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Home » Education, Shoftim

Shoftim: Let The Teachers Teach

Submitted by on August 9, 2010 – 8:55 pmNo Comment | 2,735 views

Leading By Example

“Judges and guards shall you appoint over you at all your gates.” (1) This biblical passage establishes the halachic foundation for a Jewish Judicial system. The two primary players in the system are the judges and the guards. There can be no justice without judges, who issue halachic rulings and there can be no justice without guards, who enforce those rulings.

So crucial is the contribution of the guards that, according to our sages, where one finds no guards to appoint, there exists no obligation to appoint judges. The Judge’s purpose is to implement justice. If their verdicts are not enforceable, appointing them only makes a mockery of the law. (2)

The astute reader will wonder why it might ever become impossible to appoint a guard. How difficult can it be to find a strong man to wield a whip?

The answer is found in a remarkable midrashic teaching. The midrash teaches that guards are meant to implement justice through their piety rather than their batons and whips. The Talmud teaches that one must judge oneself before judging others. Guards, who make demands of others, must ensure that they personally live up to those demands.

In other words, the guard is primarily intended to inspire obedience to the law through personal example; the stick and whip are to be used only when the first approach has failed to inspire. (3)
Guards that are as pious as they are tough are at a premium; they are difficult to find. One could easily find an unscrupulous guard, eager to wield the baton, but this is not what the Torah desires. Torah has no use for a judicial system that is enforced by men and women that are as hardened as the criminals they prosecute. Where proper guards cannot be found, we would rather not appoint the judge rather than make a mockery of justice.

When Teachers Become Enforcers

The beginning of the school year will soon be upon us and at this time my mind turns to the subject of our educational system. Teachers are also meant to inspire; sadly too much of our educational system is focused on discipline and not enough emphasis is placed on inspiration.

Our educational system is centered on the curriculum. Teachers must finish material assigned to them in grade one so that grade two teachers can pick up where grade one left off. The primary emphasis is on covering material and keeping pace.

let the teachers teach

Since the students are not naturally drawn to their studies they have little enthusiasm and love for it. It would seem to me that teaching children to love the learning process should be the teacher’s highest priority. After all, a lacklustre student will flee all learning the moment the school bell rings, but a child that loves to learn will eventually succeed.

Shockingly, little to no time is devoted to implanting a love of learning in the children. This is a true shame because teachers are best positioned to teach this love. Teachers are not necessarily the world’s greatest authorities on the subjects they teach, but they are the world’s greatest lovers of learning. They are the ones who love learning enough to devote their lives to it. Their joy can be infectious and yet they are not permitted the time to communicate this love to their students.

Instead teachers are required to fall back on the use of discipline to motivate their students to learn. Instead of being inspirers, they become enforcers. The Torah has no use for a police force that is not driven by piety, love and personal example. Yet, our teachers, who are the world’s greatest lovers of education, are forced to rule with an iron first, rather than inspire their students to learn and to love.

A Radical Solution

Imagine if the reverse were true. If the system directed its teachers to share their passion for education and create an enjoyable learning experience, students would love to learn and would not need to be motivated or disciplined; they would be self motivated.

Teachers would place a greater priority on teaching children to love learning than on covering ground.  It would not matter if the students did not cover the entire curriculum. If they missed anything, they would be motivated to pick it up by themselves. Not only would they not need to be told, they would love and enjoy doing it.

Besides I venture to say that students would retain much more information this way than they currently do. Today, children waste time cramming before exams to absorb vast quantities of material and promptly forget it all as they walk out the door. This is because learning is a chore to them. If they loved to learn, they would be fascinated by the information and would enjoy the experience. No matter how much or little they might pick up in a given school year, they would retain it all. (4)

I would gladly put my children in that kind of school system. They would come home wanting to learn rather than looking for a break. School would not end for them when the school doors closed. School would be a lifelong endeavour.

Can’t we take a cue from the Torah and allow our teachers to inspire rather than enforce?


  1. Deuteronomy 16:18.
  2. See Midrash Tanchumah and commentary of Or Hachayim
    ibid. The exception is when a society is self motivated to obey their
    judges and do not require enforcers.
  3. See Midrash Rabbah ibid
  4. Every successful teacher was inspired by at least
    one teacher who ignored the system and taught love of learning. If one
    teacher can make such a difference imagine what an entire education
    system could accomplish if it were given the chance.

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