Ve'etchanan: Making Jewish Education Real
The sedra of Va-etchanan continues the final speech that Moshe gave to the Jewish people prior
to his death. In this section, he recalls the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Torah at
Mount Sinai, and the uniqueness of the revelation of the divine presence that the people
experienced. He inspired the Jews to remain faithful and loyal to God, even when living in Israel
and memories of the Exodus and the miracles in the desert may be fade and amongst the many
passages on this theme are to be found six verses that are very familiar in another context, since
they compirse the first paragraph of the shema.
In an age when international conferences are held on the subject of "the future of te Jewish
people" and ever-more worrying projections predict a crisis of Jewish identity amongst the
forthcoming generations, the shema gives a simple presecription for ensuring Jewish continuity.
"You shall teach (these words of Torah) to your children" (Deut: 6:6). Moshe's message is clear;
the way to pass on Jewish identity and commitment to our children is through Jewish education -
by incalcating in our families a connection to Jewish knowledge and a love for Jewish learning.
But the shema tells us more. Immediately preceeding the command to teach "these words" to
our children, comes the instrruction that the words should be "on your heart". If a child sees that
parents are trying to teach Jewish values without living by them themselves, then the attempt is
doomed to failure. Hypocrisy is antithetical to instruction.
And how do we demonstrate that "these words" are "on our hearts"? The shema continues - "talk
of them when you sit at home, when you are on the way; when you go to bed and when you get
The precepts of the Torah are not to be lived only at certain times or in certain places. They have
relevance to every aspect of our lives, and apply whether at home or on holiday.
If we show our children that Jewish values and the Jewish way of life have meaning and
relevance for us, then it becomes possible to convince our children that a Jewish identity and a
commitment to the Jewish people are relevant to them as well. In this way, Jewish continuity is