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Perspectives on the A vot and lmahot

A vishai David

Ed's Note: The following is an approach to the question ofhow to present Biblicalfigures to our
students: As larger than life or as very human. Ten Da'at invites additional perspectives and
approaches.

TIle Ramban in his commentary on the Torah has repeatedly articulated the dictum "maaseh ovot
siman I 'vanim ". The footsteps of our Avot and Imahot are writ large on the pages of Jewish history
for they blazed the contours of our future. We, their descendants. are mandated to flesh out those
outlines and parameters. They functioned in a "creative" capacity, designing the course of history;
we, by precise scrutiny of their lives can glean for ourselves patterns of our history, but we are only
treading in their footsteps. A concomitant but equaUy significant component of this principle is the
faith and strength displayed by the Avot and Imahot. Just as they confronted trials and tribulations
and emerged spiritually unscathed so, too, we can be confident of our ultimate ability to survive the
long night of galut and ultimately merit tile geulah.

How should Je\\'ish educators present these role models to their students? A cursory examination
of the Ramban in his commentary on the Torah seems to reveal conflicting outlooks. In parshat
Hayei Sarah. the Ramban, commenting on tile verse that describes Eliezer. the servant of Abraham.
removing the muzzles from the camels. notes that it is impossible to conceive that the piety of Rav
Pinhas Ben Yair was greater than tIlat displayed by Avraham A\<inu. Just as the donkey oCRav
Pinhas Ben Yair was afforded Heavenly protection in his diet. afortiori. were the camels of
Avraham. This fact obviated the need to muzzle theIR for a riglltcouS person such as Anaham
couldn't possibly be subject to mishap of any sort. In sharp contradistinction, the R.:1lTlban. in two
different contexts. takes Avraham and Sarah to task. Commenting on verse IO in chapter 12 of
Bereishit tIlat describes Avraham going to Egypt as a consequence of a famine in Eretz Yisrael. the
Ramban notes:

Know IIIat Avraham Avinu inadvertently committed a great transgression by placing his righteous
wife in a stumbling block of sin because of his fear lest they kill him: he should have relied on the
Almighty that He would sa\'e him and his ,vife and all his possessions.... Also his departure from tile
land that he was commanded about at the outset, because of famine, was a sin he committed, for tile
Almighty in famine would redeem him from death. Because of this incident the decree ofgalut in
the land of Egypt at the hands of Pharaoh was imposed on his seed; tile place of judgment is the
place of transgression and wrong.

The Ramban. in this striking comment, has linked the exile in Egypt with the actions of Avraham.
Later (16:6), tile Torah notes that Sarah afflicted Hagar, and the Ramban comments: "Our mother
sinned with this act of affliction. and also Avraham by permitting her to do this. God heard her
[Hagar's] affliction and gave her a son that would be a 'pereh adam' to afflict the seed of Avraham

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and Sarah with all types of affliction." Again the Ramban has connected the actions of Avraham
and Sarah with the maltreaUnent of generations of the Jews at the hands of the descendants of
Yishmael.

The Ran in his Drashot asks the following questions on the Ramban's comment regarding the
famine: I) Later on we encOlUlter a famine during the days of Yitzhak (26: I), and he too wanted to
go to Egypt to escape the throes of the famine. The Almighty commanded him to remain in Eretz
Yisrael. The Ran asks, if Avraham's descent to Egypt constitutes a transgressio£l then why would
Yitzchak want to follow such a course: ipso facto, we must assume that Yitzhak was unaware that
this was tantamount to a sin and therefore chose to do so as a rational choice given the exigency of
the moment. If so, how did the Ramban know that it was a transgression? 2) Furthermore if
jeopardizing his wife's situation also constituted a transgression, why then did Yitzhak simulate this
behavior?

