SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, July 9, 2016


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  • Rav David Silverberg

            In his third blessing to Benei Yisrael, Bilam compares the nation to “ganot alei nahar” – gardens planted along a river (24:6).  Gardens planted near rivers are especially lush because of the constant supply of water.  According to the plain meaning of the verse, then, Bilam compares the beauty and grandeur of Am Yisrael to that of a magnificent garden.

            The Midrash, however, in Tanna De-bei Eliyahu Rabba (21:7), explains this verse differently:


What is meant by “like gardens by the river”?  This refers to the schoolteachers among Israel, who produce wisdom, understanding, knowledge and intelligence from their hearts and teach the students to perform the will of their Father in heaven.


The image of a river’s fresh water producing beautiful greenery and lush vegetation is understood here as a metaphor for the teachers of Torah, who communicate to their students the beauty and magnificence of Torah life and Torah values.  The Tolna Rebbe explained that the Midrash refers here to the need to expose children and students to the beauty and joy of Torah life.  It is not enough to teach; parents and educators must allow their charges to experience the gratification of Torah, that it can be enjoyed like the sight of a magnificent garden.  And thus the Midrash compared the Torah taught by effective teachers to the breathtaking, exhilarating sight of a lush garden sustained by a healthy supply of water.

            The Tolna Rebbe explained that for this reason, Tanna De-bei Eliyahu here applauds the efforts of the teachers who produce the desired results “from their hearts.”  Teaching and educating in a manner that evokes joy and enthusiasm requires emotional investment.  It necessitates not only the skills to clearly and effectively communicate the information, but also a genuine display of love and concern for the child or student.  The joy of Torah alluded to in this verse can be evoked only when we teach and tend to our charges “from our hearts,” which sincere and selfless devotion, appreciating their potential and eagerly awaiting its full realization.