Can one ever graduate from Jewish education?
In Parshat Devarim, Moshe brings the words of Hashem to the Israelite nation, then at Chorev, which is Mount Sinai. Hashem said to them (Devarim 1:6),
“Rav lachem shevet behar hazeh,” – “You have been dwelling alongside this mountain for a long time.
“Penu useu lachem,” – “Now turn and move on to new destinations.”
Here, Rashi gives two different peirushim, two commentaries. The first is, “kipshuto,” meaning, “according to its plain, simple meaning.” That is to say, Hashem was saying to the people, “You’ve been here for a long time. Now go on to some other places.”
Rashi then gives a second commentary. Here the term ‘rav’ is linked to the word ‘harbeh’ which means ‘much’ and what Hashem was saying to the people was:
“Rav lachem shevet,” – “While dwelling alongside this mountain you have achieved much.”
Rashi gives examples: It was here that we received the Torah. It was here that we built a mishkan, a tabernacle. It was here that we established a Sanhedrin and much more, as a result of which:
“Penu useu lachem,” – “Now turn aside and go on to future destinations inspired and motivated by your experiences here.”
There is a principle in the peirush of Rashi that whenever he gives more than one commentary, his own preference is for the last one that he mentions. So I believe that here, there is an analogy to Jewish education. It would be easy to say, once a child has been in a Jewish primary school or has learnt until the age of barmitzvah or bat mitzvah, “Rav lachem,” it’s enough. They’ve been there, they’ve done it. Now they can go on to pursue different educational interests throughout the rest of their lives.
But there is a different approach and that is to say, once one has had an immersive, wonderful Jewish education, one can derive inspiration from what one has experienced, in order to go from primary school to secondary school and from secondary school on to yeshiva or sem and thereafter, to continue with a commitment to Jewish learning so that for the rest of one’s life one can exclaim:
“Ki hem chayeinu v’orech yameinu,” – “The words of Torah are our life and the length of our days,”
“Uv’hem nehgeh yomam valayla,” – “And we will always meditate on them day and night,”
Because when learning is part of our existence we can only go mechayil el chayil, from strength to greater strength.
The experiences of our nation at Mount Sinai are with us to guide and inspire us to this very day. So too, let us guarantee that every moment of Jewish education that we have had will only lead to further educational experiences on our Jewish journey and that as a result, we will be blessed with much meaning and joy always.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis