Thursday, May 24, 2012
ג' סיון תשע"ב
Shavuot and Jewish universal education
Shavuot celebrates that transcendent moment when we received the Torah, investing us with our ultimate meaning as a People. In a moving image unfolded in the Written Torah, and enlarged in the Oral Torah, God himself delivered His Word to the Children of Israel, in terms understandable to all humankind. He, the Perfect Infinity, – in an act of true love – gives us a Code that forever removes the existential questions of "what is good" and "what is bad," establishing the fundamental of Western Ethics.
We celebrate Shavuot in the batei-Haknesset (the synagogues), in our homes (with traditional dairy foods), and also through a single act: the Tikkun Leil Shavuot - the night study of Torah and Jewish and Jewish-Zionist sources. This act is an expression of the extraordinarily value of what was then received: we do not wait even "one minute" from the moment of receiving the Torah (Shavuot's leit-motif) to start studying it. Thus a discipline began that has made and makes the essence of our nation: Talmud Torah, what can be translated today as Jewish schooling, which has become our distinctive flag through generations.
Through the creation of organized schooling, the Talmud narrative echoes many times the centrality of studying for the life and the future of our people. One particular story has a hero, Yehoshua ben Gamla, whose vision provided our people the basis for their uniqueness, development, and growth.
"May the name of Joshua ben Gamla be remembered for good, for were it not for him, the Torah would have been forgotten from Israel. For at first if a child had a father, his father taught him, and if he had no father he did not learn at all.
Then they made an ordinance that teachers of children should be appointed in Jerusalem. Even then, however, if a child had a father, the father would take him to Jerusalem to have him taught, but if not, the child would not go.
They then ordained that teachers should be appointed in every district, and boys would enter school at the age of sixteen or seventeen. But then, if the teacher punished a child, the child would rebel and leave school.
Eventually Joshua ben Gamla came and ordained that teachers of young children should be appointed in each district and town, and that all children should enter school at the age of six or seven." 
It is in general education from an early age that Judaism kept its relevance, the commitment of its members, the continued development of its thought, and the implementation of its ideals. On Shavuot, specifically during the night of study of Shavuot, we celebrate Yehoshua ben Gamla's and the Sages of the Talmud's decision of "education for all" – the Sages who discovered that education is the key to building Jewish-Zionist identity and commitment. Since the 1st century of the Common Era, the popularization of knowledge became the standard of our people, our best flag, and the guarantee of our future. It took another 18 centuries for Europe to begin the road to widespread public education as natural and integral to the very essence of the Jewish people which made us the kind of people we are today.
Shavuot celebrates the Torah and its study, the reflecting activity every Jew must have with his/her Jewish-Zionist sources, in the plurality of the ancient Jewish intellectual production.
Shavuot celebrates Torah. Let us celebrate the living Torah, Judaism, Zionist commitment and the chain of transmission for our own sakes, and for the Jewish-Zionist future of our children.
May we incorporate Torah as a guide for our actions and our behavior and our deepest beliefs, to make a better out of this world,
in brotherly love, based on true listening and genuine dialogue.
Chag Shavuot Sameach!
RABBI CARLOS A. TAPIERO
Deputy Director-General & Director of Education
Maccabi World Union
 "…On the third day the Lord will descend Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people" - Shemot (Exodus) XIX, 11.
 Midrash Exodus Rabbah 28:6. The Midrash cites Deuteronomy 29:13:
“...and with whoever is not here today” and explains that this phrase refers to the souls of all future generations, all present at Mount Sinai, including the souls of all our Prophets and Sages. In regard to all the souls of future generations who were present at Mount Sinai, the Midrash states: "Each one received his portion".
 Yehoshua ben Gamla was the High Priest who officiated in about 64 common era.
 Abridged from Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 21a