus would establish a basis of belief in God. This belief would be transferred to the next generation.

But that's not all the verse says.

In addition, the very teaching and relating of the Exodus story, with all of its miracles, would lead to: "And then you will know that I am God." When one teaches about belief in God, the belief becomes internalized. It ceases to be only belief; it becomes knowledge.

What's the difference between belief and knowledge?

I have never visited Australia. Yet, I have a strong belief that it exists. I don't believe there is a worldwide hoax about its existence. I have been in Israel, though, so I KNOW that Israel exists. Through teaching about God's existence and His involvement in the world, my belief in God becomes stronger and stronger until I can come close to actual knowledge.

William Glasser, Ph.D., once conducted a study in which he concluded that people learn 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what is discussed with others, 80% of what they experience, but 95% of what they teach to others.

The Talmud (Taanit 7a) said it first: "Rabbi Chanina said: 'I have learned much from my teachers, from my colleagues even more, but from my students I have learned the most.'"

The Torah instructor is really instructing him/herself through his/her teaching.

We can derive this idea from the way in which Maimonides describes the commandment to study Torah. Maimonides, in The Book of Mitzvot, his enumeration of all the Biblical commandments (Mitzvah 6), describes the Mitzvah of learning Torah as "God commanded us to study Torah and to teach it."

Learning Torah and teaching Torah are not two separate commandments. Rather, you have not fulfilled your obligation within the realm of Torah study if you do not teach. (This does not mean that every Jew must work in the teaching profession. But it does mean that every Jew must look for opportunities to share wisdom with others, especially within one's own family and to one's own children.)

In fact, the Torah uses the language of teaching when commanding Torah study.

"You shall teach them to your children and you shall speak of them while you sit in your home and while you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise" (Deut. 6:7)

In every place in the Torah where the Torah discusses study, it is always put in the language of teaching.

It would also seem quite significant that in Hebrew, as opposed to English, where "to teach" has a different root than "to learn", the root of both words for studying and teaching is "lamed." Gesenius Hebrew Grammar explains that the act of teaching, melamed, means an eager, intensified learning. Teaching must be a process of heavy learning as well.

It would seem that in order to truly study Torah properly, and in order to genuinely make one's studies a meaningful part of one's life, one must teach Torah to others. The Mitzvah is "lilmod u'lelamed" -- to study and to teach. And the Mishna tells us that one should "lilmod al menat lelamed" -- to learn in order to teach. The two go hand in hand. Every generation is a link in the chain from the Revelation at Sinai to modern times. We must receive knowledge from the previous generation and impart that knowledge to the next generation. This is the obligation of Talmud Torah -- Torah study. And in teaching the next generation, we internalize the information, knowledge, and faith that brings us closer to God.

So, learn a lot. Study a lot. But don't forget to teach it to others.

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