Parents and educators are constantly debating the best, most appropriate, and most effective ways to inspire, teach, and guide their children and students. How can parents pass on their values without pushing their children away or risking their becoming disenchanted, or disengaged? How can we ensure that our children/students loves Judaism, feel included in the community, embody all our values and beliefs, without directly forcing them to do so?
Luckily, and unsurprisingly, ancient Torah wisdom has long held the answer to these and other crucial Chinuch questions, one of which is found in the very first verse of this week’s Parsha.
Regarding lighting the Menorah, God commands Moshe to instruct Aharon, “B’Haaloscha es HaNeiros el Mul P’nei HeMenorah Ya’iru Shivas HaNeiros,” – “when you kindle the lights [of the Menorah], light the seven lights inward, facing the middle of the Menorah” (Bamidbar 8:2). Rashi notes that the verb used in this Pasuk for “when you kindle” is not a derivative of the word “lihadlik,” which means to light, or even “li’ha’ir,” to cause to be lit. Rather, the word is “b’haaloscha,” which, as Rashi notes, literally means, “When you cause to ascend.” What is the meaning and function of the Torah’s usage of this specific word?
Rashi explains, according to the Gemara in Shabbos (21a), that Aharon was commanded not just to light the Menorah, to simply cause the wicks to ignite, but rather to kindle the flames of the Menorah “ad she’tihei ha’lahav oleh me’eileha” until the flames rise by themselves.
This is the wisdom of lighting the Menorah, and of igniting the flames of every Jewish soul.
In his books To Kindle a Soul and Planting and Building in Education, Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen draws upon the wisdom of Rav Shlomo Wolbe and explains that raising ethical, engaged, and enthusiastic Jewish children is a three-step process involving planting, building, and prayer.
First, one must plant seeds, through education and instruction. Planting seeds does not cause a change. Rather, it is the cognitive work of teaching another person about the values and beliefs you eventually want them to internalize. Psychologically, this is the process of providing direction and instruction, the “tell” of teaching.
Once one has planted these ideas, the fire may be lit, but as God commands Aharon in this week’s Parsha, the flame must continue to be kindled, until it rises by itself. After one has explained and expounded upon the what’s and who’s and how’s of Torah living, one’s best bet at actually passing on these values to be lived by another is through a process that R’ Kelemen and R’ Wolbe call building. Building is the show of education; by modeling what it means to live a Torah life, by expressing your own love for Judaism and appreciation for your relationship with God, you begin to inculcate the idea of Jewish life within those who observe you.
Modeling is one of the most important forms of teaching from a psychological perspective. When you tell a child that it is important to say please and thank you, you are simply planting an idea. When your child sees you saying please and thank you time and again, this idea is built into their psyche, increasing the chances that they will actually mimic your behavior. Similarly, it is one thing to teach another Jew who has had a limited Jewish educational experience that there is a blessing that we recite when we wash our hands for bread; it is yet another thing to repeat the words of the Bracha over and over with that person until he can say it himself.
Of course, the third step in the three-step process is prayer. Just as the miracle of the Menorah in the Mishkan and subsequently the Beis HaMikdash was that the flames did not go out in the face of even the fiercest winds, so we require Divine Intervention to maintain even the most well-planted, sturdily built and carefully-kindled souls. Once you have ignited the spark, tend to it - and as you cultivate and build and wait for the flame to rise on its own, do not neglect this third step: involve God in the process, and pray.
I would like to further add what can be seen as part of building, or perhaps a fourth step altogether. When a child is learning to walk, we reward them with smiles, laughs, and affectionate attention for all their attempts toward achieving the act of walking. We clap when they stand, we exclaim happily when they wobble forward, we cheer when they take one step, then two. This is what B.F. Skinner called shaping, the means by which one learns a behavior through being rewarded or reinforced for exhibiting successive approximations toward that behavior. Shaping helps our children and students to experience a sense of pride and worthiness as they begin the work of creating their Jewish identity, feelings that will keep that flame burning long after they leave the safe, secure bubble of our tutelage.
It is one thing to tell our children that Shabbos is important; this is the act of planting, of giving over information. It is another to sing and dance in anticipation of Shabbos, modeling our own excitement. And it is yet another matter to praise our children and exhibit overt affection toward them for their best efforts toward behaving in the manner expected of them. For one child, this might be a heartfelt word of gratitude for coming to Shul, even if he is not davening. For another, it might be a disclosure of your own feelings of gratitude and joy that he or she is with you at the Shabbos table.
To kindle a Jewish soul, one cannot expect to simply light the flame and walk away. The process of teaching, of imparting values, of passing on our precious and timeless Mesorah, is a process of continued planting by teaching, building by modeling, shaping through attention, affection, and praise, and always constant prayer. Aharon was commanded to light the Menorah until the flames rose up on their own, and so we are instructed to teach and to educate our own charges, be they our children, students, or fellow Jews, so that they can experience not just the shadow of our light, but the real, sustained growth that comes from the careful kindling of a small spark into a roaring fire.