Knowing God

Posted by Daniel Landes on January 18, 2015
Topics: Shemot (Exodus), VaEra, Moshe

The Exodus story has a major educational motif running throughout its narrative. Moshe learns to be a leader; Pharaoh learns who is the true Ruler, the Israelites learn their identity, and the future generations of Israel are to learn Divine lessons. The last is found in this parashat VaEyra 10:2. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and that of his servants, lead to their punishment, which has meaning for Israel’s young and those yet to be born: “And that you may tell in the ears of your child and that of your grandchild that which I have done in Egypt, my signs, which I have enacted against them; VeYDa’Atem – that you may know that I am the Lord.”

My grandfather the Menachem Tziyon points out that logically the verse should read “VeYaiduand they should know”, that is, that your children and descendants should know who is the true God. But it actually reads “VeYDa’Atemyou may know”. What does this unexpected and jarring disparity teach us?

One important explanation is that teaching Torah without an intimate connection with the Divine Reality is not worth much and will not lead to an effective teaching. If you desire to tell the story of our people, the ups and downs, the miracles and the tragedies, then you must, in a real way, know God. This last clause of the verse “VeYDa’Atem”, therefore, is not a result of one’s teaching, but is itself a prerequisite of teaching Torah. Effectively: if you do not know God, you can never teach His Torah.

A second interpretation would indeed have “VeYDa’Atemthat you may know that I am the Lord” as a result. The process of teaching is itself a religious experience. One puts in their whole being in understanding and confronting the text, and including the students in the process. It is not up to the teacher to compel a religious experience out of the learning process from the students. That will be their own choice; but for the teacher, to use a Buberian term, the I-Thou engagement with Torah that includes the students as partners is a vital spiritual experience. Our teachers at Pardes are hooked on teaching Torah for many reasons; and the quality of the students and the depth of the texts (and vice-versa!) are two major reasons. But I would maintain that the I-Eternal Thou that stands behind, undergirding and giving meaning to their teaching is perhaps the strongest element in what happens at Pardes.

I have heard from so many alumni in their appreciation of their teachers that the spiritual dimension of teaching is something unusual, attractive, enlightening and utterly precious. I can only say ‘amen’.

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