And these are the things which I have commanded you today in your heart.
Teach it diligently to your children and talk to to them about it
When you sit at home and walk on the road
When you fall asleep and when you wake up.
(Deuteronomy 6, 6-7)
וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנכִֹי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל לְבָבֶךָ.
וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם
בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתָּך בַדֶּרֶךְ
Foundations for Planning
- How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
- How do I become a voice in the chain of Jewish interpretation of Torah?
- What is my relationship with the Torah and other Jewish texts?
- How does the Jewish value of learning expressed in Jewish tradition?
- What Jewish content did I receive from home that I would like to pass on?
- How does the value of study expressed on Shavuot?
- Why is it important to study the same thing over and over again (every person and in every generation)?
The holiday of Shavuot was thought by the sages to be the date on which the Torah was given, and it is therefore called the “Holiday of the Giving of the Torah”. According to tradition, we receive the Torah anew each year on Shavuot. ...
The holiday of Shavuot was thought by the sages to be the date on which the Torah was given, and it is therefore called the “Holiday of the Giving of the Torah”. According to tradition, we receive the Torah anew each year on Shavuot.
It is customary to learn Torah the night of Shavuot, a tradition named Tikkun Leil Shavuot, or Shavuot all-night learning. The word tikkun literally means to fix or make amends. In the midrash Shir HaShirim Rabbah (parsha 1, 56), an interpretative explanation is given for the word and the custom of the tikkun. According to the midrash, Bnei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) fell asleep the night before the Torah was given, and did not wake up in time for the important event. Because of this, it became customary to learn Torah all night on the eve of Shavuot, to make amends for that mishap at Sinai. On the morning of Shavuot, the portion in the Torah about the giving of the Torah is read aloud in synagogue, and all who are present stand.
Learning Torah on Shavuot night reflects the strong connection that the Jewish people has towards the Torah, as well as the importance placed on Torah study throughout the generations. Torah study is a central value in Judaism. “Learning Torah” is not limited to the five books of the Torah, but rather to the entire Jewish “bookshelf” of texts which engage in a dialogue both with the Torah itself and with other texts written throughout the generations which engage in that dialogue: texts that respond to the Torah, interpret it and develop it. Although much of this dialogue has been carried on through the written word, there are other mediums as well, such as works of art that serve as a form of interpretation and participate in this ‘dialogue’.
The mitzvah (commandment) of Torah study appears in the verses brought here from the Book of Deuteronomy. The verses describe various ways and circumstances in which Torah is studied. In the time of the sages (the first few centuries CE), schools and study houses (batei midrash) were established and children learned to read and write for the purpose of studying Torah – this during a time when, for surrounding nations, reading was limited to the very elite.
The importance of Torah in Jewish heritage earned the Jewish nation the nickname “People of the Book”. The nickname first appears in the Koran – “ahal al-katab”, literally meaning “people of the book”. The nickname was originally meant for Jews and Christains, because a holy book was central to both religions. However, through the years, the name remained solely that of the Jewish nation.
- Why is Torah study so important in Jewish tradition? Each student should write three reasons on a piece of paper, and then show it to the person sitting beside them. Are there reasons they both wrote down? Each student should also consider whether their partner wrote a reason they are not sure they agree with, and then ask for an explanation. Afterwards, each pair will read one of their agreed-upon reasons to the teacher, who will write it on the board. Students can suggest additional reasons of their own, even if not everyone agrees with that reason. We have seen that there are many reasons to learn Torah – some of the reasons are more clear and agreed upon, while others might be more personal.
- Show the students a picture with a lot of detail (such as Where’s Waldo?). Have them look for a few minutes and then, without looking, write everything they managed to see, including: people, actions, general storyline of the picture, etc.
Afterwards, show them the picture again, and have them add more information about the things they observed this time.
This activity can be repeated in a number of rounds.
Explain that just as each additional glance at the picture revealed new details, so too was Torah studied in every generation: Each reading added further insights and layers of understanding.
Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.
- The Torah commands to teach Torah with speech – “talk to them”. What are some other ways to teach and transmit knowledge or educational messages? What is your preferred way?
- According to the verses, in what life situations should Torah be studied? Why do you think these specific situations were chosen?
- According to the verses, whose responsibility is it to pass the Torah on to the next generation? Why do you think it is specifically their responsibility?
- The Torah commands to teach one’s children, but we do not only learn from our parents. Who else do you learn from and what do you learn from them? Who do you teach and what do you teach them?
- Nowadays, a considerable amount of Torah study is done in institutions designated for this purpose. How is learning from our parents different from learning from teachers? What are some advantages and disadvantages to learning from a parent or a teacher?
- “My child, hear the morals of your father and do not forsake the Torah of your mother” (Mishlei 1,8). Which messages, lessons or beliefs did you receive from your parents? What of these do you think you would like to pass on?
- The verse commands: “Teach it diligently to your children”. The Hebrew word used for “diligently” is וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם, veshinantam, which means to go over it again and again. Why do you think we are commanded to study texts repeatedly? From your experience, how does this affect the learning process?
- Do you think that learning is valuable and important in and of itself, even if not done for a specific purpose, or practical goal? Explain.
- My learning: What things excite you and motivate you to learn? What are some ways in which you learn? Do you prefer to learn by yourself or from someone? Do you prefer learning from books/computers/or a different way? Why?
- To illustrate the idea that we all learn from one another, sit in a circle. Each student can say one thing that they learned from the student sitting beside them, or one thing they would like to learn from them. Discuss with the students how it is possible to learn from every person.
- What do we learn from the Torah? Research activity: Divide the students into groups. Each group will receive a text or story from the Torah (it’s best to use a story that the students are familiar with – for example: Cain and Abel, Noah’s ark, the wanderings of Abraham, the sale of Joseph, the exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the story of the spies, etc.) and write down what can be learned from that story. Give each story to at least two groups, so that the students can afterwards compare and discuss the values and lessons gleaned from the story. The students can make a slide about the story (that can also include a relevant work of art they have found on the internet). Join all of the slides together to prepare a presentation that includes all of the students’ explanations to show together to the class. You can use the template: “What can we learn from the Torah”.
- Hold a Tikkun Shavuot: The students, working in havruta (learning pairs), prepare a short Ted-style talk (up to 3 minutes) on a Torah-related topic of their choosing. You can choose a class topic and have every pair research it from a different perspective: for example they can focus on a biblical story, a value, a mitzvah, a biblical character, etc. You can then hold a Tikkun Shavuot morning in class, in which the students present their talks to the rest of the class.
- Teach the resource The Torah is Better than Any Merchandise (ages 6-11), which focuses on the importance of Torah in Jewish culture.
- Teach the midrash from Shir Hashirim Rabba which discusses the reason behind the Tikkun Leil Shavuot. Ask the students to talk about the night before an important event in their lives: How did they act? How did they feel? With this in mind, how might we explain the behavior of Bnei Yisrael the night before the Torah was given?It is like a King who told his subjects: On this day, I will come for a visit in your state! Yet on the day the King arrived, all of his subjects slept, and none went out to greet the King.
So too, when the Torah was given, God told Bnei Yisrael that he would appear before them on the third day of preparations. But when the morning of the third day arrived, they were found sleeping.
In God’s anger, thunder and lightning tore across the sky, and Moses began to wake the people, and they went to greet the King of all Kings in order to receive the Torah.
(According to Shir Hashirim Rabba, parsha 1, 56)
- Consider Rafaello’s painting entitled “The School of Athens”, depicting an imaginary situation (in a non-Jewish context) in which the greatest sages of all the generations meet at one institute for learning. Why do you think the artist chose to present figures from different generations in a painting which focuses on human knowledge? What did he wish to express? How does the image connect to the Jewish interpretive process? Who would you put in a Jewish painting like this?