Education and Internalization

  • Harav Yehuda Amital
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion




Education and Internalization

Summarized by Rav Eliyahu Blumenzweig

Translated by Kaeren Fish



Say to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and you shall say to them… (Vayikra 21:1)


            Rashi, on the basis of the Gemara, notes the repetition of "saying" in the verse and explains that its purpose is "to warn the adults regarding the minors."


            The Midrash, in contrast, offers a different explanation for the repetition of the command to "say" to the kohanim:


For the angels, who have no evil inclination, one utterance suffices… But when it comes to mortals, who have an evil inclination – it is optimistic to hope that even two utterances will do. (Vayikra Rabba 26:5)


            The Midrash – in opposition to Rashi and the Gemara – is not telling us something about the obligation of educating, but rather about the manner of educating.  Two utterances are needed - not as mere repetition, but rather with each utterance having its own character and its own purpose.


            When we wish to educate a person and to mold his character, it is not enough to convey new information and concepts.  Every person has his own views, opinions, and conceptual system.  When he hears new thoughts and opinions that do not accord with his own, he may "hear" them on the sensory level, but he is unlikely to internalize them; alternatively, he may adapt the message that he hears to fit into his own conceptual system.  Thus it happens that the same speech given by the same person may be absorbed by each member of the audience in a different way, in accordance with each listener's views and character.


            Influencing a person so as to build his character requires a preliminary utterance.  Not an utterance that bestows clearly defined, measured knowledge, but rather one that prepares the heart.  It is an utterance that penetrates the person’s outer shell and causes him to open his heart so that he will be able to receive and absorb that which he hears, and to make it his own.


            This utterance cannot be measured, and it has no precise scope.  A person may need to hear a lot before he actually feels a desire to hear and to absorb.  Perhaps, were he to try to define what he has heard thus far, he would come up with nothing.  He would not be able to define with any certainty what he had absorbed, what was engraved on his heart, but he would nevertheless sense his entire being ready to hear and thirsty to receive.


            Some streams of Chassidism delved at length into this "preliminary utterance," the opening of the heart.  For example, there is the story of the chassid who returns from a talk by the Rebbe, and tells his friend that the Rebbe's speech was outstanding; he is enthused and excited by what he heard.  When his friend asks what the Rebbe said, the man answers: "What do you mean? Who can understand the Rebbe?!"


            While this chassid couldn't say what he had heard, nor could he understand anything of it, his heart had been open to hear it all.


            Only once that preliminary utterance has been successfully conveyed is there room for the second utterance – the teaching of knowledge.  Only then, when the message approaches an open heart and an attentive ear, will it be absorbed.  Only then will it not just lead to an accumulation of knowledge, but will penetrate his entire being, building him and developing his personality.


            A person who seeks to educate and influence, or one who wants to be educated and influenced, must understand the principle of these two utterances.  It is not necessary, right from the start, to constantly measure achievements and examine the amount of knowledge that has been absorbed.


            If a person succeeds in hearing and absorbing the message in such a way that it penetrates his being, then the message will henceforth flow from him naturally, with no need to influence others by forcing himself, his opinions or his thoughts upon them.


            When all of a person's knowledge and views are integrated into his personality, then one discerns his way of thinking in all of his conduct, in his moral path, in his perception of the world.  When these concepts arise from within him quite naturally and emerge from his heart, they will undoubtedly enter the hearts of others who are waiting to absorb and to be molded.


(This sicha was delivered on Shabbat Parashat Emor 5733 [1973].)