Naso and Shavuot: Celebrating Teachers

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” –Benjamin Franklin

Shavuot and parshat Naso contain wisdom on the role of teachers and leaders in Judaism and on the importance of engaging with students in learning.

Birkat Kohanim, which is in this week’s parsha, is one of the oldest recorded sections of Jewish prayer. The biblical verses contain a seeming contradiction. One verse suggests that the kohanim have the power to bless the people: “This is how you are to bless Bnei Yisrael…” However, it also states: “put My (God’s) name on Bnei Yisrael, and I (God) will bless them.” Rashbam explains that God is the source of blessings and the Kohanim only offer up prayer. Rav Hirsch teaches that the kohanim are an instrument through which the brachot are given. Sefer Hachinuch however, explains that the Kohanim are the vehicle through which the bracha is transferred from God to the people. Moreover, the people have a role as well – to desire the brachot. According to this, while God ultimately bestows the brachot, everyone has a role to play in causing the brachot to flow. 

There is a similar discussion around the giving of the aseret ha-dibrot, which we celebrate on Shavuot. The Torah states that God said “all these words” to Israel. However, the Talmud notes that only the first two are in first person, indicating only they were said directly to Israel by God, the other eight were said through Moshe. Furthermore, Rambam lists as one of the thirteen principles of faith that the Torah is from heaven and was given through Moshe. Finally, Rabbi Akiva emphasizes that the people said “yes, yes,” as affirmation of acceptance of each commandment. Moshe and the people were involved in giving/receiving the Torah.

The ambiguity, in both cases, hints at what makes an extraordinary educator and leader. Moshe and the kohanim provide a model of balancing teaching and inspiring students while empowering each individual to find personal connection to Torah and God’s brachot. Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom –Karen Miller Jackson