On this, the last day of his life, Moshe goes from tent to tent throughout the camp, bidding farewell to his beloved people, encouraging them to keep the faith. Moshe tells them that whether he is among them or not,
Getting to the Upper Third
“Gather together the nation, the men and the women and the children...in order that they will hear and they should learn...” (31:12)
Every seven years the king reads the Torah in the presence of the entire nation. This is the mitzvah of Hakhel. Even though the young children did not understand what was being read to them, their parents received reward for bringing them.
This reveals to us a major principle in the education of the young. Even though they may make a noise and be distracting to their elders, the experience for them is irreplaceable, for they feel, through osmosis, the importance to the Torah. Even though they cannot understand a word they have imbibed a vital lesson: The Torah is the life-blood of the Jewish People.
Rav Yaakov Kamenetskywas once visiting a kindergarten of a Torah school. Noticing that all the mezuzahs on the doors were placed on the lower third of the doorposts, he remarked, “It’s a lovely idea to put the mezuza in a place where the children can easily reach up and touch them, but please put them where they belong, on the upper third of the doorpost, and let them use a stool to reach the mezuza. Otherwise they will grow up thinking that you can put the mezuza anywhere you wish. One does not raise children with untruths.”
This story can serve as a parable for our relationship to the Torah. We must go up to the Torah, not bring the Torah down to our level. Wherever the attempt has been made to make Judaism “easier,” the outcome is that people have come to despise it and reject it altogether.
We may be no more than spiritual children, but we will never grow into adults unless we look up to that mezuzah. And then, maybe one day we will be able to reach it by ourselves, unaided by a stool. But if we learn that we have to make no effort to raise ourselves up to the Torah, we will make the mistake of thinking that we are already shoulder-high to the Torah, that we need to make no efforts to change and improve ourselves. We will thus both debase the Torah and give ourselves no motivation to grow. We will merely sit back like self-congratulatory pygmies convinced that we are already spiritual giants.
- Sources: based on a story by Rabbi Nisson Wolpin as seen in Growth through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin