Repeat Repeat Repeat
45th Torah Portion, 2nd in Deuteronomy
Va’etchanan 3:23-7:11 (122 verses)
Moses pleads with God to let him enter Eretz Yisrael. God refuses again. Moses tells the people that they must follow the laws given by God in order to be worthy of the land they are about to receive. The cities of refuge are set aside. The Covenant at Sinai is recalled. Moses speaks the words of the Shema and commands the people to show their love for God and keep the laws and ordinances.
At the core of this portion are the Shema and the V’Ahavtah. We are to “listen” and to “love” God. How we are to “love” God is explicitly stated: with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your might. Then from Deuteronomy 6:7 we are told to “instruct” our children,“V’shinantam l’vanecha v’dibarta bam,” which the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translates “Impress them upon your children .” V’shinantam (“impress”) has the same root as the word Mishnah, which is the great compendium of Jewish law. This word may also be translated as “repeat.” Before the invention of the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century, it was the practice to memorize the Mishnah through repetition.. So this idea of teaching or instructing your children about the values of Judaism involves making an impression as well as creating a memory based on repetition.
As parents, as teachers, as leaders we are to “impress” upon our children, our students, and our employees the importance of the sacred teachings of our faith because this will lead them to the Promised Land of opportunity and success. We certainly do this by speaking about them. Deuteronomy tells us this week, “Speak of them, when you sit in your house, when you walk on your way . . .” (6:7). How many of us were raised in households where little was said? In those households values were taught by setting an example for children. In fact, Pirke Avot 3:9 teaches, “He whose deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom shall endure; but he whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom shall not endure.” Actions are certainly important; however when you read this carefully, it doesn’t say don’t speak (wisdom). It says you do need words of wisdom along with your actions. Therefore in order to reach others with important values we must do so by our own actions and talk about them often.
Repetition and consistency are necessary to convey a teaching as well. In an earlier commentary I spoke about the importance of keeping one’s word and being someone who can be counted on. The answer to a parent’s cry, “Do I have to repeat myself?” is absolutely, “Yes, you do.” Learning is a molecular conversation that takes place among nerve cells in the brain. Neurobiologists have long known that learning takes place when new connections are made among the brain’s nerve cells. Repetition of information produces extra levels of GAP-43 protein that forms that particular memory. More repetition of information leads to more GAP-43, establishing a stronger nerve connection, and affords greater retention of the information. Yes, do repeat yourself!
The best teaching is done by speaking repeatedly about it and acting repeatedly upon it. As our rabbis have taught, “He who studies with an intent other than to act it would have been more fitting for him never to have been created” (Pal. Talmud, Shabbat 3b). It is bad to have teaching to the exclusion of actions. You can’t just be philosophical. A life of the spirit is one of knowing what one knows, and believing what one believes so directly that it is translated into the life one lives.
- How have you tried to “impress” your values or beliefs on others? Were you successful? How do you measure that?
- How many times do you have to “repeat” yourself before the other person listens?
- I do tell parents (and grandparents) they can continue to “impress” their values on their family members. Am I correct?
- What are the reasons they give to you about why they were “impressed” (or not)?
“One who forgets anything one has learned, Torah accounts, it as if one had sinned against one’s soul” (Pirke Avot 3:8).