Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Goal of Jewish Education

By HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir

The Sages had two schools of thought regarding academic entrance requirements to Torah institutions. The first approach insisted on selecting only the best students. Thus, Rabban Gamliel said, “Any student whose inside is not as pure as his outside should not enter the study house.” Likewise, Bet Shammai said, “One should only teach Torah to those who are learned, humble and descended from the Patriarchs.”

As opposed to this there was the approach of Bet Hillel, who said, “One should teach everybody, for there have been many sinners in Israel who were brought close to Torah learning, and from them emerged righteous, saintly and reputable individuals” (Avot DeRabbi Natan).

Such, indeed, was always the practice of Bet Hillel. A thousand individuals would be admitted to study Scripture and from them would emerge a hundred who could teach it. A thousand would be admitted to the study of Mishnah and from them would emerge ten who could teach it. A thousand would be admitted to the study of Talmud and from them would emerge one who could teach it.

Therefore when the Jewish People returned from the Babylonian exile to Eretz Yisrael to rebuild a national home for themselves, the Men of the Great Assembly took active steps towards reestablishing the three most important foundations of that nation: jurisprudence, as it says, “Be deliberate in judgment” (Avot 1:1; see Kahati’s interpretation); education, as it says, “Raise up many disciples” (Ibid.); and upholding the Torah, as it says, “Make a fence around the Torah” (Ibid.).

Now if “raising up many disciples,” i.e., education, was one of the pillars upon which the nation was built during the Second Temple Period, following the seventy year exile, how much more so that the same should apply now, following an exile of almost two thousand years, when we are in a period of rebuilding in preparation for the Third Temple. Indeed, education must stand at the top of our national priorities.

Our own government as well, is aware that the theme of education must be advanced in the list of national priorities, as a central issue towards the continued survival and development of the State of Israel. Indeed, the State invests more than twenty billion shekels in education, and despite everything we are not reaping the desired fruits. Quite the contrary, Israeli society is in a state of moral crisis, especially as regards interpersonal relations. This crisis finds expression in violence within the family, in society, and even within the educational framework itself. It finds expression in the lack of values and ideals, in a materialistic approach to life, etc., etc. It is highly doubtful whether the situation will change after several more billion shekels are invested.

The very heart of the goal of education is to educate the person to goodness, to values. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the major emphasis in education has been on materialism and achievement. It is true that we must prepare quality professionals, engineers, doctors and lawyers, etc. Yet along the way, the human being has been forgotten -- as someone with morals and ethics, a good person who wishes to help and benefit his fellow. We must change the goals of the educational system and place at the top of our priorities not just achievement but also educating the pupil to be a good person. By doing so, we will merit a real change in Israeli society. Then shall be fulfilled the words of Isaiah (60:21): “Your people shall all be righteous. They shall inherit the Land forever. They shall be the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified.”

Looking forward to complete salvation,
Shabbat Shalom.

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