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Hashem's Education Manual

By: Mrs. Rena Coren

Rav Asi said: “Why is it that we start teaching Torah to young children from Sefer Vayikra and not Sefer Breishit? It is because the young children are pure and korbanot are pure; the pure should busy themselves with learning about the pure (Vayikra Rabah 7, 3).


In Tiferet Torah, Rav Pincus explains this midrash in a beautiful way that teaches us a practical lesson in our own ruchaniyut. If we were to ask an accomplished mechanech of children where should we start teaching Chumash to children, he would most likely recommend starting with Parshat Lech Lecha. In Lech Lecha, we observe how Avraham obeys Hashem despite the hardships… how Sarah cries to Hashem and davens until she finally has a son at the age of ninety; etc.  But to start with Vayikra, which speaks about the korbanot?  What does a young child understand about korbanot?  How does one explain to the child about slaughtering the animal, gathering its blood in a vessel (the mizrak), and sprinkling the blood on the mizbe’ach (altar)?  When you teach a child, the first principle is to open his mind and develop his ability to comprehend; it would seem that teaching Vayikra would not achieve this purpose.


Rav Pincus responds with a parable.  Imagine a person who buys an expensive new car and exuberantly takes it for his first drive. Picture the excitement and happiness he feels driving around in his sleek vehicle.  All of a sudden, the car stops, and the owner runs back to the dealer in a panic.  “My car!” he exclaims, “It’s not working! It just stopped in the middle of the road and won’t go!”  The dealer calmly asks, “Did you put gas in the car?”  The owner responds, “What’s gas?”  “It doesn’t matter what it is,” replies the dealer, “Just go to the gas station and buy some, and you’ll see that your car will work.” 


The owner does as he’s told – he buys himself five gallon of gas and brings it to his stalled car, but as he’s about to fill up the car, he smells the liquid in the container and says to himself, “It’s not enough that my car isn’t working – now I’m going to fill it with this putrid-smelling liquid?!  This will surely break the car completely!  No way I’m putting this in my new car!” 


How would we answer a person like this?  We would say, “Did you make the car? Did you make the engine? Do you even know how it works?  Well, the person who did make the car and who we can assume understands a lot more than you do about all of its details says that the car needs this strange-smelling liquid to make it work.  If you listen to him, then your car will function. If not, your car won’t go anywhere.”


So it is in the question of where to begin teaching Torah to children.  Even the greatest educator, with all of his theories, did not create the soul of the child and can’t explain its depths.  Only Hashem, the Creator of the whole universe and of each neshamah, can fathom each nuance that makes up a human being.  Chazal tell us that the neshamah, which is so pure and holy, was created in the highest places of kedushah (holiness).  Therefore it is only Torah and especially the korbanot (pure matters) which can start its “motor” running and help it to achieve its destination in this world. 


The Rambam (Shemonah Perakim) teaches that one can extrapolate from medicine of the body to understand the medicine of the soul.  A person with an infected wound on his hand comes to a doctor and asks for cream to apply to his skin.  The doctor responds that no cream will help him, for microorganisms have invaded his body, and he must swallow pills (antibiotics) to heal his wound.  Confused, the man asks how ingesting a pill will get rid of an external problem. 


Similarly with Torah and mitzvot.  We were created with a yetzer ha-ra, and as we go through life, we try to inculcate good midot (traits) into ourselves and those around us. Our sages tell us that to accomplish this, we must learn Torah and keep the mitzvot.  How does learning about the creation of the world, for example, help me not to be angry? Or not to steal?  How does learning the story of the sale of Yosef heal me of my jealousy?  How does the shofar arouse me to teshuvah (repentance), and how does matzah instill within me anavah (humility)? 


Despite our limited ability to comprehend, the rule remains: “Let the pure come and learn about the pure things.”  I might not understand, but I didn’t create the car. I don’t understand its machinations.  But the One who did create it tells me that the medicine of Torah enters directly into the depths of a person’s neshamah and purifies it from within. It is this conviction and belief that is the basis of all a person’s growth and avodah in this world.  




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