My Beloved Teacher
I have had many teachers, but the one that impacted me most were those who showed me kindness. You would think that if a teacher’s role is to teach, the most erudite scholar would have been the most memorable teacher. But that is not the case. The teachers who taught me most, were those I was most willing to learn from. And those were the teachers who showed me kindness.
A beloved teacher is a good teacher. You can’t teach without love. You can transmit information, but that isn’t teaching. Teaching isn’t about depositing information in a student’s mind. Teaching is about placing information in a student’s heart. It is about helping students absorb information; help them be suffused and saturated by it until they become the information.
You can’t change their mind unless you first touch their heart because the fastest way to the mind is through the heart. If you touch your students’ hearts, they will warm to you, open to you; only then can you really teach them.
This is why I remember most fondly, the teachers who showed me kindness. Those who inquired about my day, those who noticed when I was sad, those who showed me that I was important. It matters not that other teachers were more creative, scholarly, perspicuous or disciplined. It matters only whether I was touched. Because when they touched me, I was open and willing to learn.
Moses the Beloved Teacher
Moses was the quintessential teacher. You would think this is because Moses was the most sagacious, knowledgeable, prescient and advanced pedagogue, but that is not the case. Moses was the quintessential teacher because he was the most beloved teacher.
How do I know this?
Quite simply. Take a look at how the Torah introduces the greatest prophet and teacher of all time. The Torah breathes not a word of his wisdom. The Torah chooses not to talk about his academic bonafides or study ethic. The Torah neglects to mention his pedagogic skills. The Torah tells us simply about his love.
The first thing we learn about Moses is that he could not stand idly by when a fellow was hurt. When he saw an Egyptian overlord strike a Jew, he struck the overlord. When he saw a Jew lift his hand against another, he was shocked and intervened. For his meddling, he got into trouble and was forced to flee the country. You would think he would have learned his lesson, but far from it. When he arrived in Midian and observed Jethro’s daughters being harassed at the well, he protected and helped them.
A stranger in a strange land, forced to flee because he had meddled in other people’s affairs, couldn’t help himself. He risked the ire of the local populace by standing by the underdog. The women he helped were the least popular people in town. They were jeered and hassled by all, yet Moses risked everything to stand up for them.
He then married one of Jethro’s daughters and went to work as a shepherd. Our sages teach us that Moses tended to his sheep with love. The younger sheep were directed to the tall grass. The older sheep were directed to the tender grass. One day Moses noticed a sheep fleeing the herd. His loving heart couldn’t allow the sheep to get lost. He chased the sheep and found it drinking its fill by a brook. His heart flowing with kindness, Moses scooped up the sheep and remonstrated. If only I had known you were thirsty, I would have given you water.
It is then that G-d chose Moses to lead the Jews out of Egypt. It was at this juncture that Moses spied the burning bush and was given his mandate to be the greatest and most beloved teacher of all time.
What, if anything, have we learned about Moses to this point to convince us that he would make a good teacher? What qualified Moses to bring the Jews out of Egypt, lead them to Sinai and teach them the Torah? It was not his erudition, we learned noting about that. It was not his brilliance, we learned nothing about that. It was not his superior knowledge, we learned nothing about that either. It was his character. His empathy and compassion.
It is only after we learn about his character, it is only after we discover his heart, that Moses the prophet, Moses the leader, Moses the teacher, is introduced to us. The lesson is that if you truly and really want to teach, first learn to love. You can’t be a true teacher, if you aren’t a beloved teacher.
Moses was indeed wise, brilliant and knowledgeable; he had a lot to teach. But that is not what made him a quintessential teacher. If he were wise, but not beloved, he would never have succeeded as a teacher. He was able to transmit his vast knowledge because he was beloved.
This tells you something important. It is better to learn from a teacher who knows less and loves more, then from a teacher who knows more and loves less. The beloved teacher will at least teach you the little he or she knows. The erudite teacher will explain much, but teach you little.
I Invite you to perform an experiment and test the truth of this theory. Think back to your fondest memories of those who impacted you in your youth. I will venture a guess that the ones you remember for the nice things they said or did are the ones you regard with love. The ones you remember for the lessons they taught you, are ones you admire or revere, but don’t necessarily love.
I ask you this: Do you want to impact, your children and even your friends? Do you want to transmit your knowledge and experience to them?
If the answer yes, then your path is clear. Don’t try to dazzle them with brilliance. Try to touch them with love. If you love them, they will learn from you. If you are beloved, you will also be admired. If you are beloved, you will also be respected. But if you are revered, you won’t necessarily be beloved and if you are not beloved, you won’t reach them.
This essay is based on a talk given by my father in law Dr. Yitzchok Block OBM, a retired professor of philosophy with a doctorate from Harvard University, when a group of students asked him why he became a Chassid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
His response was that it was not the Rebbe’s scholarship, piety or spirituality that touched him. It was his sense that the Rebbe regarded each Jew with true love. That he was the Rebbe of a generation, not just the Rebbe of his followers, turned my father in law, the philosopher, into a Chassid. But once he became a Chassid, once he gave his heart to the Rebbe, he opened his mind and learned from him.