Daily Devotional

School is in Session

October 29, 2013 - 5:00 am

This Devotional's Hebrew Word


“The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.”—Genesis 25:25–26

The Torah portion for this week, Toldot, which means “offspring,” is from Genesis 25:19—28:9, and the Haftorah is from Malachi 1:1–2:7.

Who is wise?

What makes one person smarter than the next? Is it the gift of a good education? Is it the luck of being born with the DNA of a genius? The Sages ask this question and provide a surprising answer. It’s not about nature or nurture. “Who is wise?” the Sages ask. “He who learns from everyone.”

It doesn’t matter if you are Albert Einstein or a Harvard graduate. The wisest people of all are those who never stop learning.

The Elder of Kelm, a 19th century Lithuanian rabbi, pointed out that while most animals are born with the innate ability to care for  their own basic needs, human beings were intentionally created as vulnerable and incapable when they are born. Babies are completely dependent on their parents and caretakers. The rabbi explained that God purposely did this so we would be prepared to learn from our parents and others.

According to Jewish tradition, Esau, however, was not born that way. His name is related to the Hebrew word asau, which means “made.” The Sages comment that Esau was born ready-made. He was born with a lot of hair like an older child, and some rabbis even suggest that Esau came out looking like a miniature adult. Either way, the Sages agree that Esau saw himself as complete and perfect. No learning or growing necessary!

In contrast, Jacob’s name means “heel,” as in the heel of a foot, a tiny part of the body all the way at the bottom. Jacob was fully aware that he was born incomplete — in fact, he had barely begun his growth process and was only a “heel.” He had a lifetime before him to develop into a complete human being. To Jacob, life would be about growing and changing all of the time. Life would be his classroom — complete with teachers and guidance counsellors, field trips and tests — and the learning would never end.

Friends, like Jacob, we all have much to learn and school is always in session — whether we realize it or not. The Bible is our textbook and there will be tests. There will be pop-quizzes and homework and important projects that we can work on together with fellow classmates. Our teachers will change, and we will never know who the next one will be. Some we will love and will make us feel good; others we won’t enjoy quite as much, but they will help us be good.

School is in session, so we might as well pay attention, study diligently, and learn so that when school comes to a close, we will pass our final exam with flying colours.


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