I got CDs from the previous years' classes. If people are interested, I've been told I'm allowed to copy them. I think I'll bring a set home at Passover time for my dad. He enjoys listening to classes on audio in the car.
3/9/08 "Their students came to inform them…"
So picking up with our topic of the year, the general storylines and what can be learned about the stories and themes the Haggadah discusses.
Looking over the same piece of last week, but I want to focus on another part: "Until their students came to inform them it was time to say Shema"
This story, as we previously mentioned, wasn't in the Talmud. The Hagaddah author heard it, might have participated in it, and recorded it.
The only piece that has people sitting around discussing Passover in the Talmud is the piece we discussed last time in Talmud, Tractate Pesachim Perek Tet Yud.
"And in the morning, they heard the rooster crow, and they went…" They did not have to be interrupted by their students to go anywhere. There's no part where the students take a leading role in the process. Why is it that our storyline focuses on the students that come in to interrupt?
In Judaism, they expect you to see things in the greater concept: to see the bigger picture and apply other knowledge and a wider context to the liturgy.
Where do we see that someone arrives early in the morning to meet someone? In Genesis Chapter 46, we see that Joseph rises up early to meet his father coming to Goshen. "And he appeared to him, fell on his neck, and he wept on his neck excessively." In this great moment, this great reunion, we don't know what Jacob actually did, we only see what Joseph did. Joseph's actions are described as they happen, and Jacob's actions are not mentioned as if he's a cold stone sitting there and [this great emotion] it's not reciprocated.
Rashi comments on this, from the Talmud, "Joseph increased and added in his crying more than normal. But Jacob did not fall on Joseph's neck, nor did he kiss him. Our Rabbis say he was reciting Shema." And because he was in the midst of the morning Shema, he didn't reciprocate to his son. So you and I, for 21 years you don't see someone, and not just someone, your son, and not just any son, your favorite, and he's not just a son, he's a major player in a major superpower, and he's giving them prime real estate in Egypt, and you're meeting him for the first time, what are you doing?
Jacob is saying something to Joseph and that's how he feels it's important to capture the moment. And Joseph's way of capturing the moment is this excess of emotion, and Jacob's is saying Shema.
Now above we have the issue of the students telling the Rabbis to say Shema, and now we have this concept of a parent teaching his child to say Shema, saying, "This is how I want you to identify this moment."
The students present the Shema not as an interruption to the Hagaddah, but as the culmination of the experience of saying the Hagaddah.
We currently live in is a great time in Jewish life. There are over 150 translations of the Hagaddah that provide footnotes and cross-references to explain how you can interpret the Hagaddah. The entire Lithuanian Talmudic world is available, and what's important to them is that the Rabbis were preoccupied with the story, studying. It's a Mitzvah of G-d to study, and the students approach to say: break the Mitzvah of study to observe the Mitzvah of Shema. So which one is greater? Maybe the rabbis knew that the time for Shema has come, and they weren't ready to break their study for this other Mitzvah?
[What we're seeing here is a break in conventional wisdom. Normally it's the parent teaching a child. Now we see the students teaching the teachers. ] But what it's really saying is that the students presented an opinion to the teachers and it showed the students' authority that they were able to state an opinion to their teachers. Vs Jacob and Joseph where Jacob the parent instructs the child, saying you need to understand how to translate this experience into the spirituality, rather than getting lost in other things.
Jewish education. When, as a system, did education begin? 1840s was the first public school system in America. So when did education start? In England, organized schooling started around the middle 1750s. So here's a system of society that's in place for a thousand years, and now they decide they need an education system, only 250 years ago.
So when did it begin as a format in Judaism? Jerusalem Talmud, quoting the Mishnah author, Rabbi Judah h'Nasi in the period of about 80 years after the destruction of the second Temple. (Tractate Chagigah, Chapter 1)
"R. Yehudah Ha'Nasi sent R. Chiyya and R. Issi, and R. Ami on a mission through the towns of Israel to establish teachers in ever yplace. They came to a town where there were no teachers. They said to the inhabitants, "bring us the defenders of the town." They brought them the miliarty guard. The rabbis said, "There are not the protectors of the town, but its destroyers." "Who then are the protectors?" asked the inhabitants. They answered, "The teachers."
