How does one, as a teacher, make Torah learning inspiring for one's students? Advice on what material to teach is appreciated, but more importantly I want to know how to teach it in a way that inspires the students to love Torah and to grow in their observance of it.
Get to know your students and what excites them and what they are good at. If one student is great with general Jewish knowledge, call on him to answer those kinds of questions. If another loves to read and translate, give him many chances to do so. (not to the exclusion of other students of course). When you call on them for things they are good at, they feel successful and people like to do things that make them feel successful. Make sure to Compliment all their accomplishments, however minor. Then they will see Torah learning as something they love and look forward to.
Additionally, making a personal connection with the students is always helpful if it is possible. This does not mean being "buddies" with your students - they should always respect you, there should be a certain distance. But sometimes when you share a piece of personal info (like a personal story about your family) or when you go over to them after class with a personal compliment, it makes you more real to them. When they see their Torah-teacher as a REAL person, they can relate their interest in your subject to an interest in YOU. That then gives YOU a responsibility to behave in the way you'd like to see them behave. Once they relate well to you, you can be such a positive example of living a Torah lifestyle and growing in mitzvah observance.
B"H If Torah is alive for you, your students will be enthused. If you teach by rote, if Torah isn't an integral part of your being but an appendage, children (and teens and adult students as well) will feel it. Study pnimiyus HaTorah to stoke that nitzutz within you. (Sefer HaTanya is a great place to start.
learning it so deeply that one could be mechadesh ie. come with with your own novellae. We say everyday "v'sen chelkeinu b'sorasecha" R Ahron Kotler was medayek "chelkeinu" our portion, each person has their own portion in torah, and by learning it so deeply, and plumbing its depth, one can make a "kinyan" on his torah. thus by teaching it in a stimulaing way, in way that will show them the depth of the torah, they will see what learning it in depth can accomplish
I asked rabbi zev leff once how to be more enthusiastic in learning torah and he said 2 things.
One - learn books which talk about the greatness of torah such as "Maalos Hatorah"
Two - attach yourself to people who are enthusiastic about learning. Their enthusiasm will "rub off" on you.
I think you can adapt this advice to a teacher.
In my experience, a person is most interested in themselves. A student many times also wants the material to be relevant. When a teacher uses mussar, not just reading a mussar sefer, but allowing the student to explore their own self and applly each idea to their own life. They will be wowed with the greatness of torah, its applicability. People yearn for growth, and the experience of realizing that torah is alive and takling everything you are is powerfull. A mussar vaad, where you learn one idea-lets say what the definition of chesed is. Then as a group you come up with a task to perform a few times between the next vaad, say week one saying hi to someone you are not used to saying hi to every day, week 2 will use the insights from week one to come up with a new avoda of the week to further deepen the students understanding of self and understanding of the midda. For example, the mesilas yesharim starts that a persons obligation is to know and make true what their "goal" is in life. The ramchal states elsewhere that a person should spend שעה ביום trying to determine what that is. If you gave your students 10 minutes and a pen and a paper for a week, you will be amazed and so will they. Once the appreciation of what torah can do for a person is there, then the delving into the sugya and finding emes life nafkamina said.
This is a great question and there are a number of angles that one can approach it.
(I) Make Torah Sweet!
Every day in ברכת התורה we recite;
"והערב נא ה' אלקינו את דברי תורתך בפינו ובפי עמך בית ישראל"
“Please, Hashem, our G-d sweeten the words of Your Torah in our mouth and in the mouth of Your people”.
Therefore, the very first approach to תלמוד תורה is to ensure that right from the outset children enjoy the concept even if they have not yet begun to learn it. This comes principally from the environment they have been raised in. If children have grown up in a home where תורה is prioritised, they will have an inbred appreciation of its importance. The חידושי הרי״ם verifies this idea based on the famous פסוק in שמע. We are instructed there that the first מצוה of the שמע is to love Hashem. This manifests itself in three ways; "בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך" – “With all your heart, with all your soul and with all your possessions”. Commenting on the first area of “בכל לבבך”, the חידושי הרי״ם explains:
"וזוהי הבטחה אם יהיו על לבבך אז יכנסו אל הלב"
“This is the promise; if it shall be on your heart, then it will enter into the heart”. (See חידושי הרי"ם - פרשת ואתחנן ו:ה)
When a person makes the words of תורה meaningful to the extent that they are lying on the surface of the heart, when the heart opens up, the תורה on it will be absorbed. This is the mission of parents and מחנכים – to inspire and thereby allow the words of תורה to descend into the receptive hearts of their children and students.
