Rabba, before opening [his shiur] to the Rabbanan, used to say something amusing and the scholars were amused. (Shabbos 30b)
Did you ever wonder what sorts of things Rabba said?
Perhaps, “How many Tzadukim does it take to change a light bulb?”*
I guess we’ll never know what humorous thoughts Rabba shared.
It may seem that the earliest example of humor is found in Parshas Lech L’chah, when HaShem tells Avraham Aveinu to name his and Sarah’s Eimainu’s son Yitzchak, he will laugh, but that refers to laughing with joy at wonderful news, not laughing at a rib-tickling joke.
When we look in Tanach, we do find a reference to humor.
L’schoek amarti m’holal, I said of laughter: it is praiseworthy. (Koheles 2:2)
Praiseworthy? Doesn’t everyone say that schoek is holelos v’sichlus, decadence and foolishness? Yes, and there would be no point in Koheles mentioning this. It must be that the chidush in Koheles is that sometimes laughter is praiseworthy. (Ben Yehoyada on Shabbos 30b)
I am aware that the interpretation of milsa d’b’deichusa as something humorous is a matter of dispute between the hakdama to the P’nei Yehoshua and the Tanya (Perek 7), as noted in Margoliyos haShas on Shabbos 30b. In the context of this article, I believe that the Pnei Yehoshua’s suggestions that milsa d’b’deichusa refers to saying a deliberate error in halacha to “sharpen the students,” or to say an Aggadic teaching, would not apply to teachers of young children, to whom this article is addressed.
I was told, in the name of a recent Gadol, that the main task of an elementary school Rebbe/Morah is to have the children want to come back to school the next day. How do you accomplish that? How difficult do you think that might be?
According to Tosfos based on a Medrash, very hard.
Why do I say that?
The Torah tells us that the Yidden traveled a three day distance from “Har HaShem.” The Torah Temimah brings the gemara in Shabbos 116a that quotes R. Chama ben R. Chanina saying that the Yidden “turned away from HaShem.” He explains that the mountain was elsewhere referred to as Har Ha’Elokim, Har Sinai, or Har Choraiv; only here is it called Har HaShem. This implies that they turned not from the mountain but from the teachings of HaShem they had learned there. K’tinok ha’yotzei me’bais hasefer she’borai-ach lo v’holaich lo. (Shabbos 116a, Tosfos s.v. Puranus)
Tosfos compares the Yidden leaving Har HaShem to a child running from school. One would imagine that a child who ran from school today wouldn’t be eager to go back to school tomorrow.
There is another sugya from which it appears that it would be difficult to teach children in a way that would result in their wanting to return the next day.
According to R. Yehuda, elementary schools are closed on Tisha b’Av (Taanis 30a).
The Aruch HaShulchan makes this point even stronger. There is a machlokes between R. Meir and R. Yehuda about whether an adult can learn something new on Tisha b’Av. R. Meir permits it because learning something new causes t’zaar, pain.
R’ Yehuda prohibits it because once you manage to understand this new material the t’zaar is replaced by simcha. The Rif’s and the Rosh’s version of the text says that this machlokes also applies also to teaching children on Tisha b’Av. Why, asks the Aruch HaShulchan, would R. Yehuda prohibit children from learning, given that they will not even have simcha after they have understood the material! (Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chaim 554, end paragraph 2.
Yet, our m’chanchim and m’chanchos are expected to instill in their students a desire to return to school the next day. How is it possible?
Rav Moshe, Z’TZAL, wrote d’ain lomar sh’kavanas ha Taz sh’lekah klal katan sh’yismach bd”T, you should not think that the Taz meant [to say] that there is no child who enjoys learning Torah. (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah, Vol I, page 455, bottom left, umistaber)
A teacher may begin the day with some children who are excited to learn and some who aren’t. His or her goal is to end the day with most of the children, if not every child, excited to learn, and eager to come back for more.
This is a realistic expectation.
Here are some ways to accomplish it:
Begin the day with a light hearted comment, based on the level of the class. Be sure it is not mocking or cynical in any way. What you say may be silly; don’t be afraid that it makes you silly. Your demeanor all day every day will prevent that.
Maintain a warm smile on your face every time you make eye contact with a student. If a child “misbehaves,” the smile will remind you to help the child to do better next time rather than criticizing the child for the current failure.
Be curious about what each child enjoys outside of school, e.g. activities, foods, how they spent Shabbos. Remember, you’re not the only person important to them and school is not their only venue.
End each day with something for the children to feel good about, something you can describe as a success for the class that day.
Finally, a word to parents. You should spend some time teaching your child, too. Sit down and discuss with each child what it is that they would enjoy learning, or learning about. Be sincerely curious and engaged in that material with him or her.
Soak up their enthusiasm and enjoy the nachas.
*The answer is none. Tzadukim are used to sitting in the dark.
Rabbi Ackerman is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time
Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575