Sparking Excitement in Torah Learning
Rabbi Fohrman on Teaching Torah
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Have you ever wondered how you can apply Aleph Beta's methodological tools in and out of the classroom? Or questioned what the best way is to teach Torah to children and young adults? Join Rabbi Fohrman as he iterates the many techniques he uses to spark excitement in youth, and offers a new way to approach teaching Torah text that challenges many current educational methods.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So I'm chatting here with a semichah student here at YU. We were chatting a little bit about how to sort of break down the methodology for tools that kids can use and take away with. So what would I tell you about that? So here are some basic tools -- well let me ask you, what particular challenges is it that you want a kid -- how would you define your sort of -- is there any particular educational goal that stands out for you more than any other?
Student: I want my students to be able to, A, acquire the fascination with the Torah that I have. But preceding that, I want them to be able to ask these central questions, the big idea questions, but also in details. To be able to look at a verse and say, wow, this looks peculiar. This looks something, you know, or this looks familiar.
I want them to be able to, you know, when they look at a verse, to be able to look at it from that lens rather than just looking at it, okay, this verse says, you know, don't muzzle your ox. Okay. Like that just seems very straightforward and boring.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. All right. So here is a couple of things that I would say for starters. There are a couple different kinds of observations and kinds of questions that you can give them practice in asking and identifying. The first thing I would do is -- I mean, just sort of quick and dirty, one of the first things I would say is that the first thing you need to do is train them to forget everything they know about a text and to look at it as if they're looking at it for the first time.
Now, this isn't a big of a deal in the 6th to 8th grade because often it's the first time they're looking at a text anyway, but as you go for older ages and for sure for adults, it's an issue. Because as you start to go over stuff that you learned as a kid, you kind of think you know it and you approach it with certain preconceived notions that don't allow you to see many of the problems that are there.
I call it the lullaby effect, and what I mean by that is that the same way that a lullaby is -- at a certain point you know the words and you can't see how astounding the words are, like "Rock-a-bye baby, on the tree top, when the wind blows, the cradle will rock." It's a violent, like how do you get kids to sleep with that? You can, because you stop listening to it after a while because you know it so well.
So the first thing you have to do is clear your mind and say, okay, if I was reading this for the very first time, it's sort like a zen kind of experience, right? Just like blank mind and then just let the words talk to you and now what does it sound like, right? So that's like one of the most basic things you can do with them. That itself is not an easy skill to learn, which is like to really come out without preconceived notions. So that's skill number 1.
Skill number 2, once you start with that and you say okay, every story comes with questions, questions that the Biblical narrator wants you to ask and you want to get across the idea that the questions themselves are windows into deeper layers of meaning of the text. So this has to do with how you relate to questions, right?
Instead of relating the questions as threatening things that can make me nervous because I don't know the answers to them, questions are actually the greatest opportunities in the world because they're actually intentionally placed there by the author of the text in a minimalist document as a way of getting you to see more layers in the text than you would otherwise see.
One of the things you might want to say by way of background is that the Torah is a minimalist document. So it's written when there are no printing presses. It's written with an economy of words, you know a 200-word vocabulary, you can read the Torah. It's simple, it's basic and it's short. So you have stories written in short ways. So the Torah is going to use what I call a no holds barred approached to convey meaning which will use every conceivable tool it can to pack meaning into the text. Sometimes surprising tools, and if you don't open yourself up to them and you don't ask the -- because the first thing you need to do is just be aware of the questions because each one of those is the narrator talking to you and saying, see that? All right. Go down that little rabbit hole and go down that little rabbit hole. See where these rabbit holes start to converge. So openness to questions would be the second principle after the lullaby effect.
The third principle I would say is, okay, so what are these modes of meaning that the Torah will use when we talked about the no holds barred approach. So can we sort of -- so we can classify them, as I would say questions and observations. A question is, this text doesn't seem to make sense. An observation is, isn't interesting that? Those are two different kinds of things, but both are important and are significant. You want to make questions or you want to be aware of the questions and then as a second approach look for those kinds of observations. Isn't interesting that.
