An oft repeated observation is that those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. At times, even Jews have denigrated teachers. In the Eastern European shtetl, the melamed – teacher of small children – was thought of as a failed rabbi. As a teacher of many years, I find statements like these both personally insulting and largely false. Teachers ought to be among the most respected and highly valued of all professions. If there is one lesson that parents learned during the months of lockdown during the COVID pandemic is that schooling children is a challenge that should not be left to the unskilled and unprepared. Teachers are the experts responsible for socializing children, making them worthy members of society. Teachers impart to their charges the wisdom of the ages and the skills needed for success.
The honored role that teachers play in society is recognized by the Torah as understood by Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra. At the end of Chapter 35 of the Book of Exodus, the text describes how Bezalel was endowed with the ability to teach (l’horot, in Hebrew). Ibn Ezra notes that some scholars have profound knowledge and some craftsmen have outstanding skill but they are unable to convey what they know to others. Enter teachers. Without teachers, what scholars know and what craftsmen do will perish. Bezalel was gifted in two ways. He was blessed with innate talent to craft the Tabernacle and its contents. He was also blessed with the ability to pass on his knowledge and skill to others.
Far from being a portion of the Torah that Hillel Halkin, in his book A Complicated Jew, calls “tedious,” it is a paean to teachers everywhere.