To resolve these questions, one must probe the aforementioned principle maaseh avot siman
/'vanim. The first seventy-five years of the life of Abraham aren't subject to the principle of maaseh
avot. Every subsequent event transcribed by the Torah has signal relevance for the future unfolding
development of kneset Yisrael. Avraham and Sarah are the roots of the tree and we are the branches
and foliage. The frenetic hakhnasat orhim of Abraham, of "I pray you. let a little water be
brought" is related to the well that sustained the Je\\ish people in the desert: the morsel of bread
given to the orhim by Abraham, to the manna in the desert; the afflictions suffered by Pharaoh in
Egypt during the days of Abraham, to the afflictions given out to Pharaoh, King of Egypt; Avraham
leaving Egypt laden with material goods. to the booty taken by the Jews when they left Egypt. The
footprints of the Avot and fmaho( are therefore indelibly etched into our historical psyche.
Therefore. even though the Ramban takes Abraham to task, once the .t4vot chose to act as they did. it
automatically assumed the cosmic dimensions of maaseh avol simon /'vanim. Similarly Hazal
critique Yaakov in initiating the encounter with Esav, described in the begilming of porshat
f/ayish/ah cited by the Ramban. Yet even though Yaakov could and perhaps should have chosen an
alternate approach and modus operandi, once he opted for a particular methodology it became
hallowed in our value system. The shtad/anut of Yaakov became a paradigm for Jews throughout
their sojourn ga/Uf.

The query of the Ran is therefore resolved. Even though Abraham and Yaakov should have
employed a different path, the maaseh avof simon I'vonim dictated that the identical course be
followed by their descendants. Therefore, Yitzhak initially chose, during a period of famine. to
follow his father until he received the Di\ine directive enjoining him to remain and dwell in this
land The position of the of Ramban is inherent in the precise terminology of the Midrash Rabah he
cites in chapter 12, verse lOin Bereishit: "Rabbi Pinhas in the name of Rabbi Oshaya by stated: The

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Almighty told Abraham, go and pave tlle road for your children." The midrash continues, And youIt

find that all that is written regarding Abraham is written regarding his children." Therefore, the
Ramban suggests, perhaps the descent to Egypt was a transgression, but once Abraham blazed tlle
trail, Yitzhak had to follow suit.

The superstructure that undergirds the history of kneset Yisrael was established by the Avot and
Imahat and we can only understand our strengths and weaknesses by studying their lives with
exceeding care. The Ramban, throughout his commentary on Bereishit, doesn't fail to accentuate
the righteousness of the Avot and Imahot, in general, and Abraham and Sarah in particular The
Ramban focuses on their impeccable faith and piety. their stalwart commitment and their consuming
love of God.

The position of the Ramban, tllerefore, is tllat even if a particular position posed by the Avot and
Imahot was lacking in appropriateness, it still has eternal validity and fits into tlle schemata of
maaseh avot siman /'vanim. The source the kedushah of the Ava! and Imahat and in their saintly
character. They were human beings who by dint of their extraordinary efforts developed and
nurtured their personalities. Ramban in his commentary on the Torah has e:-..1ensively developed the
Talmudic notion (Yevamot 121b) that the Almighty deals witll the righteous utilizing a different
barometer and standard. Harav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (Bereishil 12: 10-13) in commenting on
the Ramban regarding the transgression of Abraham, poignantly notes that the Tomh never defies
our great leaders and tzadikim but presents tllem as human beings who struggled violently to achieve
profound virtues. By honestly describing their characters we are able to relate to them and view
them as our role models. It is in that vein that Hazal instruct us itA person is obligated to say. when
will my actions reach those of Abraham. Yitl.h.ak and Yaakov." If we view them as tmnscendent
demigods, they will be beyond our intellectual and emotional purview. If we view them as human
beings who achieved dizzying spiritual heights through their indefatigable self-discipline. tllen we
can begin to comprehend their attainments. Indeed. it is a subtle distinction but a profoundly
important one. It's enormously difficult. ifnot well nigh impossible. to gain parity with the Avot and
Imahot, but we are and instructed to attempt to reach (mauwyageea) or touch their heavenly bound
footsteps (Sefat Emet). The Mishnah in Masekhet Megila (25a) states: "The episode of Tamar is
read in tlle synagogue and tmnslated." It's explained in the Talmud that one might have deemed tllis
improper out of respect for Yehudah, but the conclusion is that the passage only redounds to his
credit for it underscores the middah of confession exhibited by Yehudah. Harav Solveitchik shlitah
has, in this vein, contrdsted the personalities of Yosef and Yehuda in light of a dual typology
employed by the Ramban in his Shemonah Perakim. Yosef is the "congenital (zadik and hasi(l" who
successfully defeats the yetzer horo at every juncture. Yehuda is the courageous individual who may
have faltered but ultimately rose to the challenge and as a result of those qualities merited kingship.

