Emphasis on the importance of education dates back to Bible times. The Israelites were commanded again and again to study all of the laws and commandments, and by the rabbinic era learning and study had come to be regarded as so important that the injunction to study came be regarded as more important than all of the other commandments. Scholars were considered the elite of society, exercising authority in many community activities.
The teacher-student relationship always has been sacred. Students may bring out the best in teachers, just as teachers bring out the best in students. Each owes the other respect and loyalty. The ancient rabbis considered a teacher the most exalted person in a student’s life, worthy of even greater honor than a parent. The rabbis advised people that one of the most important life tasks is to acquire a master teacher (Ethics of the Fathers 1:6).
Teaching is central to my rabbinate. One of my major goals as a rabbi (the word actually means “my teacher” in Hebrew) is to seek and take advantage of “teachable moments” in all of my interactions – in all places and with all people. From preschoolers to seniors, from classroom to conversations at the supermarket, there are always opportunities for me to learn and to teach.
Learning together has resulted in strong enduring relationships with many of my students, which are among the most meaningful connections in my life. This past weekend two women who had been my students since they were in preschool at our synagogue planned a vacation weekend down the Jersey shore in Wildwood, NJ where I now serve as part-time rabbi – just to spend time with me and my wife! They joined us for worship services on Friday evening and Saturday morning and for Sabbath dinner at our house, where we reminisced about our nearly three decades of learning together. They amazed and touched us with their many memories of shared learning experiences, specific exchanges in Hebrew High classes, and the impact of small interactions during class trips and other shared experiences.
There is a Yiddish song that I often sing with my music therapy patients at Stein Jewish Hospice. It is sometimes known as “Der Rebbe haute geheisen freilach zein.” The song prescribes the way to make a rabbi happy — including a recipe for the kind of beverage to serve him. This weekend our students offered us a different recipe for happiness – the gift of a very special Shabbat filled with joy, laughter, memories and new learning together!
A Talmudic rabbi and teacher once wrote that the teaching of a competent teacher is dispersed like the dew, nurturing and rejuvenating all that it touches. May you all experience the joy of special connections with your teachers and students – and thereby spreading mutual learning like the nourishing dew.