Eikev – Educating Our Jewish Children

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The second paragraph of the Shema is found towards the end of this week’s Torah portion of Eikev. The Ramban points out a very subtle but fascinating difference between the first two paragraphs of the Shema. Around the conclusion of the second paragraph the Torah states, “Teach them to your children, to discuss them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise” (Devarim 11: 19). In the first paragraph of shema it writes, “Inform through teaching your children and speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise” (Devarim 6:7).
The Ramban observes, “It makes sense according to the simple explanation of the pesukim that the Torah is coming to add something here (in the second paragraph of the Shema) when it says ‘to discuss them,’ for there (in the first paragraph of the Shema) it commands ‘and you speak them when you sit in your house’. Here it is saying we should teach our children to the point that the children will be constantly speaking about it at all times. It also adds here, ‘teach them’ but there it says ‘inform through teaching’ which means to tell them about the mitzvos. Here, they should teach to them so that they will know it, and make them understand them and the reason [behind the mitzvos] to speak them with you at all time.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

In the first paragraph of the Shema, the Ramban remarks that “these mitzvos are already hinted to, because after there was a command to observe the mitzvos, as a statute in the world for all your generations, ‘Between Me and the Jews, it shall be an eternal sign’ (Shemos 31:17). ‘This is my covenant that you shall observe between you and Me and between your children after you’ (Breishis 17:10). Behold we are commanded to inform our children about the mitzvos, and how can you inform them if you don’t teach it to them?!” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
At first glance there seems to be a progression; Hashem first commanded the generation in the Desert to know and observe the mitzvos. This is an obligation for all generations, but perhaps one might think the subsequent generations would have to figure out on their own how to observe them. Therefore the first paragraph of the Shema commands the parents to tell their children about the mitzvos, possibly assuming that once we know what to do, we can figure out on our own how to do it. Then in the second paragraph of the Shema Hashem instructs the parents to teach the children so well that this is all they talk about all day.

However, if this is true, then why did the Torah have to tell us this in this sequence? Why not just get to the point and command the parents to be sure the children know how to properly observe the Torah and Mitzvos? Also, the Ramban, in the first paragraph of the Shema, seems to refer to telling over the mitzvos as teaching them, for how else would they know them? But, in the second paragraph, he seems to refer to this level as just stating the mitzvos, and the third level as teaching them in their entirety. But is this a contradiction in the Ramban; and if not, what is the difference between the two levels of progression?

Upon further analysis it would seem that the Ramban is showing us the process of educating our children. Ideally, Hashem first commanded us to have the resolve to be Torah observant and only then we can give it over to the next generation. Then, once the parents are following the Torah and mitzvos, the Torah instructs the parents to lecture the children on how to fulfill the Torah and mitzvos in its entirety. But lecturing isn’t enough; to ensure the next generation will be properly observant there has to be an attitude of dialogue. Children have to feel comfortable in asking their parents if they are observing the Torah and keeping the mitzvos in the proper manner, to the point that this is the focal point of their lives. Torah is all they speak about and enjoy speaking about. Everything they do and talk about is connected to the Torah in some shape or form. Only then has the parents ideally reached their obligation of ensuring the continuity of the Torah and its mitzvos to the next generation.