Sign In Forgot Password

Parshas Shmos - The Gateway to Freedom       19 Teves 5779

12/27/18 17:33:58


There are many times and situations in life when we feel ‘trapped’ - not in the sense that we are in physical chains or shackles, but rather in emotional or psychological feelings of being stuck, having no way out of a certain situation. Three times a day in the Amidah we pray for redemption and freedom. The seventh bracha of R’Ey B’Anyeinu is not limited to the ultimate redemption we crave for until Moshiach comes. Reb Chaim Friedlander, in his sefer Sifsei Chaim, writes: “In addition to the national ‘Geula/Redemption’ we wait for, there is another component: individual redemption.” We pray for a geula/redemption that He will redeem us from our daily troubles that are renewed each day. Each one of us has our different bonds of restraint from which we ask Hashem to release us.

Rachmana Litzlan, Heaven forbid, no one should know how trapped a deaf/mute person could be. In fact, many speech impediments can be a barrier to communication with others unless they can be overcome. There is a host of issues that stymie our growth whether it be communication, social interaction, and surely learning. Language is one of those areas that a person can feel trapped in as well. A sense of isolation due to not knowing the language that people are speaking, for example, would be close to identical to that of a person who is completely deaf. When a person knows a little of the language being spoken, he becomes easily frustrated trying to think of the right words to use. We sometimes feel foolish not knowing or not being able to “pull up” a word, or even worse, feeling and looking stupid or ignorant in the eyes of the people who are watching and listening to you struggle. Having taught in Talmud Torah afternoon school, in the day school grades 2-8, in high school, and being a pulpit Rabbi, I’ve concluded like so many others before me, that reading Hebrew and being fluent in Hebrew are key to the success of a Jew’s prayer, learning, and overall growth. Being fluent in reading Hebrew is so important that it is one of the components that led to the Jewish people being redeemed from Mitzrayim.

This week we begin reading Sefer Shmos, the Book of Names, also known as Sefer HaGeullah, the Book of Redemption. The Torah alludes that there are four descriptions of redemption in Shmos: chapter 6, verses 6 and 7. These descriptions of redemption form the core reasons attributed to drinking the four cups of wine at the seder - each cup representing a different ‘language’ of redemption. The Midrash in Shmos Rabbah 1:33 and Vayikra Rabbah state:

ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשה לב
רב הונא אמר בשם בר קפרא בשביל ד’ דברים נגאלו ישראל ממצרים שלא שנו את שמם ואת לשונם ולא אמרו לשון הרע ולא
נמצא ביניהן אחד מהן פרוץ בערוה
Vayikra Rabbah section 32, R’ Huna said in the name of Bar Kapparah: Because of four things Israel was redeemed from Egypt: They didn’t change their names or their language, they didn’t speak lashon ha-ra, and none of them was promiscuous.

פסיקתא זוטרתא (לקח טוב) דברים פרשת תבא דף מו עמוד א
דבר אחר ויהי שם לגוי. מלמד שהיו ישראל מצויינים שם. שהיה מלבושם ומאכלם ולשונם משונים מן המצריים. מסומנין היו וידועין
שהם גוי לבדם חלוק מן

Minor Pesikta, Devarim (Ki Savo) 41a Another interpretation: “And there they became a nation” – this teaches that the Israelites were distinct there, in that their clothing, food, and language was different from the Egyptians’. They were identified and known as a separate nation, apart from the Egyptians. The language has many definitions, but it is not limited by anything less than speaking, reading and understanding of Hebrew. With the explosion of the English Judaic library, thousands of Jews have come back to their roots and have studied Torah. But the English translations should not be used as the primary source of learning; rather they should be used as an aid to study and learn in the original. Over the years in my career I have identified the trouble and difficulty many have with learning Hebrew, both children and adults.

Let me start by stating two propositions that seem to me beyond debate: 1) that the vast majority of children have a strong capacity to learn languages and 2) that the vast majority of children who spend years in American day schools studying Hebrew graduate without having attained a credible degree of oral reading or spoken Hebrew fluency.

Reading fluency is the ability to read accurately, smoothly and with expression. Fluent readers have learned to recognize words without struggling over decoding issues. This developing oral fluency – Hebrew as well as English - does not equate with reading comprehension. Fluency evolves to comprehension (mental fluency) when the child’s oral language is the same as the written language. We are all capable of developing oral fluency without understanding what we’re reading, but fluency bridges word recognition to overall comprehension. Once decoding of words becomes more fluid, children learn to focus on what the text is saying, to make connections between what they are reading and their own background knowledge. Non-fluent readers, however, must spend more time decoding, causing frustration when trying to comprehend the text. They will often have to read the same passage over several times to attain comprehension, struggling with words, language, and meaning To read with expression, a student not only divides words into chunks, he uses proper phrasing as he connects the words to their meanings.

It is important for adults to read aloud to children, modeling what good readers do. Take the time to show your children how you pause for punctuation, how you change your voice to make the text more meaningful. I believe children should be read to by their teachers, by their parents, and by their relatives. The more models of fluent reading children hear the better.

Take the time to model reading and then to share reading with your children. Read a paragraph (modeling) and then have your child read it to you. Share pages by first reading one page and then have your child read the next page. Read out loud together (choral reading). Children will learn to love reading if a love of reading is witnessed at home as well as in school. The children who are motivated to read will become even more motivated as their oral fluency improves. The importance of reading fluency is critical. All learning depends upon reinforcement of newly-learned skills; failure to do so can make or break a person’s desire to learn. Our language, our learning, our understanding is core to our identity. It is my hope that concerted attention to our children’s reading skills – Hebrew and English – will lead to a deeper ability to understanding ‘redemption’ – personal freedom.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sat, December 14 2019 16 Kislev 5780