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There exists a tendency to either portray the Avot and Imahot as angels that we cannot relate to or
to depict them as finite mortals "'ith foibles and weaknesses that we encounter daily. The first
position engenders the problem described above; the second, however, reveals an egregious lack of
understanding of individuals whom the Ramban often characterizes in kabbalistic terms as being
"the chariot of the Almighty." The Ramban was able to carve out a position, which accords them
the ultimate derekh eretz for their kedushah and piety, while simultaneously demonstrating their
pristine humanity. In his Guide for Ihe Perplexed (part 3. chapter 51), the Ramban states:

When we have acquired a true knowledge of God and rejoice in that knowledge
in such a manner, that while speaking to others or attending to our bodily wants,
our mind is all that time with God~ when we are with our heart constantly near God,
even while our body is in the society ofmen...then we have attained not only the
height of ordinary prophets, but of Moses, our teacher. .. The Patriarchs likewise
attained this degree of perfection.... Their mind was so identified with the
knowledge of God that He made a lasting covenant with each of them.... When we
therefore find them also engaged in ruling others, in increasing their property, and
endeavoring to obtain possession of wealth and honor, we see in this fact a proof
that when they were occupied in these things, only their bodily limbs were at work,
while their heart and mind never moved away from the name of God....

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One must, therefore, be eX1raordinarily careful not to approach the Avot with an intellectual
arrogance that would equate them with everyday mortals, but simultaneously one must not catapult
them to heights where any attempt to relate to them and learn from them would constitute an
impediment to relatively spiritual Liliputians. It's a tensue balancing act that must be utilized
recognizing the pitfalls in both approaches. If we succeed however, we will achieve recognition that
there is no conflict and the Avot and imahot wiII become our guides and role models in our lives.
As the prophet Isaiah (51: 1-2) expressed: "Look unto the rock from where you were hewn and to
the hole of the pit from where you are digged. Look onto Avraham your father and onto Sarah that
bore you, for I called him alone and blessed him and increased him. "

RABBI DAViD;s the Rosh Yeshiva ofthe Yeshivat Ohr Chaim / Ulpanat Drat High School in Down.sview,
Ontario.

See Ramban, Bereishit, 13: 13; 15:6; 17: 1,22; 18: 1,18,19; 21:9; 22: I; 24:32; 25: 17.

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Another Perspective on the Avot and Imahot
Zvi Grumet
I
In the Spring 1991 issue ofTen Da'at, Avishai David took a bold step fonvard by opening for
us the thorny issue of teaching about the A vol and Imahol. Indeed, we owe him gratitude for his
insights and thoughts. As the editor's prefatory note indicates, however. additional perspectives
and approaches are invited and.. may I add, needed. Relying almost entirely on the Ramban's
notion of ma'aseh avof simon I'vanim, Rabbi David treads very carefully, willing to admit human
fallibility of the A vot. while maintaining that "even though Ya'akov could and perhaps should
have chosen a different modus operandi [regarding his confrontation with Esav], once he opted
for a particular methodology it became hallowed in our value system." Similarly, he suggests,
"Perhaps the descent to Egypt was a transgression. Once Avraham blazed the trail, Yitzhak had
to follow suit. "
A closer reading of the Rarnban (and the rnidrashim which serve as his foundation) yield, I
believe. a different approach regarding this particular point. Generally, "ma'aseh avol simon
I'vanim is understood by the Ramban as a predictive principle (that is. that the actions of the Avot
,md the consequences of those actions will. perforce, be repeated in history), and not as a
prescriptive one (meaning, that their descendants should follow in the footsteps of their
forefathers). The only exception is that ofYa'akov. where Hazal inform us that Ya'akov should
not have instigated Esav, but he at least compensated for his error in his modus operandi. The
message for eternity is not to be understood as, "from now on we are to 'start up' with Esav"s
descendants" (as Rabbi David would have us believe) rather, "once we are already involved with
Esav's descendants, how should we go about dealing with the situation."
Would anyone dare to suggest that the terrible gO/lit in JIitzrayim. which the Ramban ascribes
to (read: blames on) Avraham's trip to Alitzrayim, was something that we should strive to repeat
again in our history? The actions of the Avot may indeed be predictive of our own destiny. but it
is difficult to claim that once they erred (as the Ramban and others do not hesitate to point out
that they did), their "particular methodology, become[sj hallowed in our value system."
Particularly troublesome is Rabbi David's need for the principle of ma'aseh omt siman !'vanim to
learn lessons from the Aval. Why can't the Avot simply serve as role models. without resorting to
mystical principles? If we, indeed, assume that this principle is the foundation of our learning
lessons from our forefathers, does that imply that, since Moshe Rabbenu, Shmuel HaNavi and
David HaMelekh were not AVOI that we can't learn lessons from them?

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Before we proceed to suggest an alternate approach to the A vot, we must be willing to ask
ourselves a critical question. Why are we afraid to ascribe human weakness and fallibility to the
Avo!? Do we think that we would not be able to learn from the Avo! if they were mortals? Rabbi

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David rightly notes that this reasoning rings hollow. "If we view them [the AvotJ as transcendent
demigods, they will be beyond our intellectual and emotional purview." TIlis being the case,
why are we so unnerved by the notion that the Avot were human. with strengths and weaknesses,
who strove to overcome their weaknesses while capitalizing on their strengths? Are the
foundations of our belief so shaky that we must immortalize those who preceded us to justify
ourselves? Are we so insecure that discovering a blemish in our forefathers would shatter the
religious edifices we have constructed? (Indeed, a brief survey of current popular biographies of
Torah luminaries, both present and past, reveals a tendency to portray them as anything but
human.)

If we validate our beliefs based not on the conviction of our own convictions and
understanding, but solely on the authenticity and authority of our predecessors, then
we can certainly understand the need to perceive and portray those predecessors as
infallible for any fault of theirs reveals our own weaknesses.

Perhaps it is because we live in an age of general irreverence for authority and irreverence for
religion. that we feel a need to hold on to the she'eirit ha'pleitah, the last vestige of that which
we hold as sacred. Perhaps, as our halakhic and theological systems have come under attack we
have responded defensively, by standing on the shouJders of our forefathers, our Avot,
establishing them as unquestionably correct in all of their actions, motivations and beliefs.
A variation on the above would read as follows: If our Avot can err. then surely so can Hazal.
If Hazal can err, then why should people listen to them? After all, any particular decision of
t11eirs might be in errorl! Hence, we must maintain the Avot as infallible in order to protect our
halakhic system and respect for the authority of Hazal. (TIlis logic. of course. is flawed in many
ways. The authority of Hazal does not emanate from their inability to be wrong. rather. from a
Divine decree that they have authority even if their decision goes against God's original intent.)
If either of the above motivations is true. then we must investigate whether our perceptions of
our national and religious heroes are. indeed, accurate, or self-made images created to satisfy our
own needs. Indeed, young children need to see their parents (and all of their heroes) as
infallible. £t requires emotional maturity to recognize that our parents do. in fact make mistakes.
yet that does not detract from our feelings of love and admiration for them. Perhaps we need to
be religiously mature to accept the fallibility of our Avot. without letting that awareness detract
from our reverence of them.

III
In light of the above, let us then ask the question anew. How are we to view. and to teach
about the Avo/? Let it be clear that it is critical to distinguish between two issues. which are
obviously different, but are all too often confused. One is the issue of how to perceive theAvot
themselves were they in fact super-humans or merely inspired mortals. The second is an

