Each Child According to His Ability by Rabbi Yosef Adler


    Three times in this week's Parsha, the Torah records an imperative to instruct one's child concerning the events surrounding Yetzias Mitzrayim.  First, the Torah says "ולמען תספר באזני בנך ובן בנך את אשר התעללתי במצרים," meaning that one should tell one's children the story about what Hashem did in Mitzrayim (שמות י:ב').  Second, we read "והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה עשה ה' לי בצאתי ממצרים," meaning that one should teach one's children about what happened when we left Mitzrayim (שם י"ג:ח').  Finally, the Torah tells us "ואמרת אליו בחוזק יד הוציאנו ה' ממצרים," meaning that one should state to one's children that Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim (שם י"ג:י"ד).

    One may suggest that these three directives represent a philosophy of education.  There are, apparently, distinct approaches that one should use depending on the sophistication of the child.  Initially, we attempt to attune the ear of the child to react favorably to and love the words of Torah.  Though the concepts remain incomprehensible and unintelligible, we must let the words penetrate the young impressionable mind of the child.  We accomplish this by relating the stories of the Avos and of Mitzrayim; hence the Torah in the first Posuk above uses the word "תספר," coming from סיפור, meaning story.  There is no intellectual or profound analysis, but simply enjoyable stories containing an introduction to personalities, events, customs and practices.  That is the first level.

    We then must proceed, however, to the second level.  The second Posuk above contains the expression "בעבור זה עשה ה' לי,"  implying that one must now provide one's child with additional reasons, explanations, and insights regarding those same stories.  We rarely encounter a scenario in general studies education where a younger student and an older student would study the identical math or science curricula.  We fully comprehend and recognize that as the child grows and his mind develops, he must be challenged accordingly.  We must be just as demanding in Judaic studies.  For Talmidim to have reason to complain that every year, the Halachos of the Yomim Tovim are presented in the identical fashion is inexcusable.  When a student in an upper grade learns Chumash and has reason to complain that he already learned all of this in a lower grade, something is very wrong with the system of education.  We must challenge the minds of all our Talmidim relative to their ability and level. "והגדת לבנך" can not be carried out with the same kind of teaching as that needed for "ולמען תספר."

    Finally, a third dimension exists.  The third Posuk above states "ואמרת אליו," which is in the form of a commandment.  We are not capable of explaining everything in the Torah.  Questions in both Halacha and Hashkafah can not always be satisfactorily addressed.  Nonetheless, the Torah says "ואמרת עליו;" one must just inform the child/Talmid as to what his responsibility is.  One must cultivate Emunah in Hashem as well as Emunas Chachomim so that the child will understand and accept that often we practice and observe something without fully comprehending its rationale.  However, one must realize that before one can expect any child to reach this final stage and this perhaps most difficult level of observance, one must fully integrate both the education of "ולמען תספר" and the education of "והגדת לבנך."  Only then will children and Talmidim be prepared to accept and observe simply on the basis of "ואמרת אליו."


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