In questions there's a couple of ground rules that I will put out; you asked a simple question, I'm giving you a long answer, but these are the things I would do. So in questions there are two basic distinctions I would make with them for starters, in terms of the kinds of questions to ask. One is the distinction between what I call big questions and little questions, and the other is the distinction I call between external questions and internal questions.
Big questions and little questions are -- my informal way of distinguishing between them is, a big question is a question of such consequence and such moment that unless you have an answer to that question, you can't really say that you have an understanding of the story as a whole. It's a question that on its own destroys your understanding of the story. So even though in Yiddish there's a saying, shtarbet nisht fun a kashia, you don't die from a question, that's little questions. Big questions you die from, or big questions are significant enough that they can blow apart your whole view of the story.
Now, that doesn't mean that you have to get nervous about them; it's fine to not have a theory about a story. You just have to realize that that's the level of question you're talking about. So if you're reading the story of Adam and Eve and the Tree of Knowledge and you're faced with the question, how come God doesn't want them to have an understanding of good and evil? I thought we're better off knowing the difference between good and evil. And anyway, if they don't understand the difference between good and evil then that means that they don't understand that it's right to obey God and it's wrong to disobey Him. They don't understand that it's wrong to eat from the tree, so how could He punish them for eating from the tree if they have no understanding of good and evil?
That's a very important question. That's a question that's so important, that until you have some way of dealing with it, you really can't move in the story. So that's what you would call a big question. But if you're reading the story and it's like, you want to know why God asks questions to Adam and Eve before punishing them, but not to the snake, that's an interesting question, but it doesn't destroy your whole view of the story. It's a little question by comparison.
So those are important distinctions. Both of them are important, but it's -- now, why are those things important? So an interesting book to read, even though it's a difficult book, is something call The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. In it he talks about -- the reason why it's interesting is because this approach is really about engineering a revolution, not just in how Torah is studied, but even in how any individual story is understood. But what does it take to sort of revolutionize your view of anything? So this is really the question he talks about in this book.
What he says is that in science, a given paradigm or a way of understanding science is overturned, it's typically not through any one question, but through an accumulation of small questions. So the small questions are very important because it's their accumulation that leads to a new view of the story. It's sort of death by a thousand arrows, right? It's like when you accumulate all these things, so you have a choice. If I've accumulated 15 small questions about a story, I could try and theorize a separate approach to every individual question.
Student: They have to connect, all 15?
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, one way to do it is not to connect them and just say, well, I can sort of answer the question this way. I can answer this question this way, I'd bet I can answer this question that way, but the problem is I have no reason to believe that any of my answers are reasonable or are correct because there are many different ways to answer any question, right? One of the things that gives me a sense of confidence that I might be on to something is if there is a certain way -- if instead of answering all these questions I shift my view of the story and instead of seeing this way, I see it this way and all of a sudden 11 out of 14 of my questions go away, that's a really strong argument for making that shift.
So that's what small questions do for you. Sometimes when you do that, all of a sudden the big question isn't a big question anymore, once you see it that way. So that's sort of the approach that you want to take in the accumulation of questions and then you try and say okay, let's just look at the story and when you look at the story -- if I shift perspectives, is there a way to shift perspectives that might make these kind of questions go away?
One of the things that is helpful in doing that is sometimes you have a keystone question. A question which is the kind of thing that convinces you, or sort of the (inaudible 00:10:28) that points you in particular towards another way of seeing things. Anyway, that's just kind of helpful thing to keep in mind. That having been said, in terms of those questions, so what are the kinds of questions you can ask?
Student: That I can get the kids to ask the questions?
Rabbi Fohrman: That you can get the kids -- well, that anyone can ask, or that you can provoke in kids, right? So here are some common types of questions. These are the types of questions that will reappear constantly. So in any given story you can look for these kinds of questions with kids. You can train them for this kind of question.
So here is one of the things you can do. One of the good things to do when you look at any story is to play a game which I call take it apart and put it back together again, which is basically an outlining game. You say okay, so here's your story or here's your set of laws. Can we break those into sections, and can we name each section? It's basically an outlining tool. What would you say the section are?
If you can identify the sections -- this is particularly helpful in something like Psalms. Can you break apart the psalm into sections? If you can, then the next game to play is what's the best title for each paragraph? If you had to name the section, what name would you give to each section? Now, the next thing to play is after you've played break it apart and after you name the sections, you next job is to put it back together again. Putting it back together again requires you to create transitions between the sections.
