By: Dr. Yehuda Eisenberg

From: Bisde Hemed, vol 9-10 - 1994

In the instruction of Tanach we are teaching at three different levels: we are teaching the pasuk (verse) comprised of individual words, we are teaching the perek (chapter) and the ideas included therein, and we are teaching the sefer (book) in which there is a completeness of thought on prophesy, commandments, admonishment or a combination of these.

It is the teacher who decides how to teach the pesukim and perakim; a curriculum suggests only what sefarim should be taught and what parts of each sefer emphasized.

Teaching the Pasuk

Words and Ideas
The instruction of Tanach is the instruction of verses which combine to form ideas. In teaching the verses the teacher is subject to two opposing forces - on the one hand, the need to explain each difficult word, on the other, a wish to teach the concepts expressed in the verse. Generally, because of the students' difficulty with the language, the instruction of words is emphasized at the expense of instruction of ideas. A cycle is begun - the students demand to know the. meaning of each word and the teacher tests the students on their knowledge of definitions, the emphasis shifts more and more to the learning of words and instruction of ideas weakens.

Instruction of Tanach to students who do not speak the language should be based on several assumptions:

1. Most students will not master the language sufficiently to read and understand most of the pesukim of Tanach without the aid of commentators or translations.

2. The number of new words that the student can absorb in the span of one week is limited. 3. In teaching Tanach we are primarily interested in the "chinuch" of the student by acquisition of concepts from Torah and Prophets. A knowledge of the words is a tool in understanding the concepts, but is not in itself the main purpose in the instruction of Tanach.

Teaching Pesukim, not Words
If we accept these assumptions we will come to the conclusion that in teaching Tanach we must use an unusual approach - instead of emphasizing the words in the pasuk, we must teach the student to understand the pasuk even if he does not comprehend each word in it.

It is possible! Here are some examples of how one can understand a pasuk without comprehending each word in it (as is true of most pesukim of Tanach.

וילך ראובן בימי -- וימצא -- בשדה ויבא אתם אל לאה אמו. ותאמר רחל
.( אל לאה תני נא לי מ-- בנך (בראשית ל, יד

.( וירא כי לא יכל לו ויגע ב-- ירכו ו-- - ירך יעקב בהאבקו עמו (בראשית לב, כח

וירא מלאך ה' אליו ב-- אש מתוך ה-- וירא והנה ה-- בער באש וה-- איננו
.(אכל (שמות ג, ב

ולא שמעו אל משה ויתרו אנשים ממנו עד בקר -- תלעים -- ויקצף עליהם
.(משה (שמות טז,כ

The choice of which words to "sacrifice" and which not depend on the method of instruction of the teacher and the concepts he wishes to emphasize. For example, if the teacher wishes to stress the view of Rashi and the medrash that the "סנה" is an example and symbol of the Nation of Israel, or the concept of "עמו אנכי בצרה", he will have to explain that a סנה is a small bush with thorns turned inward upon itself. If the teacher has chosen to emphasize other ideas in teaching Shmot, perek 3, he is able to teach the pasuk without emphasizing or demanding of the students that they memorize the definitions of the words "לבת" and "סנה". (Actually, we, too, have never seen a סנה, nor is it absolutely clear to us what was sprained in Yaakov's hip, or the exact nature of the sprain.)

Expanding the Students' Vocabulary
Here arises the question: Are we not to teach the students new words? Are we not to try to increase their vocabulary so that in the future they learn and understand more?

The answer is that instruction by the method described here will increase the students' vocabulary faster than instruction which demands memorization of each word. In this method we demand that the student learn the important new words, not all the words in the perek but those which recur often in Tanach, those which he will really use in the future.