The people had the mentality that the land was their protection. To the average person, there is no greater government. They felt that if they could create their own little society and bring up their children and create their own society, this is how they protect Judaism. And the Rabbis said this is not going to be protect you, you need to create an education system, and by doing that, you defend Judaism.
When people realized that Diasapora was going to become the reality, they shifted the focus from the land and the lifestyle of Israel to an educational system and that became the defender of Jewish life, and before that it wasn't as high a priority.
So back to Babylonian Talmud, Bava Basra, chapter 2:
"R. Yehudah said in the name of Rav, remember Yehoshua ben Gamla in a favorable way, for if it were not for him, Torah would have been forgotten by Israel."
Originally if a child had a father, the father would teach him Torah, and if he didn't have a father, he wouldn't learn. There was a mentoring system in place and you learned from someone who wanted to teach you in a personal 1-1 relationship. Shema, when it talks about education, talks about a parent teaching his children. As a result of experiencing family life, the parents taught the children. The Torah environed education as an outgrowth of life experience. Nowadays, teachers can't teach from their experiences and with their opinions because we don't want the teacher to teach morality and ethics, we only want the academic perspective. The experience of the teacher's life is not interjected into the subject matter.
So, say you have a situation where the parent talks to the child at the table and explains morality to a kid; "don't get angry" the parent says, but the child responds with "but you got angry last night" and therefore the children and the parents mold each other through interaction. And when G-d originally spoke of education, he spoke in a family setting. You feed your child, you educate your child, and it's part and parcel of raising a kid. That's a perfect society: if you can sit around with your children the whole day and educate them.
Somehow or other, that worked for 1200 years where they kept that view intact. And as they became this country and they realized that "it takes a village to raise a child" when there was a village and when they could embrace the child in a collective family, they didn't need to create an educational system, it was an extension of the family system. But when they realized that concept wasn't supportable in the current context and reality of the Jewish life, the Sages decided to install teachers in Jerusalem so they could go there and be taught in the community, and it was based on the line from Torah "From Zion shall come forth Torah; and the word of the L-rd from Jerusalem"
But this didn't solve the problem. A father who was interested would bring his children, but again, a child without a father, or an uninvolved father, wasn't going to go. So they enacted that there should be school teachers in every province for kids 16 and 17. (kids got married at 18), so it will be a quick course on basics in Judaism, what marriage, children, and making a Jewish home are about. But childhood education was basically still left up to his parents. So many children were still illiterate and a 2 years crash course at 16/17 was difficult, and of course the children, if they got angry, would rebel against the teacher and leave.
So now we come to Yehosuah ben Galma, one of the last high priests of Israel, who came and enacted that schools should be set up in every district and town that would take children of ages 6 or 7 and educate them. And it was done right at the end of the second Temple era. (There was a legal issue about whether you're allowed to pay a teacher. They pay him for not being able to do something else because he's teaching. After Talmud times the discussion of tuition becomes more common, but until then, not so much.)
Yehosua ben Galma should have said that education was secondary to the environment of being in Israel, like all of his predecessors.
So who is this Yehosua Ben Gamla? So the king in Israel at his time was a grandson of the Maccabees, a schizophrenic, with moods. One day he got upset with the Judicial court system because he wanted to be the high priest, which is ridiculous because the idea of having the positions separate is to keep the power bases separate for a checks and balances system. In Judaism, the prophet was voice that wasn't legislated by law, a voice of pain, anguish, hope under the most severe circumstances, a government tried to figure out how to keep the country going, but the prophet gave the people hope in period of difficulty.
So the head of the Bet Din, his brother-in-law, passed a law saying you couldn't be king and high priest, so he was going to kill his brother-in-law, and he did.
So the Mishnah has one other mention of Yehoshua ben Gamla. The discussion is about the priesthood and the question comes up: A priest can marry a widow, but a high priest cannot. So what happens if a high priest is engaged to a widow, but has not married her. And the answer is, "he can be appointed as we see was the case with Yehoshua ben Gamla, who was engaged to Marta the daughter of Baitos, and then the King appointed him to be the high priest and he married this her." (Mishnah from Yemos)
So the Gemorah asked, how can king appoint a high priest? He should appointed by the priests and the Sanhedrin. So Rav Yosev says thata Rav Assi says that Marta paid off the king for the honor. So she stuck a deal with King Yannai.
