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Parshas Ki Teitzei - Special Education             12 Elul 5778

08/23/18 14:35:30


When I grew, up school always started immediately after Labor Day. Maybe this “traditional” start date for the new school year is a Northeastern practice, because in the south schools typically open a few weeks earlier. I wouldn’t call the preparation associated with the days leading up to beginning the new school year fun, but there is an air of excitement connected with this time. Teachers are busy setting up their classrooms with new materials, students are excited about purchasing all their new school supplies, and parents are ecstatic that the summer is over, signaling that their kids will soon be out of the house (and hair) for a major part of the day. Nevertheless, with all the preparations, we tend to lose focus on the primary purpose of school. With all the excitement about buying needed supplies, purchasing new school outfits or uniforms, we tend to forget that the most important aspect of going to school is to learn!

  1. for many schools, one method is used to teach groups – sometimes large groups – of students using similar teaching techniques for everyone.. This method of teaching is the antithesis of Shlomo HaMelech’s - king Solomon’s - words of “Chanoch LaNaar Al Pi Darko”: we should “educate every child according to his way”, his way and not necessarily the way for everyone else. Surely this is a very challenging objective considering our current school systems curricula, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to teach each child according to his or her own ability and learning style. The overall education system, inclusive of Jewish education, has made great strides in affording a learning forum for students who have unique learning challenges or special needs. As important as it is to establish these specific needs, the labeling tends to detract from the overall message of the unique learning style of each student, especially the emergent learners in the primary grades of school. Every child’s education needs to be special in the sense that education for that child is catered specifically to nurture success for that child. Special education as we know it provides an education for certain people, leaving everyone else without a special or unique education. Every single student or is not only entitled to ‘special education.’ Individualization of teaching and learning is exactly what Shlomo HaMelech referred to when he clearly states that every child is to be educated “according to his ways,” applying whatever special way is needed to reach each youngster.

Labeling something or someone in the world is often necessary, but it should never come with negative drawbacks. One must be very careful not to use language that encompasses a lot of different things for fear of including some within that definition and while excluding others. Such is the case with using the word ‘special education’. The Lubavitcher Rebbe is quoted as saying that he did not use the Hebrew word ‘Beit Cholim’: ‘home for the sick’ for a hospital. Rather he emphasized the positive, using many phrases in place of Beit Cholim. He referred to a hospital as a Beit Refuah - a house of healing. We all need ‘special education’ and the flip side is that educators need to know how to teach specifically and appropriately to each and every student.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to create a child who feels like a failure. Children are fragile; they can be broken at the very outset, turning to negative behavior so as to receive positive reinforcement or approval from their peers through mischief. A child who has been internally labeled a failure by his or her teacher will very likely seek approval from the inappropriate actions and behaviors. Children vie for attention from their parents and peers and will do almost anything to achieve it. They may even go as far as to steal money from parents and further his decline socially by seeking out others who may be self-labeled failures. -Such a child may also drink half a log (about 5 oz) of wine with the meal when his/her parents are not paying attention. This description is part of the rebellious son’s actions that would likely have led him to be put to death. This is the Mitzva of the Ben Sorer Umoreh, a most difficult section of the Torah to understand, but nonetheless important to figure out. How can we understand this section beyond the simple explanation? In this week’s parsha Ki Tetze, the Torah states in Devarim 21:18 “Ki Yihiyeh L’Ish Bein Sorer U’Moreh Einenu Shomeiah B’Kol Aviv U’Vkol Imo, V’Yisru Oso V’Lo Yishma Aleihem”. “When a man has a wayward, rebellious son, one who does not obey his father and mother, they shall have him flogged. If he still does not listen to them, then his father and mother must grasp him and bring him to the elders of the city, to that area’s supreme court”.

The *Zohar describes the situation of the rebellious son as follows. Moshe Rabbeinu said to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, ‘is there such a father who would do such a thing to his own son?’ Moshe suspected that this was a parable to the Jewish people, the people being the wayward son. Hashem replied to Moshe ‘You know things, but I know more than you’. This portion of the Torah gives credit and merit upon the Jewish people; the son is only judged by God Himself and no one else. The son (Am Yisroel) became rebellious because they were exiled amongst the nations and have learned the ways of the Goyim. During exile the Jews are subject to the influence of the host nation. The sway of the nations is caused by our integration into society at large, which led the Jews to stumble in the laws of kashrus, eating forbidden foods. But the nations of the world despise us so that they will pelt us with stones, destroy our homes and tear down the walls of Israel from hatred alone”. Once Moshe heard this entire episode, understanding it to be an allegory for the Jewish people and not an individual boy, he wrote this Parsha of the Torah without fear or hesitation.

Judaism is a beautiful religion and the Torah is what makes it so. Everyone starts off being part of the “inside” - part of the larger group. It is only after something happens that either forces the child - or the nation - to rebel and become part of something else in order to gain acceptance. This is a result of not being taught according to their own, unique way, the way each person needs to be taught. It was the lack of special education by teachers, parents and others who could influence and nurture the child according to his or her special needs. This is a huge responsibility, but knowing the upside of such quality education, we must all embrace it with the greatest of sensitivities and the utmost time and devotion necessary for the future success of each and every one of us.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*The Zohar lit. "Splendor" or "Radiance" is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah (the five books of Moses) and scriptural interpretations as well as material on mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology. The Zohar contains discussions of the nature of God, the origin and structure of the universe, the nature of souls, redemption, the relationship of Ego to Darkness and "true self" to "The Light of God", and the relationship between the "universal energy" and man. Its scriptural exegesis can be considered an esoteric form of the Rabbinic literature known as Midrash, which elaborates on the Torah.

The Zohar first appeared in Spain in the 13th century, and was published by a Jewish writer named Moses de León. De León ascribed the work to Shimon bar Yochai ("Rashbi"), a rabbi of the 2nd century during the Roman persecution who, according to Jewish legend, hid in a cave for thirteen years studying the Torah and was inspired by the Prophet Elijah to write the Zohar. This accords with the traditional claim by adherents that Kabbalah is the concealed part of the Oral Torah.


Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780