If we believe that the student is capable of learning ten new words a week from the collection in Tanach, we will continue to demand of him ten words a week. However, with this difference: Until now we have demanded of the student that he learn the definitions of all the words in the pesukim we taught. This hindered our progress so that we were able to teach, let's say, only twenty pesukim a week. In the future we will demand that he learn all the important words in those pesukim that we decide upon beforehand, the main pesukim of the perek. As to the other pesukim, we will demand only that he know the concepts without holding him responsible for each word. This change will immediately accelerate the tempo of instruction - we will no longer dwell on the explanation of words, but rather that of pesukim; the students will not stop us to ask the meaning of each word since they will realize that the concepts are important and that is what they will be tested on. If formerly we taught twenty pesukim a week, we will now be able to teach forty. Of these, we will demand a literal knowledge of only a part, of the rest we will demand knowledge of the concepts, (we will not necessarily demand a complete and verbatim knowledge of consecutive verses; details on how to choose the pesukim are given below in the section "Teaching the Perek".)

The Wealth of Words in Tanach
The Tanach has a great wealth of words, but a large part of the words which appear in Tanach do so but once, or only a very few times. These are the difficult words. When we demand that the student diligently learn a word that does not appear several times in Tanach, we are teaching a single word of which he will have no further use. When we demand that the student be responsible for a word which appears frequently, we have taught one word but we have taught many pesukim: For this reason it is important that we carefully select the words for which students are held responsible.

A simple example will show how numerous are the words which appear only rarely in Tanach. The following is the beginning of the listing for the letter "bet" in the Concordantiae of Mandelkern . Near each word we have noted if it appears frequently in Tanach, or, if not, exactly how many times it does appear.

(בוק (נבוק
(בוק (מבוכה
(בוע (אבעבוע
(בדים (בד
(בדל (נבדל

This list shows that most words appear in Tanach only a few times. If the teacher must choose between teaching the word "באש" or "בבת", it is clear that the word "באש" is more important because it will help the student in many pesukim. Likewise in choosing between "בוז" or "אבעבועות".

How will we choose the words that the students will have to learn? We cannot expect the teacher to check each word in the קונקורדנציה before he teaches it. The method must be simpler. It seems that the way to choose the important words for teaching should be this:

The teacher should demand of the students that they know the meaning of a word if

1. he feels that the word appears frequently in Tanach so that learning it here will aid the student in understanding other pesukim;

2. the word is present in a pasuk that is important in understanding the entire section, and the meaning of the word is important in understanding the pasuk (see Teaching the Perek, below); 3. the word has been accepted into the Hebrew language with its Tanachic meaning (For example, the word "בהיר" from the above list appears just once in Tanach, but its use is widespread in Hebrew; the words "חרצנים" and "זג" appears once in Tanach but are found frequently in the mishna and modern language.).

Teaching Sections dealing with Halachah
In teaching the halachic portions of Tanach it is difficult to follow this method. In halachic pesukim each word has importance and it is difficult to understand the concept of a pasuk without comprehending the words. But even in this case it is possible to teach the student to understand meaning of words from context or a word in parallel structure, and to understand the gist of a pasuk even before he understands each word.

For example:
אלהים לא תקלל         ונשיא בעמך לא תאור

Here it is important to teach the student to find the meaning of the word "אלהים" in the word "נשיא", and of the word "תאר" in the word "תקלל".

,כי גנב איש שור או שה וטבחו או מכרות, חמשה בקר ישלם תחת השור"
.(וארבע צאן תחת השה" (שמות כא, לז

The student should discern for himself that "צאן", "בקר", "שה" and "שור" are members of one group of words and "טבחו", "מכרו" members of another. Such knowledge will help him to understand the pesukim in their entirety.

Teaching the Perek

Teaching the Perek is Teaching the Concept of the Perek
Instruction of the perek is not a sum total of instruction of all the pesukim in the perek! It is possible for a student to understand all the pesukim without comprehending what was said in the perek, just as it is possible for him to understand all the words in a pasuk without comprehending the pasuk.

Teaching a perek is teaching the ideas in the perek. Just as it is not necessary to understand all the words in a pasuk in order to comprehend the pasuk, it is not necessary to understand all the pesukim in a perek in order to grasp the ideas in it.

But let us emphasize - our intent is not that the teacher should recount the concepts of the perek to his students, nor is it that instruction should be out of an abridged or adapted text. Our intent is that instruction be conducted using the standard Tanach with the emphasis, nonetheless, put on the learning of concepts not words.

