In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, we find this sentence in the very beginning:
“And the Lord spoke to Moses: Speak to the priest, the sons of Aaron and speak to them . . .” (Leviticus 21:1)
The Rabbis in the Talmud ask the question, “Why is the word ‘speak’ used twice? If every word of the Torah is significant, why does the word speak appear twice, when once would be enough?”
Of the many answers given, the one that speaks to me teaches that the first reference is directed to the priests only, but the second “speak” refers to how the priests speak (teach) the general population of Israelites. The Rabbis understood that even the same lesson or information must be presented in different ways so that the message is directed in specific ways to specific groups. There is a Midrash, or commentary, which says that when the people heard the word of G-d at Sinai, they heard it in 70 languages at once so that each person would hear the words of G-d in a way that they would understand.
In modern educational terms, we could say that G-d was telling Moses that it was not only acceptable, but necessary, to use different methods to teach the same message to different groups. Many times, educators succeed in teaching a value with one audience, only to fail when they use the same technique with another audience.
One group of students learns the value of Shabbat by text study. Yet with other students, we ought to use tactile learning. We ought to make the challah, taste the wine and make the candles by hand. Other students may best absorb the values of Shabbat through music, art, storytelling or motion. Just as the lesson was the same for the priests and the people, but the method of transmission (speak twice) had to tailored to the one receiving the message, so too, we must learn to “speak” to our unique students in ways that work for them. Not only must we adjust our speaking (teaching) according to age and ability, we must continue to find new ways to speak to each unique person in their unique way.
The lessons for the priests and the people were the same. The language used to teach the lessons were not. We must be ever mindful that how we teach is as important, if not more important, as what we teach. May we always find, not only the lessons we must teach, but also the right “speech” to teach with.
Rabbi Daniel T. Grossman has led Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, New Jersey for 25 years. He is a graduate of Temple University, Hebrew University, Mirkaz HaRav Kook in Jerusalem and the Reconstructionist Rabbincal College. Rabbi Grossman also works in the field of Jewish Special Education and co-wrote and participated in the video “Someone is Listening,” the story of a young deaf Jew and his search for fulfillment as a Jewish adult. Rabbi Grossman is also fluent in several sign languages.