Model What You TeachJanuary 16, 2014 - 5:00 am
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance.—Exodus 20:18
The Torah portion for this week is Yitro, which means “Jethro,” from Exodus 18:1–20:23, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 6:1–13.
When Jane Elliot heard about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., she decided it was important to educate her third-grade class about the evils of judging others by the colour of their skin. However, as she taught her children the next day, she realized that they weren’t really absorbing what she was saying. Her now-famous teaching exercise was born. Jane decided to give the children a taste of segregation by separating them according to eye colour.
On the first day, the brown-eyed children were made to wear a brown collar. The blue-eyed children were given extra privileges and access to the new jungle gym, while the brown-eyed kids had to sit in the back of the class and were often disparaged. The next day, the children switched and the blue-eyed children were treated badly while the brown-eyed kids enjoyed privileges. By the end of the experiment the kids experienced what segregation felt like — and that would make them kinder people for the rest of their lives.
In this week’s Torah reading, we read about the children of Israel at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments — God’s basic rules for living. Through them, God taught the world not to steal or murder, not to be jealous or lie, and other important instructions for a just and humane society.
In describing the event, Scripture tells us “the people saw the thunder and lightning”; however, in Hebrew, the verse also means “the people saw the sounds.” Many Sages explain that during God’s revelation the people had an unusual experience where they were able to see sounds and hear sights. However, there is an alternative explanation that shows us how to educate others and share our values with the world.
By teaching us that the Israelites “saw sounds,” the Sages are telling us that God imparted the commandments in such a way that the people internalized them on a deeper level — as though they hadn’t just heard something, but saw something and experienced it. The lesson for us is if we truly want our children and those around us to learn about our values and ideals, we can’t just tell them; we have to show them.
We all can be master teachers by living the values that we wish to teach others. In this way, we give people the opportunity to “see” what we say. In other words, don’t just speak about helping the needy — go and work in a soup kitchen. Don’t just profess compassion — be an example of it by actively caring for others. Pictures speak much louder than words — so let’s be the picture of loving, kind, and God-fearing people. Let’s teach by example and model what we preach.