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educational issue~espite who the Avot really were, how should we be presenting them to our
students?
We must not scoff at the separation of these two issues, or at the formulation of the
educational question. In halakha we sometimes employ the principle halakha v'ein morin kein
just because the halakha is a certain way does not necessarily mean it should be taught as such.
Sometimes, educational issues take precedence over determination of absolute truth. Even were
we to discover that the Avot were humans with many weaknesses, is it appropriate to teach that
notion to our students? Perhaps our students need to believe that the Avot were infallible. The
two issues are by no means synonymous, although resolution of one may help us resolve the
other. Perhaps the most critical issue relates to the role of d'rash within our learning of Torah
SneBikhtav. If we accept d'rash as the only authoritative interpretation of the text, then we have
no question regarding the Avot, for we can selectively learn only those midrashim that will
support the perspective we wish to present If, on the other hand, we go back to the Gemara's
principle of ein miTcra yotzei miydei peshuto, then it becomes more complicated The straight
readings of many pesukim (the p'shat) seem to point to mistakes and failings of the Avot (for
example: Yitzhak's choice of Esav for a blessing, Sarah's treatment of Hagar, Avraham's
declaration to Avimelekh, and many others). Indeed, as was noted by Rabbi David, the Ramban
does not hesitate to criticize Avraham and Sarah when he deems it appropriate, and other
parshanim champion the cause ofp'shat in the face of d'rash (Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, Ibn Caspi.
Bekhor ShoT. and others), even if it means finding fault with the Avot
What we must always keep in mind, that the Torah chose to tell us these particular stories
about our Avot, even when they are apparently uncomplimentary. Had the Torah wanted to
whitewash them and present them as pristine models. it would have done so in a manner that
would be undeniably clear to all. This is not the case. The very tales that the Torah chooses to
relate are tile ones God thought would be instructive to us, and it is our job to discover the
message(s) in each anecdote. Rather than see the stories of the Avot as problems to which
answers must be found, we must see those very stories as God's plea with us to look even more
carefully at the text and discover the message hidden therein. If we find ourselves engaging in
apologetics or looking for ways to justify the actions of the Avot, then we have clearly missed the
point. If. on the other hand, we see anomalies and problems as clues to a greater idea. then we've
begun to hear the song of the Torah.
For example. regarding the differing accounts of the creation of man, Rashi suggests
(according to the p'shat) that the first account is merely the abbreviated version of what comes
later. TIus is a reasonable justification of two, apparently contradictory, texts, but does not leave
us with a message (which may be why Rashi felt a need to also quote the d'rash). In his
exposition of Adam I and is Adam II, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik not only resolves the

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contradiction.. but highlights the fact that the contradiction had to be written to teach us about the
two typologies of man.
The Torah, therefore, (even in its style) is dynamic not static. Clearly, one of the central
themes in the Torah is that of development and growth, starting with the development and
growth of the world itself at the beginning of Breishil. The Torah is, therefore, a model for our
own growth. 'This being the case, finding the Avot occasionally stumbling on tlleir patll toward
their own development is exactly what we would expect to find. Rather than feel compelled to
"explain away" these "stains" on tlleir reputation, we should eagerly and joyously grasp at tlle
opportunity to understand why and how they fell and how they grew through the experience. not
(God forbid) for tlle purpose of denigrating tllem, rather, so that we can learn from them. The
Avol are a reflection of each and every one of us and we of them, and the lessons gleaned from
their misfortunes, along witll their successes, are our national and religious treasures. earned and
learned the hard way.
It is no accident that Avraham starts out as Avram-his name is changed after two parashiot
of development. It is no accident that the blessings given to Avram/Avraham change continually
as he changes. It is also no accident tllat Ya'akov needs more than two parashiot of development,
making many mistakes along tlle way and leMning from those mistakes, before he is called
Yisrael, whose name we carry to this day. In fact, it is only after his name is changed a second
time that God Himself confirms Yisrael's worthiness of the b'rakha. Even Ramban's mystical
quote describing the Avol as "tlle chariot of tlle Almighty" fits this pattern, for tlle Torah text
which originally sparked tllis comment and was the catalyst for tllis idea appears only after
Avram becomes Avraham and after Ya'akov becomes Yisrael and. not surprisingly, is
conspicuously missing regarding Yitzhak. who never undergoes a name change.

