Once again, in our weekly update, we must note a remark by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that is so very apt to our purpose that it compels re-emphasizing. In his commentary on this week’s Torah portion, Bo, Rabbi Sacks concisely encapsulates the purpose of Jewish education.
Collective memory through storytelling, Rabbi Sacks points out, has been the key to the survival of our religion, our values and our way of life. This observation leaps out especially clearly in relation to the “the Exodus story, whose frame and context is set out in parshat Bo”. He notes that in three discrete instances in the Torah portion, children are central to the story. “[T]he Sages held that the narrative of Seder night should be told in response to a question asked by a child wherever possible. If we are the story we tell about ourselves, then as long as we never lose the story, we will never lose our identity.”
Implicit in his remark is the formidable conclusion that the way to “never lose the story” of the Exodus is to perpetually ensure that it also becomes the story of each subsequent generation.
The Exodus from Egypt, of course, is not the only story we tell our children and hope in their turn they will be able to pass forward to their children as well. It is, however, the pre-eminent story that is central to the theology that underpins our history.
Rabbi Sacks bids us to guard, protect and then hand the story on. We all have a responsibility to do so. “I believe that I am a character in our people’s story,” Rabbi Sacks writes, “with my own chapter to write, and so are we all. To be a Jew is to see yourself as part of that story, to make it live in our time, and to do your best to hand it on to those who will come after us.”
How insightful and prescriptive a description of the purpose of Jewish education! But to enable us to write our own chapter in the ongoing Jewish story and to see ourselves as part the story, as Rabbi Sacks urges, Jewish education must be affordable to the majority.