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Creating Independence

Be'halot'cha (Numbers 8-12 )

by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

The Jewish objective in education.

When Aaron is told to light the Menorah in the Temple, the Torah uses an unusual word - Behalot'cha - which is actually the name of this week's Torah portion. Behalot'cha literally means that Aaron should "lift up" the flames. Rashi explains that Aaron was meant to hold the light the Menorah's wicks until they're not just catching fire, but actually burning strongly themselves - and only then to take the light away.

There's an important message here. The Menorah represents Torah, and Aaron lighting the Menorah represents the educator teaching - "enlightening" - his students.

Like Aaron with the Menorah, an educator must take his light away at some point and allow the student to stand on his own two feet. The focus in education must be towards doing this. This is, in fact, the most fundamental purpose of education - creating intellectual and emotional independence.

All too often, we find that the goal of education is not to create independence, but actually to create dependence. This is not in line with Jewish tradition.

The goal of a rabbi, as with any educator, must be to make himself obsolete. Only when a student walks away with the confidence to think through issues and make his own decisions, has the educator has been successful.

This is no less true with parenting. Much as we might want our children to walk the same path in life as we do, we must also nurture independence. We can protect them only so much. Ultimately our goal is to help them become adults who are able to make their own (as opposed to our) decisions.

Yes, independence has its downside - my child might make decisions I don't want him to make! But if we are confident in the strength of our beliefs and values why should we fear? No human being in this world has the right to deny freedom of choice to any other. Our goal with our students, as well as our children, must not be to take away their free will - but rather to give them the tools with which to use it effectively.

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