Rabbi Noach Berezovsky, the Slonimer Rebbe זצ"ל highlights a beautiful אור החיים in פרשת כי תבוא which helps to further convey this idea (See נתיבי חינוך, פתיחה, עמוד ח). The אור החיים writes:
"ואין טוב אלא תורה שאם היו בני אדם מרגישין במתיקות וערבות טוב התורה היו משתגעים ומתלהטים אחריה"
“There is nothing better than Torah, that if a person were to feel the sweetness and pleasantness inherent in Torah, they would become crazy in their passionate pursuit of it”.
Explains the Slonimer Rebbe, it is the job of an educator to capture this zest for תורה and to implant it within his students. A teacher must resultantly present his lessons in such a way that it both enlightens and excites his pupils. The subject material must serve to stimulate the children to the point that any other of life’s pleasures pale in comparison to the transcendent bliss of תלמוד תורה. In short, we must make the notion of תורה special in the eyes of children to the point that they always engage with it joyfully.
There are a few ways in which this can be done. The first such example is an old custom that used to be practised amongst European Jewry, and is still done by many people today specifically for children who are just beginning תורה study. Rabbi Elozor of Worms זצ״ל relates in the רוקח that young children would be brought to Shul on the morning of שבועות for their first encounter with the אלף-בית. Boards containing the Hebrew alphabet along with various פסוקים from the תורה were carried in and honey was placed on the letters. The Rebbi with great love, would then devotedly read the letters and פסוקים to the children after which, he would permit the children to lick the honey (רוקח סימן רצו). This is exactly the type of practise that creates a sense of love for תורה from an early stage. In a similar vein, the גמרא suggests on the eve of פסח to give children dried grain candies and nuts in order to prevent them from sleeping, and to stimulate them to ask questions. As the גמרא relates in מסכת פסחים קט that this was in fact the custom of רבי עקיבא. Therefore, it is clear that by making תורה both fun and easily accessible, children will naturally look forward to the next time they can enjoy a תורה education.
(II) Should go at the right pace:
Inspiration can only come if the style of teaching is done in a way that children will be able to gain from it. This means that educators require an awareness that each child has individual abilities and needs. When one masters this mindset, they will ensure that the pace in which one learns with their child or student follows the correct momentum (for a brief overview, refer to R’ Wolbe’s זריעה ובנין בחינוך – 'חשיבות העיתוי', עמ' יב - יג). Should a parent or educator go at a speed that is too quick for a child, the result can be incredibly damaging. Not only will it obviously stifle any sense of progress, but it can sour the experience for the child. Rabbi Wolbe זצ״ל speaks at length of the need to go at the right pace. In the same way we do not push a child to use things that are not appropriate for his physical age, such as a knife that we fear he might cut himself with, so too, we should not pressure children to learn before they are ready. The reason for this is because when the correct time comes, the child will be too nervous to act, as the first encounter was too scarring an experience. Rushing a child’s spiritual growth can resultantly have untold effects on a student’s physical and emotional wellbeing (עלי שור, חלק ראשון, מאמר שני: חינוך, פרק שלישי, עמוד רסג).
The ספר החינוך wisely asserts:
"וראוי לכל בן דעת שיתן לבו שלא להכביד על הילד בלמוד בעודנו רך האברים ורך הלבב, עד שיגדל ויתחזק כח לבו ותקף אבריו, ועצמותיו ימלאו מח, ויוכל לסבל יגיעת הלמוד"
“It is fitting for an intelligent person to take care not to overload a child with studies while he is still soft of limbs and soft of heart, until he has grown and his heart has strengthened and his limbs reinforced, and his bones filled with intelligence, and he is able to withstand the exertion of learning” (ספר החינוך, מצוה תיט: ללמד תורה וללמדה)
(III) Don’t Pressurise
The Vilna Gaon זצ"ל in his famous letter to his wife, mentions the need to prevent pressure when educating. Any pedagogic processes should be conveyed with affectionate and joyful transmission. As he asserts;
"כי אם בנחת כי הלימוד אינו נקבע באדם כי אם בישוב ובנחת"
“The learning must be done without undue pressure, rather gently, because it is best absorbed when one is relaxed.”
This means to say that any תורה study must be taught in a balanced manner. Whilst a person is obligated to teach their children, it is more important, if one wants it to be effective, that it be infused in a pleasant and placid manner. For this reason, the גר"א goes on to suggest that rewarding children by giving them money serves to actively encourage them. No doubt, prizes within measure can go a long way to acting as an effective incentive.
It is related about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein זצ"ל, that when one of his sons was young, he went to learn with him one morning. However, this was soon cut short due to the audible cries of children playing from the nearby window. Hearing these shouts of enjoyment Rav Moshe told his son to close his ספר and to go out and play with his friends. Rav Moshe in his infinite wisdom realised that to continue in such conditions would only make his son feel shackled. Hearing all his friends playing whilst he was inside learning would serve to make him resent learning תורה, a far worse end result. Thus, we see from this beautiful anecdote how to effectively avoid instilling pressure amongst our children, and to remember that they have youthful urges that if stifled, can be more detrimental than positive.
