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Education Is Life

V'Zot HaBracha (Deuteronomy 33-34 )

by Rabbi Stephen Baars

Education is not simply a room lined with desks.

Education takes place every instant of every day. Education is the experiences of life.

Our entire value system stems from our experiences. The influences of a classroom or a book are minor compared to the plethora of impressions that bombard us constantly.

Every teacher knows that by the time a child can sit at a school desk, that child has already received a majority of his education. The child has already developed the attitudes, drives, tendencies and emotions that will shape almost everything else he will do the rest of his life. That education did not come from a book; it came from experiential interaction. All the teacher can do at this point is offer some direction and a suggestion here and there.

In fact, teachers take a back seat to the true teachers of life: parents.

When a human being is most receptive to influences, then those influences have their greatest impact. A child is an open book which has engraved onto it's impressionable pages the most basic messages - transmitted by the parent.

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A textbook on character traits would include instructions for how to be fair, good, kind, considerate, etc. Though these words only contribute a small part of the child's understanding of what "fair" and "good" mean.

We learn from how people talk even more than from what they have to say. We learn from how they act and react. We learn kindness - not from a book on kindness - but from people who are kind.

If the child sees that in dealing with his friends the father often loses his temper, or when misfortune occurs the mother gets angry, then the child learns that being fair to your friends has limits, and having a positive outlook is only required when nothing goes wrong.

"It is important to be considerate of others" is a concept that the teacher can repeat in a classroom. But what does "important" mean? Does it mean more important than missing a game of golf, or losing 100 dollars? These questions will be answered only by parental example.

Today, we adults are the product of the consciousness, values, outlook and goals of ... our parents.

It is a heroic feat to re-influence yourself to be the way you would like to be, and not the way someone else made you. It is difficult to even objectively ask the question: "Who do I want to be?" But it is a noble undertaking, one that will bear many pleasant fruits.

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All this imparts a formidable goal for our own lives - and especially with our role as parents. The key question is: If you could say something that would be of great influence (to either yourself or your children), what would you say?

In this week's parsha, the Torah (Deut. 33:4) tells us: "Moses commanded us to keep the Torah, it is an inheritance of the community of Jacob."

Judaism tells us that these are the first words that we should teach our children. Though the child cannot possibly comprehend these words, neither is he expected to.

Would we really make the child's first lesson something he cannot possibly understand?! This contradicts the western idea of education, of building the child's knowledge from the simplest to the more sophisticated ideas.

But the Torah is teaching us something extremely profound. That the child's earliest memories are going to have tremendous impact on the child's development - beyond what is possible to comprehend.

Judaism says: Don't waste the child's earliest development on "goo-gah's" and Curious George. Rather let us engrain one of the most profound concepts we know!

But how can words - which have no meaning to this new infant - have such a deep affect?

The key is the feelings the parent expresses as the words are spoken, the tenderness the parent shows as he or she speaks. These express the importance and dearness of how much the parent wants the child to appreciate these values. They transmit a crucial message to the child: "This is what we want you to grasp, more than your first step." These words leave an indelible mark on the child's soft and malleable personality about what the parent deems as important and valuable in life.

Words alone cannot affect the child as deeply as when those words are spoken when the child is in the parents arms, and the words are spoken with deep and meaningful conviction.But that of course depends on whether the parent does feel the truth of the Torah's words! For empty words are empty words in anybody's ears - but in the ears of a baby they are the same as goo's and gah's.

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Why are these words so significant that we need to teach them to a child so early in it's development and so use those critical first influences?

Everything in life has instructions: microwaves, computers, even toothbrushes!Life as well has an instruction book: our Torah is called the "instructions for living."

You wouldn't give your child a driver's license without instructions, so don't send him through life without some set of instructions for solving the many problems he is likely to encounter.

Tell your children right from the very beginning that there is the instruction book whose answers are good and will always help.

The best of all worlds is that your child will learn properly, the first time around, without having the need of solving problems. But like all well-planned campaigns, preparing for all contingencies is vital if success is your goal.

A parent who is trying to get his or her child to attend a particular university, for example, will leave brochures and information lying on the kitchen table - so when the child is ready and willing he knows where to go.

Therefore leave the name of life's instruction book lying around in the child's mind, so by the time the child is old enough, he will notice it lying on the table!

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Question 1: What is the most important lesson you know about life?

Question 2: Have you successfully transmitted this to those you care about?

Question 3: Do you exemplify this ideal yourself in everyday life?

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