What is a Perek?
To begin with, it should be noted that the concept of a "perek" is misleading. A "perek" has no theme, just as it has no ideas, It is impossible to find the "theme of a perek" just as it is impossible to find the "theme of a page of gemara". The division of Tanach into perakim (except for Tehilim) is a Christian division, usually technical, and there is no reason why we should ask ourselves, "What did the cardinal mean when he established this unit as a perek?".

When we say "perek" we mean a unit on one topic, usually a "parashah" If possible we deal with an "open parashah", or, if this unit is too large, with the "closed parshiot" which are sub-units of the former. The division of Tanach into parshiot, both open and closed, is a Jewish division on which it is worthwhile to base instruction. (In the Tanach published by Koren this division is emphasized. This Tanach can easily be used to choose units of instruction. In the Koren Tanach, as in a sefer Torah, open and closed parshiot appear thus:




-- -------------



open parashah closed parashah

In other chumashim the letter "פ" sometimes appears to mark an open parashah and "ס" to mark a closed one.)

An Example
We will illustrate the use of the methods discussed thus far in the teacher's preparation for teaching Shmot, perek 3.

First let us look for the unit of instruction or parashah that we will teach. An open parashah begins in perek 2, pasuk 23 while perek 3, pasuk 1 begins with a closed parashah. Our conclusion - the division of perakim is not correct here. The topic begins in 2, 23 and 3, 1 is a continuation of the end of perek 2. Let us read and see what is written there.

ויהי בימים הרבים ההם וימת מלך מצרים ויאנחו בני ישראל... ויזעקו"
ותעל שועתם אל האלקים... וישמע אלקים... ויזכר אלקים... וירא
".אלקים... וידע אלקים

So ends perek 2, And perek 3 begins:

"ומשה היה רעה את צאן יתרו חתנו כהן מדין"

i.e. the tefilah of Yisrael brought about their remembrance by G-d and his manifestation to Moshe by the סנה to send him to save the nation. We intend to teach from the beginning of perek 3. The open parashah which began at 2, 23 ends in perek 4, pasuk 17, thirty - nine pesukim away. This is too large a unit. We must find a closer point at which we can bring the lesson to an end. If we read in perek 3 we will see that after five pesukim one topic is concluded - the manifestation near the סנה. We will aim to complete these five pesukim with the theme of "Moshe becomes a prophet".

What are the principal pesukim of this section? If we read it closely we will easily find them:

ומשה היה רעה את צאן יתרו חתנו כהן מדין וינהג את הצאן אחר המדבר"
ויבא אל הר האלקים חרבה. וירא מלאך ה' אליו בלבת אש מתוך הסנה
וירא והנה הסנה בער באש והסנה איננו אכל
. ויאמר משה אסרה נא
ואראה את המראה הגדל הזה מדוע לא יבער הסנה. וירא ה' כי סר לראות
ויקרא אליו אלקים מתוך הסנה ויאמר משה משה ויאמר הנני. ויאמר אל
תקרב הלם של נעליך מעל רגליך כי המקום אשר אתה עומד עליו אדמת
(קדש הוא
. (שמות ג, א-ה

There is no question that the two bold written pesukim are the main pesukim. It is (almost) possible to understand the section in its entirety by reading these two pesukim, but it is impossible to understand anything by reading only the other three. (Try and see!) Conclusion - we will demand of our students that they learn these two pesukim completely, word for word, while learning the remainder generally.

What concepts will we teach with the aid of these pesukim?

1. G-d speaks to Moshe. Why? (we saw the answer in previous pesukim - Yisrael cried to G-d and He heard their cries.) Why Moshe? (This we know from earlier perakim - Moshe always endangers himself to help the weak. Now G-d chooses him to save Yisrael.)

2. What does Moshe see? Fire; a small shrub burning without being consumed by the fire. Who is the fire? Who is the bush? What does this scene tell Moshe?

3. Moshe does not understand by himself that he is witnessing a prophetic image. G-d tells him this and warns him not to approach. What can we understand about Moshe's personality from this?

