The Teacher as Hero

This week’s update is effectively a continuation of the insights published week from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ commentary on the Torah portion Matot-Masei. From that portion, Rabbi Sacks taught that “Jews became the people whose heroes were teachers, whose citadels were schools, and whose passion was study and the life of the mind… Judaism is about learning. Education counts for more in the long run than wealth or power or privilege.”

In the portion last week, Devarim, Rabbi Sacks further developed his notion of the teacher-as-hero. According to Rabbi Sacks, Moses experienced “a career change” in the last of the Five Books. “He shifted his relationship with the people. No longer Moses the liberator, the lawgiver, the worker of miracles, the intermediary between the Israelites and God, he became the figure known to Jewish memory: Moshe Rabbeinu, “Moses, our teacher. 

“Not only does he become the teacher in Deuteronomy. In words engraved on Jewish hearts ever since, he tells the entire people that they must become a nation of educators

In Deuteronomy, a new word enters the biblical vocabulary: the verb l-m-d, meaning to learn or teach. The verb does not appear even once in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, or Numbers. In Deuteronomy it appears seventeen times.

“There was nothing like this concern for universal education elsewhere in the ancient world. Jews became the people whose heroes were teachers, whose citadels were schools, and whose passion was study and the life of the mind. Moses’ end-of-life transformation is one of the most inspiring in all of religious history.…in the full perspective of history, he changed them more than any leader has ever changed any people, turning them into the people of the book and the nation who built not ziggurats or pyramids but schools and houses of study.”

In less than three week we will place our children into the care of their teachers. The responsibility upon those teachers and the schools is vast. Rabbi Sacks points out, it originates at the very beginning of our people’s recorded history. As our minds turn to the imminent resumption of the school year, there is no worthier topic for GAJE to contemplate and to share with readers.

We owe our teachers and the immense human and resource infrastructure that sustain them an enormous debt. It can only be repaid by ensuring that our schools are affordable so that they will be filled with the youngsters who grow to be the next generation conveying and advancing Jewish civilization.


Rabbi Sacks’ commentary can be found at:

Shabbat Shalom

GAJE August 16, 2019

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