Here’s another one from Esther about a good teacher.
In seminary, we learned Vayikra. Most of my high school classmates had been glad that we didn’t learn the “useless” stuff about korbanos — even if some of us were kohanim or levi’im — as girls we wouldn’t need to ever know this stuff.
But in seminary, we were all happy to flex our intellectual muscles in a way we hadn’t before, and there were underlying concepts that unexpectedly bled into the rest of our lives.
When we learned about korban mincha, one phrase sounded familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it. Until next Shabbos, when my roommates and I were sitting at the table for shalosh seudos and sang Baruch El Elyon – and hey, mincha al machavas! But that was the lesser version of a korban mincha (I don’t remember the rest of that lesson, but this part I remember).
So on Monday, I asked the rabbi: why is it considered the lesser korban if someone fulfilled shabbos exactly as he should? He didn’t know the answer right away, but he didn’t brush it off as “it’s just poetic language, it fit, whatever.” He looked into it.
(The answer is quite simple, actually: someone who fulfills shabbos exactly as he should is doing the minimum, so it’s the lesser korban. Someone who really gets into it and honors shabbos, that’s like the better korban. I obviously have issues with that answer and the way it unnecessarily stratifies religious observance, but it is an answer.)
I think the reason that stayed with me all these years is that I’d been asking questions like that for ages.
Every time I connected something we learned in class to something I encounter in my day-to-day life, or in song or piyyut or whatever, my teachers would treat me either with amused indulgence — it’s just a song, sweetheart, don’t think so much about it – or with righteous indignation — it’s just a song, how can you compare it to the serious stuff we learned in class!
But here, a rebbi we all respected not only didn’t brush off my girlish question about a song, but treated it seriously, and showed me in the process that the things that mattered to me mattered to him because they mattered to me.
Well yeah! The piyutim we sing were generally written by people well-versed in their Torah lore, and there are many deeper meanings, like you’d find in any good poetry.
I can’t help but wonder if the fact that she got a decent answer had to do with the fact that it was a male teacher (with a better general sense of how Jewish culture connects) and not a female teacher (with a deep knowledge of her area of expertise, but not much outside of it).