And here we must mention that these concepts will be taught from the pesukim, not by our "telling" or "lecturing" them to the class. A student is able to comprehend the pasuk

"ויאמר משה -- ואראה את -- הגדול הזה מדוע לא יבער הסנה"

even without understanding the words that were deleted here. He will understand that Moshe wants to approach and see what is before him, that Moshe does not perceive that he is witnessing a revelation of G-d. The student will find this himself, will infer from here the humbleness of Moshe and will be able to prove his conclusion from the pasuk despite his not having understood each word in it.

The teacher has completed his preparations. He has decided what he will teach, what concepts he will emphasize in the lesson. If he usually prepares sheets with the definitions of difficult words, he has done so for these pesukim (and included on the sheets even those words he will not demand that the students memorize). In class the teacher will read the five pesukim animatedly, in a way that will enable the students to understand the general concepts, and will immediately begin to deal with the content, clarifying the themes he has chosen to teach. During the course of the lesson he will read and reread the two central pesukim, will ask students to read them when basing an answer on them, and again when summarizing what has been said.

The lesson has ended. Five minutes remain until the bell will ring and the teacher wants to give the students a short exercise to do in class or homework on this unit. It is possible to ask the students to reread and make sure they understand (but not memorize') the two pesukim. Young children can be asked to draw the bush, older ones to write what they think Moshe told Yitro about the scene of the bush. In intermediate grades students can be asked to find additional places that "the fire of G-d" appears and to compare, in higher grades to compare the revelation of Moshe with that of Yeshayahu, etc.

The time for a test has come. The teacher has announced beforehand that it will include literal knowledge of pesukim so and so, and general understanding of all topics covered. The students will know not to dwell on the words in the other pesukim but to concentrate on the themes while preparing for the test.

Teaching the Sefer

Instruction of pesukim blend into a perek; instruction of perakim blend into a sefer - provided that the teacher has enough time to teach a complete sefer. In reality a teacher does not have this time and he suffices with the beginnings of sefarim, the beginnings of parshiot. We will read the words of the Maharal of Prague of this phenomenon in education:

,הטפשים בארצות אלו... מלמדים את הנער מקרא מעט מן הפרשה
,ומפסיקים, ומתחילים בשבוע אחר פרשה שניה קצת מן הפרשה ומפסיקים
ובכלות השנה נשכחו ממנו הראשוןנים, ואז יחזור בשנה שניה. ומפני ששכל
הנער חזק יותר, מלמד עמו יותר ממה שלמד עמו אשתקד. וכן שלישית
,ורביעית, וכמה שנים. וכאשר נעתק (עבר) מן המקרא, מאומא לא ישא בידו
(יציאתו כביאתו. (גור אריה, ואתחנן

Instruction of Tanach cannot be the instruction of the beginnings of sefarim or parshiot. We cannot allow the calendar to dictate when we finish teaching a chumash or a navi. (When there is no overall plan the unit of instruction in chumash is from the beginning of a sefer to the end of year. This cannot be the unit of instruction.)

This is the function of curriculum: to establish a logical order for teaching Tanach - from easy to the more difficult; to determine which sefarim would be beneficial to teach twice, and for which one time can suffice; I select the important sections which the teacher should teach. If the teacher has time to teach only half a sefer chumash, it must be decided beforehand what perakim and parshiot will be included in this half. It is impossible in such a case to simply teach the first half. If the teacher has time to teach fifteen perakim of Yirmiyahu, the fifteen most appropriate perakim should be chosen - interesting perakim, perakim which lend themselves to the "chinuch" of the student. The first fifteen perakim would not be the most appropriate or didactic ones.

Correct selection of the material taught will allow the student to learn the most interesting and instructive parts of Tanach in the short time he has. In this way he will come to love the Torah and, perhaps, we will succeed in awakening in him a desire to continue and learn more, to complete the perakim he did not learn in school. He has acquired the tools with which to learn Tanach, he has mastered the most widespread words of the text. We have opened before him the path to an understanding of the text. Now it rests with him - if he loves Tanach he will continue and learn, continue and know.

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