IV
The A vot, tlleo, rather than being pristine angels or corrupt mortals, are humans involved in a
desperate struggle to rise above their weaknesses, occasionally stumbling along the way but
learning from tlleir errors, eventually reaching di72ying heights. They are paradigms. not of
human perfection. but of the struggle for that perfection. They are the models the Torah has set
for us. showing us that we too can overcome obstacles in our own, indi"idual paths. We too can.
if we want, achieve great moral and spiritual stature. and we need not tread that path alone nor
blaze our own patlls. Our A vat have been tllere already. and they are ready to accompany us on
our own journeys.
At tins point, the only educational question is not whether to present the Avol to our students
as the Torah presents them to us but when to do so. Young children need heroes. Young
children need the security of infaJlible and perfect parents. It can be argued tllat tlley need to see
tlle 5anle way. Yet as our students filature emotionaUy. they need to mature religiously as well.
When appropriate tlley shouJd be encouraged to take a fresh look at their heroes. In the course of

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their own struggles with frustration and disillusionment, they will achieve a greater and deeper
appreciation of their Avo!. With proper guidance, they will gain a new understanding of the
models set by their forefathers, and recognize \\-ith greater clarity how relevant those models are
to their own lives.
Can we afford not to show our students the true greatness of those who came before
them? We dare not.

Zvi Grumet is Chainnan of the Bib[e department at the Hillel Y.:shiva in Oc.:an. New Jersey, and teaches at Drisha
Institute and Columbia University's Scit Midrash
Regarding Yitzhak's following in Avraham's footsteps. nowhere in the midrash or the Ramban could I find the suggestion
lhat Yilzhak was doing so as a resuh ofmaaseh avor siman l'vamm. In l3£t the Tanhuma understands that the era of the
banim ~1arts with Ya'akov's children. Yitzhak, no matter how similar his behavior may be to Avraham's. is an av and not
a ben.
See Rarnban OIl Breishit [2:6, 14:[,32:26,33: 18.48:22, and Introduction to Sh'mo!. See also Tanhuma on Breishil Lekh
Lekha 9.
See Ramban on Breishit 12: 10.
See Ramban on Breishit 12:6.
Further on this issue. Rabbi David e:>.1ends the principle ma'aseh avot siman l'vanim to Yosef and Yehudah. To the best
of my knowledge, this principle applies exclusively to Avraham, YitzhaJc and Ya'akov (see Ramban ibid.) as they. and
they alone, ace call.:d Avol
Ramban's kabbalistic description of the Avol as "the chariot oflhe Almighty" (Breishit 17:22) was quol"d by Rabbi
David to e~1ablish the "kedushah and piety" of the ..IVaI. yet he never ventures to explain what th" quote actually means.
How can an unexplained concept be cited as a proolle:>'1? In fact, Ramban's comment was actually made 10 limit the
c'oncept to Ihe A vor. as opposed to Rashi. who gC'Tlcralized the n'ltion to all Izadlidm. I believe Ihat a careful analysis will
reveal that the Ramban's comment has nothing at all to do the "kedushah and piety" of the A vat. but with a much deeper
and more protound idea relating 10 the uniqueness of each ofthe A val and their role in the unfolding of Di vine revelation.
-mis, however, is not the appropriate forum for that discussion
See Bava I...fetzia 5%
I empba~ize Ihe word selecllve!y. I\·fany II/Idrash1ln do not hesitate to find limit with the Avol. Even Rashi. who generally
tends to give our role models in Tanakh the bendit oflhe doubt. sometimes linds it necessary 10 quote opposing
opinions. For exanlp1e. see Rashi on Banlidbar II :22
Shabbat 63a
I3reishit I :26 and 2:6,21-24: and Rashi on 1:26
I was delighted to find a beautiful articulation of this appruach in Mordechai Breuer's Plrkel .Ifo'ador. k>fUsalem: Horev
Publications. 1989
III Breishit Ihe locus is on personal growth, in Sh'mot and Barnidbar on national gro\\'tn. Pcrhaps II/o'aseh avol s/II/on
J'va.nill1 is what cOlmects the IWo.
Breishit 17:22. See note 5
,\\'Tam's name is ehanged in Breishil 17:5. the Tor.lh lext which 'parked R;unban's comment appears fifteen verses lakr
in 17:22
Ya'akov's name is changed in Breishit 35: 10. ~ Torah lext identical [0 the one which originallY inspired Ramban's
conunent regarding ehe A vOl can be tOund in 35:13.

