FROM THE RABBI’S DESK – YITRO:
Differentiated instruction is an approach to education that finds its sources in the book of Proverbs where King Solomon says to educate a child according to his or her needs. No one style of instruction fits all, and teachers have to accommodate their charges accordingly. In effect, the earliest reference to the educational concept of differentiation is found in this week’s parsha, as Hashem tells Moshe to teach the Torah and its laws in one fashion to the House of Jacob, and in a different way to the Children of Israel.
While most commentators identify the House of Jacob with women, and the Children of Israel with men, the Ibn Ezra takes a different approach which speaks more to the different levels of knowledge acquisition found in any population selection. According to the Ibn Ezra, the house of Jacob refers to the ordinary populace, while the Children of Israel is a phrase that applies to the elders of the community.
Those in the House of Jacob are to be informed in a soft way the rules of regulations of Halacha and the foundations of the outlook of our faith. On the other hand, the elders shall be given harsh instruction in enabling them to get a full understanding of the intricacies of Jewish law and concepts. Anyone who has had the opportunity to study a page of Talmud in depth and analysis can well appreciate the complexities underlying Jewish law. Simple memorization of what the law is does not constitute the true understanding of what the Talmud calls the physical and mental exhaustion one experiences in the study of what Jewish law is.
For the majority of Jews, a soft sell has to be employed. As important as Halacha is, the Aggadah which is the theological part of our faith plays an equally important role in shaping the spiritual lives of Jews of all walks of life. Words that pull the heart is an expression that the rabbis of the Talmud use to describe the effects of the study and appreciation of Aggadic texts that enhance our understanding of biblical text.
The Tanach tells us that one should approach the study and appreciation of our faith and its tenets in whatever direction that is personally suitable. Not all can be Talmudic scholars, but none should be deprived of opportunities to learn and to absorb what Judaism has to offer.