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Reuven Margrett Dvar Torah

The pedagogical phrase that I have heard the most is, “Just because you taught it, does not mean that students have learned it.”. I too have said it too others, and yes I too have experienced it in the classroom as well as in my life.

What makes something have an affect on you? I have heard many shiurim, been to many classes, and had many hours of being “taught”. Yet what makes me an effective learner in order for the learning to have an impact on me?

To put it another way. If Shavuot is zman matan torateinu, the time our Torah was given, what is it that turns 'the Torah', into 'our Torah'?

It says in Yeshayahu 55:1, “Ho! All who thirst, go to the water... “ which is very good advice for both now, as well as in a future time when it tells us that there will be water to quench our thirst. We also know that our tradition tells us that ein mayim ela torah (there is no water except for Torah). This means that the real source of life is Torah. The parallel to water and Torah is made more profound by the Evianwebsite which says that 'Water is life' (did you know that each day, an average adult naturally loses 2.5 to 3 liters of water under normal conditions?), which we would translate to 'Torah is life'.

There is an interesting halacha when it comes to water. If one is thirsty for water then you would make a blessing beforehand. If however you are not thirsty and drink some water, lets say with a few Advils after a hard day in the class, then you would not make a bracha. If the next day you were to take Advil but washed them down with a Coke (or something stronger if it was a really hard day) then you would make a bracha on the drink.

Why is it that for water we differentiate between saying and not saying a bracha? The simple answer is that when we are thirsty and enjoying the water we make the bracha. Yet a more profound teaching (which I heard from Rabbi Brog in Cleveland, in the name of his father-in-law) is that it is only when you are thirsty do you enjoy water, and so to it is only when you are thirsty [for Torah] are you able to absorb the Torah.

This is part of Yeshayahu's message – the Torah will only quench your thirst if you have a desire to learn it. Just as water is considered essential to life, and we can only survive for a few days without it, so to, a life without Torah takes away our essential life force.

Our work of engaging young people requires students to see that the texts and teachings of Judaism are the essential life-giving 'water' of the Jewish people. Do the students see this 'thirst' in their teachers?

We perhaps may now better understand the custom of staying up all night learning Torah on Shavuot. How could we possibly fall asleep when there is essential life giving Torah to be learned. On all other nights we sleep to rest our bodies, but on the night of the giving of Torah we must crave the Torah like one who has been without water. We must feel that we are not learning 'the Torah', but are learning 'our Torah'. That Torah is essential to our lives.

I hope I am able to feel this kind of thirst, both on Shavuot and the rest of the year, and that we as educators are successful is generating this thirst in our students. They are not there to hear our teachings and pass a test, but hopefully, they will be thirsty to know more, thirsty to engage in their tradition, and thirsty to learn Torah.

Chag Sameach