(IV) Fuelling Success through Happiness
Perhaps the final approach is to seek success in תורה study. This can be achieved through a state of happiness. While educating, remaining both positive and optimistic is crucial, as תורה is by no means an easy thing to master. However, if one convinces the child from the outset that that they will be triumphant, success is sure to follow. The Sokatchover Rebbe in his הקדמה to אגלי טל writes that the main מצוה of תורה study is to be happy. When a person enjoys his learning, the תורה is absorbed into his blood, which in turn, triggers an increased level of דביקות to Hashem. (As related by R’ Pam – עטרת למלך, 'הצלחה בתורה', עמוד קסה. It is also worth noting that we're told in תהלים יט:ט that תורה study "משמחי לב" – i.e. literally gladdens the heart. It is for this reason that one is forbidden to learn תשעה באב, since on this day we assume the role of mourners, and learning תורה would detract from this sombre mood. See שלחן ערוך, יורה דעה סימן שפד.). In fact, parenthetically, the זוהר adds that the יצר הטוב – the good inclination, expands through a happiness of תורה.
With this as a basis, a chain reaction naturally ensues. The happiness leads to contentment in learning which resultantly engenders increased effort on the part of the student. After gaining such an enjoyment in his learning the first time round, the תלמיד seeks to further this sensation by learning more. Eventually this leads to him not only looking forward to learning but positively encouraging him to want to learn as much as possible as he seeks to expand his knowledge. Indeed, אביי was aware of this phenomenon and harnessed this nascent motivation by making a huge banquet for the entire ישיבה every time a bochur finished a מסכת (See שבת קיח - קיט). Thus, שמחה, the resulting happiness that stems from success, paves the way for עמילות בתורה – toil, an attribute that is vital in spiritual development. With solid perseverance, even those who are initially not skilled in תורה study can attain great heights.
Through love, gentle assistance and personal example a child will grow to love תלמוד תורה. The trick is to maintain the שמחה. When the experience becomes bitter, the struggle begins, and it is the aim of a teacher to try and avert such a scenario. Often all it takes is a friendly and warm reception to fuel a student’s growth. Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz זצ"ל notes how the גמרא compares a teacher to a drop of rain (See מסכת סנהדרין קא). Just as rain provides the impetus to help plants grow, so too, a teacher has the ability to unlock the vast amount of unique potential within a student. It is therefore in the hands of a Rebbi to point out their students’ strengths in order for them to best utilise their potential. ((שיחות מוסר, מאמר מ: רב ותלמיד (א. He writes there:
"וזקוקה היא להשפעת הרב כדי לקבל כח צמיחה ולהתעלות למעלות עליונות"
“It is necessary for the Rav to use his influence in order to gain (from his students) the strength of growth and to raise them to higher levels”.)
In line with this idea, a great lesson can be learnt from the following vignette concerning the great Rabbi Elchonon Bunim Wasserman הי"ד. There was once a תלמיד who was failing to make any progress with his learning. Coupled with this, was the fact that he suffered from a terrible speech impediment thereby further hampering his development. Completely demoralised, he made up his mind to leave the yeshiva and slowly made his way to the Rosh Yeshiva’s office. As he entered, R’ Elchonon immediately explained that משה רבינו also stuttered yet he became one of the greatest prophets of all time and was responsible for the exodus of Egypt and the giving of the עשרת הדברות. R’ Elchonon continued by telling him that people who speak constantly achieve little, whilst men of action speak few words. As a result his task must be to start anew; to enter the בית המדרש and begin like a child, to study continuously and to then review many times, until the מסכת would be stripped down to its most basic פשט. Such a task is not easy. In fact the depths of Torah are vast but he urged the boy to walk the narrow path that lay before him. One can fall in the dark, but as long as he picks himself up the path will eventually become visible, as the person becomes more acclimatised to his surroundings and uncovers the path of Torah. Sooner or later the Torah becomes part of every fibre of his being. R’ Elchonon turned to the bochur and told him that he is currently standing on a twisted path and must navigate his way through it. With perseverance the crooked path will become straight, and success in תורה is bound to follow (As related in Rabbi Shimon Finkelman, 5 Great Leaders, (Mesorah Publications Ltd – 2005), pp. 288-289). No doubt these thoughts spurred the bochur into action as such words have the ability to rouse even the most unenthusiastic person! The key is positivity, and it is essential that even if a student is finding something hard, one make sure that they help them through it. Once one overcomes such a hurdle, the happiness will be rekindled and the appreciation for תורה will continue. This will in turn ignite a passion for תורה, thereby initiating a natural עמילות within the student. This toil translates into success serving to further motivate the תלמיד to even greater heights.