Yehosua ben Gamla knew what was going on and saw the decay of the system. He was a participant in the decay of the system where a high priest position was purchased from a king who had no right to be involved in the appointment to begin with.
Yehosuah ben Gamla knew what the problem was so he used his position to find a solution that would fix the problem rather than contribute to the problem. Not a great scholar, can't be a great scholar and buy yourself a way into the priesthood, but had the foresight to recognize that he was at the end of the era and wanted to use his position of authority to pass a good education reform system, to get it as part of the mainstream of Israel.
If we look 100 years later, into Midrash Rabbah, we'll see how entrenched the system created by his decree was: Midrash on Eicha.
"The L-rd has swallowed up unsparing the habitations of Jacob"
"P. Phineas says in the name of R. Hosiah: There were 480 synagogues in Jerusalem, from the word "full" ("She that was full of Justice" Isaiah 1:21) which is spelled without an aleph. In each of those synagogues, there was an elementary school and an advanced school. The elementary school was for Chumash, and the advanced school was for Misnah." In a timeframe of 100 years, they created an education system and put their whole goal and emphasis into the educational system.
They were able to refocus their thinking on education. The Rabbis originally, by reemphasizing the system that was in place through a family unit, saw themselves as scholars, independent of students. Now, in modern time, if you're a scholar, you're generally an educator also, and you tend to teach. They had ivory tower scholars, and the next scholars were the children of the previous scholars.
Look at the Talmud itself, back to the story of Rabban Gamliel and the sages at Passover. The sages sat down and went to study law, amongst themselves, with no mention of students learning from them. Our piece of the Hagaddah introduces a student body and they interject their opinion into the scholarly reality of their world.
The concept of students reflects the new reality of that time.
So, Tractate Senherin Ch. 11
We learn that when R. Eliezer took ill, four elders came to visit him. R. Tarfon, R. Yehosuah, R. Elizar ben Azaria, R. Akiva. Rabbi Eliezer taught all four of these scholars, and as he's passing away, his four students, who by then were elders, come to visit him.
R. Tarfon was the first to speak. R. Tarfon was a ship owner and a phenomenal businessman, one of the wealthiest of his time. And he says, "You are greater than raindrops, because rain only does good in this world. " R. Yehoshua, says "You are better than the sun, for the sun only illuminates this world, you illuminate the world to come" R. Elazar ben Azaria says "You are better to me than a parent; for they create life in this world, you create life in the world to come" for the reality is that parents only prepare us for life in this world." R. Akiva says, "Precious is suffering" And what's Rabbi Eliezer's response? He says to the others, "Support me as we listen to Akiva, my student." He invites Rabbi Akiva to continue the discussion.
The basic insight is that these Rabbis discuss the benefits of education and being grateful and thanking R. Eliezer for the opportunity to be educated. We appreciate this relationship with our teacher. So at the Passover table, when they turn around and hear their students interject, they're happy to listen because it continues the process of education, it exemplifies what they saw in their own education. Although the system for 100s of years was through parents, they're grateful for the knowledge beyond what the parents could teach. All that said, this is a healthier educational system, over the parental education.
Rabbi Akiva comes along and he clarifies, it wasn't simply that you taught us better than our parents could have, you taught us life experiences and how to deal with pain. How do we deal with tragedy? How do we live with ourselves? The educators are enhancing and enlightening life experience. It's a role reversal that a parent brought life experience to education and now the educators, through teaching, bring about life experience.
So this is not just a story about education, but the educators have taken on the most severe aspects of Judaism and have helped us grasp the harshest realities of life.
So this study about students sitting around the table and learning, becomes an essential reality of how Jewish education continues.
In Jacob's story, we have a parent teaching a child through life experience. The child becomes weepy, and the parent teaches the child how to understand and translate the experience.
When it comes to an educator. the greatest educator is when the child is allowed to grow and stand up to him and that's when the students interact back with the teachers as we see in the Hagaddah.
For next week: read up on the first of the 10 commandments.