A Third Approach – Alone with the Sources

By Aryeh Ben David

Ten years ago – when I began talking about the need for bringing Jewish learning into our hearts – my colleagues referred to me as a flake. One generously called me – “The Fluffer Rebbe.”

Five years ago – people started listening.

Today – it seems that everyone has woken up to the need that Jewish Education is about more than the mind – it is about personal connection.

But this personal connection conundrum has stymied Jewish Educators.

When I ask them – how do they evoke the hearts and souls of their students – I hear the same worn-out clichés:

  • I’m passionate about the subject
  • We sing in class
  • We go outside
  • I invite them over for Shabbat meals
  • We meet after class

If these channels were really working, then Jewish Education would not be facing the present crisis of scrambling to create personal connection.

A lot has been written on these pages about the need for both class discussions and small group or chevruta learning. A lot has been written about the need for the teacher to express his or her wisdom and for the students to be active in their learning through chevruta study.

But an essential, perhaps THE essential, setting of learning has been absent from these conversations.

If we want our students to make their own uniquely personal and authentic connection to their learning – then it is critical for them to be alone with their learning.

In my 10 years of studying full-time as a young adult, there was never dedicated time to be alone with the learning. When I ask high school students today: “When in your busy schedules is their time devoted to hearing how you connect (or disconnect) to your learning?” They look at me in bewilderment and answer – “No where. Never happens.”

How can we expect students to make a personal connection with their learning if we never give them time to develop their own personal relationship with the sources? They need the time to listen to themselves.

How does “Time Alone” look in a learning venue?

After learning the subject matter – whether in classroom discussions, chevruta, or both – then time needs to be dedicated to enable the students to personally reflect and process the material. They need to figure out how the knowledge they have acquired fits into their own lives. They need an opportunity to hear their own voice in harmony with the voices of Jewish wisdom.

This does not have to be a lot of time. Depending on the age and maturity of the students – it could be anywhere from 5-15 minutes. But this alone time makes all the difference.

Giving students time alone with their learning makes an emotional demand on the teachers. They need to “contract themselves.” They cannot take up all of the educational space. The Kabbala states that God created the world through a tzimtzum – a contraction – to make room for the physical world. So too, the teachers need to make room for the students to discover and grow their own relationship with the sources.

Additionally, this is our way, as teachers, to honor our students. It demonstrates to them that:

  • We do not simply look at them as repositories of Jewish content, absorbing our wisdom.
  • We do not look at them as clones – each one integrating the material in exactly the same way.

We look at them as unique voyagers on their own unique Jewish journey. And we are here to help and guide them, but ultimately, only they can steer their way.

Time alone with Jewish learning. Time to reflect, process, and make a personal connection.

Aryeh Ben David is the Founder and Director of Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education.