Parshat Va’etchanan – Teaching Each Child According to Their Own Path
After leading Am Yisrael out of Egypt and through the desert for 40 years, Moshe finds himself in our parsha beseeching (va’etchanan literally means “beseech”) God to let him enter the land of Israel along with the Jewish people. After all his dedication for the past decades, after all of his work on behalf of his people and God, how could God say no? This seems so unjust! Why isn’t Moshe allowed to enter the land?
God had actually decreed this years earlier, in Bamidbar 20:12. Miriam had just died and the well the Jewish people had depended on for water had dried up. The generation that had left Egypt along with Moshe had completely died out, and a new generation followed Moshe around the desert. There we read:
The people had no water, and assembled against Moshe and Aaron. They quarreled and said… “Why have you taken us out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place?”
Moshe and Aaron ask God what to do, and God tells them to speak to a rock, and it will give them water. Moshe and Aaron gather the people together, but instead of speaking to the rock, Moshe says:
“Now listen, you rebels, can we draw water for you from this rock?” Moshe raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and an abundance of water gushed forth, and the people drank. God said to Moshe and Aaron, “Since you did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, there for you shall not bring this assembly to the Land which I have given them.”
Why is God so upset about this? After all, forty years earlier, in Shemot 17:5-7, a similar event occured – at God’s command Moshe had hit the rock and water had flowed forth. If it was the right thing to do in the past, why was it wrong later? Why was it so severe as to prevent Moshe from entering Israel? What’s really going on?
The Rambam says that Moshe’s mistake was not in hitting the rock vs. speaking to it, but in castigating the people. Through the ultimate example of Moshe, the Torah is teaching us the deepest lesson about leadership, parenting, teaching, relating to others: “chanoch l’na’ar al pi darko,” “educate each child according to their path.” We are meant to teach every generation according to what speaks to them – according to their needs. What worked for previous generations won’t necessarily work for new generations.
Of course this doesn’t mean that change should be radical. Judaism has long been a culture where change happens slowly and deliberately over time. But nonetheless, change occurs. Moshe presumed that because a particular approach worked with a previous generation it would work with this one. As a result, Moshe had to leave his position of leadership. This was not necessarily a punishment – it was a simple consequence. His rebuke of the nation illustrated to God that while Moshe was the right person to lead the people out of Egypt, he wasn’t the right leader to take them into the land. After 40+ years, he still saw the people as his burden, his flock. The leader they would need in Israel would have to be someone who could establish a society with the people, down in the trenches with them. Moshe was simply not this person. It was time for a new leader to speak to this new generation.
Change is often difficult. In a community like Yavneh we hold fast to our traditions (75 years in the making)! But what makes a community like Yavneh so special, so long-lasting, is that we also recognize that each new generation of campers has their own needs, their own path along which they must be educated.
Questions for the Shabbat table:
- Thinking of your experiences at camp, how is your generation of campers different from the ones that came even just a few years before?
- Have you had educators in your life that taught you in ways that worked particularly well for you? Have you had educators who have taught you in ways that didn’t work so well for you? What was the difference between your experiences in those two environments?