“And Yisroel (Yaakov) loved Yosef more than all his sons for he was a child of his old age and he made him a coat of fine wool.”
The Torah notes that Yaakov Avinu loved Yosef from all of his sons because he was his “Ben Zekunim.” Rashi explains that Yosef was born in Yaakov’s old age. He further quotes Targum Onkelos who says that everything that Yaakov learned in the Yeshivah of Shem V’Ever during the fourteen years he spent there, he taught to Yosef. Yaakov held a daily study session with Yosef and taught him Torah, in fulfillment of the mitzvah for a father to teach his son Torah.
The gemara (בבא בתרא כא.) discusses how the Tzaddik and Kohen Gadol, Rav Yehoshua ben Gamla, enacted decrees in his time to enable Jewish education for all children, even those who did not have a father. “Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: The name of that man is to be blessed, he is Rav Yehoshua ben Gamla, for without him, Torah would be forgotten in Israel. For at first if a child had a father, his father taught him Torah and if he had no father he did not study... an ordinance was made that teachers of children should be appointed in Jerusalem; if a child had a father, he took him up to Jerusalem, and if not he would not go... until Rav Yehoshua ben Gamla came and ordained that teachers of young children should be appointed in each district and each town, and that children should enter school at the age of six or seven.”
R’ Yehudah Mandelkorn zt”l, the former Menahel of Neveh Zion in Jerusalem, would recount an amazing story about the effectiveness of a good education and good educators on the minds and hearts of children.
There was once a class of students who were so unruly that they literally burned out two different teachers. One teacher took early retirement and the other decided to get out of teaching altogether. This class was so bad that substitute teachers began to refuse to take it. So the district called a teacher who had applied for a job but hadn’t made the cut that year. They asked the woman if she would be willing to come in and finish out the year in return for the promise of a full-time position the next year. She eagerly accepted.
The principal decided not to warn the teacher about the class, afraid that she would be scared off if she heard what she was up against. The new teacher took over her class and the principal avoided her for fear that she, too, would issue a sharp tongue-lashing directed at him before running out kicking and screaming. But for some reason, this did not happen.
After the new teacher had been on the job for close to a month, the principal sat in on a class to see how things were going. To his amazement, the students were well-behaved and enthusiastic. The teacher retained full control over her charges and the kids were engaged and excited to learn.
When class was over and the students had filed out of the classroom, the principal stayed behind to congratulate the teacher on a job well done. She thanked him for his kind words but insisted that it was he who deserved thanks for giving her such a special class for her first assignment. She had been concerned, she admitted to him, that as a rookie teacher, she would have drawn one of the tougher classes which would have seriously tested her mettle as an educator. She was quite thankful to him for giving her such a great bunch of kids.
The principal hemmed and hawed and told her that he really didn’t deserve any thanks.
After a moment, she laughed and told him, “You see, Sir, I discovered your little secret on my first day here. I looked in the desk drawer and found the list of the students’ IQ scores. I knew I had a challenging group of kids here, so bright and rambunctious, that I would really have to work hard to make school interesting for them because they are so intelligent.” She slid the drawer open and the principal saw the list with the students’ names and the numbers 136, 145, 127, 128, and so on, written next to the names. She picked up the paper and with a knowing smile, handed it to the principal.
The principal studied the paper for a moment, trying to remember why he had put that paper in the desk. Then, suddenly, it came to him. He exclaimed, “Those aren’t their IQ scores – those are their locker numbers!” Too late. The teacher had already expected the students to be bright and gifted and they had responded with energy and eagerness to her positive view and her general impression that they were assertive and intelligent.
There’s a message here for all of us, says R’ Yissachar Frand shlit’a, as mechanchim (educators) and, even more importantly, as parents. Put faith into your children or students, show them that you have expectations from them and that you respect them, and they will become great.
by Rabbi Dovid Hoffman
Author of Torah Tavlin