The question of when it is appropriate to introduce this is a difficuh one. and J do not propose to have ehe solution.
Perhaps. somewhere between grades 7 and 9 the teacher should respond to students' questioning of Biblical figures with
an openness to sensitively introducing the possibility of imperfections in our fordathd's. again while explaining the
implications ofthis approach. In grades 9-12. where cTitical thinking is (or cffiainly should be) introduced 10 the students
in other dis<'iplines and their ability to analyze and conceptualize is developing, the teacher should not wait tor the
students to sense "problems." rather the teacoor should introduce the stud<nts to a deeper understanding of their
forefathers. and a<'!ively expose them to too id~$ dis...'Ussed above. It is nOl inappropriate lOr the teacher to acti\·c1y
engage ~1Udents in an open discussioo of the iS$ue itself Such discussions can be l'3ther fruitful. yielding insights into the
students themselves. In my own experience I have discovered four typical groups of students: 1- Students who have
always questioned the Avot and were unsatisfied with automatic justification of their actions. 2- Students who need to
jlL~fY the A vol. and are offended by attempts 10 sully their pristine reputatiolL'l. 3- Studenls who are truly in a quandary.
unsure as to where they stand 00 the issue. 4- Students woo don't even recognize that there is an issue to be deah with.

II
0paJ diS<..-ussioos allow students to share their ~;ews and recognize opinions other than their own, whi Ie still disagreeing
respectfully with those opinions.
The benefit of these discussions varies from group to group. The first group 3weciates the teacher's "honesty" and is
able to maintain (or gain newfound) respe\.1 for the Avo( without compr-ornising their own intellectual integrity. They are
the greatest beneficiaries of these diS<..-ussions as they discover that they ace not considered "outside" th" realm of
accepted
Jewish learning, and develop stronger. ratheI" than weaker attachments to Torah. The second group will recognize the
need to continually reinterpret the text to frt their preconceived notions of the A vol, and will either modify those
preconceptions 01" redouble th"ir efforts in "defense" of their heroes. If the tea.-iter does not insist on imposing his/her
own understanding on those studenl~ and encourages them to support their opinions, then not only will they gain from tll,;,
experience. but they may very well impact upon their peers' reverence foc th" Avol. The third group will at least gain
greater clarity through listening to and participating in the discussions, and may begin to focm opinions in line with either
of the frrst two groups. The fourth group gain the least from the discussion, but ",;11 at least recognize that there is
sOlThltbing that they don't understand.

12
In 1960, Rav Aharon Kotler zt"l delivered a major address on this
theme at a convention of educators. Following are a few salient
points from that speech. "The foundation of Torah chinuch is to
give children a proper appreciation for the holiness of Torah.
Every letter of the Torah encompasses all of Creation, both in
space - from the depths of the seas to the highest heavens, and in
time - from eons prior to the creation of the world until the end of
eternity. Every event that has occurred since the beginning of time
and that will occur in the future - to Klal Yisrael as a whole and to
each individual - is contained in the Torah, as well as the solution
to all our problems. Vilna Gaon was able to take any line in the full
body of Torah works - Mishna, Gemara, Midrash, Zohar, etc - and
show an explicit source for it in the Torah, clearly and easily. "Just
as our physical senses are restricted, we cannot hear, see or smell
miles away, so too our mental faculties are limited. The wisdom of
the Torah is beyond our comprehension. And if this holds true for
the various laws, how much more so for the stories of the Torah.
The lofty level of the Patriarchs, the twel ve Shevatim, Moshe
Rabbeinu - about which there is so much misunderstanding - is not
within human intellect to grasp. These were no ordinary people.
They were free of any kind of personal aspiration or desire, living
only to serve Hashem. Just as we have no yardstick to measure
angels, so do we lack the means of evaluating our forefathers.
Giving children an understanding of these princi pIes will grant
thenl a solid foundation of faith and a correct perspective of what it
means to be a Torah Jew.