So next question is, how do these sections hang together? What's the nature of the connection between Section A and Section B? So are they unrelated? Is B a counterpoint to A? Is it saying the same thing as A in different words? Is it building off of A and taking it to a new place? Is it an alternative to A? What is it? If you would create a preposition, would it be but, would it be through, would it be if, would it be them? What's the connectors? So almost like if it's the skeleton, what are the ligaments that are connecting the skeleton. So that's how you play take it apart and put it back together.
Now invariably, when you do that, or often when you do that, you find that one of the parts doesn't fit, which is another game you can play with them which I call, which one of these things is not like the other?
Student: It's specific to Torah or that's just in general?
Rabbi Fohrman: It's specific with Torah. One of the things the Torah will do is it will put an elephant in the room. There's going to be something that doesn't fit. So as in my structure there's going to be -- well, I could name this X -- in other words, this is like in my naming thing. When I name this -- I would name this paragraph X and it all looks like X except for this thing that I don't know what to do with in here, right?
Student: You shouldn't question the original naming of all the sections.
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, that's where you are questioning the name and now what that does is, it makes you question the name. So now I say, so my name is wrong? I thought the name was this, but this is proving that that's not the name. So what's really the name? The good example is the Ten Commandments. So the second after -- name the first five commandments. So we always say it's bein adam l'makom and bein adam l'chaveiro, but number 5 doesn't fit, kabeid es avicha v'es imecha isn't bein adam l'makom. So it's really close; it's the thing that almost fits, but doesn't fit, right? So what does that do? So it shows you it's not bein adam l'makom. You thought that was the name, that's not the name. So now you have to say, now it's a math problem.
The math problem is, okay, so what's the common denominator between the first four, and fifth? It's not bein adam l'makom, that's not broad enough. It's something else. Oh, it's bein adam l'boro, between man and his creators; his heavenly creators and his earthly creators. Okay. Now it makes sense. So now that changes everything, right? So now I can see the second half differently because boro is an authority figure. Now you're above me because you're my borei, but the second half is not bein adam l'chaveiro because some people are my creators; it's between me and my peers. It's horizontal relationships rather than vertical relationships. That changes your whole view of the Ten Commandments.
So this game, which one of these things is not like the other, is a very important thing to play in outlining. It's one of the kinds of questions you can ask, which is what is this doing here? I don't know if you were in the class that I just gave, but in this talk I just gave, one of those questions is like -- one of those elephant in the room questions is, reading the story of Jacob's burial and it says that "Rak tapam v'tzonam u'vekaram azvu b'eretz Goshen," they left behind their young and their cattle in Goshen. What's that doing there? If you didn't tell me that, you would have come and said oh, I wonder what they did with their cattle. I wonder where all the children were.
Like, okay, so they had babysitters, like why do you need to -- like it's sticking out as a sore thumb. So it's one of those things like, what is that doing here? So that game of what is this doing here, which one of these things is not like the other? If it's a series of laws, it's an interesting game. Another example of that is in Kedoshim if you read the verse, another example of take it apart and put it back together again is the verse of "V'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha." "Lo tisna et achicha b'levavecha hochei'ach tochi'ach et amitecha v'lo tisa alav cheit." Then what is it? "Lo tikom v'lo titor et bnei amecha v'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha." I think that's how it goes.
So those four ideas. So now let's play take it apart and put it back together again. So what are -- the names for the paragraphs are kind of self-evident, but the question is, what are the ligaments that connect them? What are prepositions that connect them? If you see the prepositions, you see that there is not four disconnected ideas, but there's really a larger overarching theme which is wending its way through there. That's another example.
Another example is to look at the blessing of God to man on the sixth day of creation. So there are different elements in the blessing. So what will you name each element and what are the connections between the elements? So "Vayevarech otam Elokim vayomer lahem pru u'revu u'mil'u et ha'aretz," element Number 1. "V'kivshuhah u'redu b'dagat hayam," element Number 2, conquer the earth. "U've'of hashamayim u'vechol chayah haromeset al ha'aretz." Then "Hinei natati lachem et kol eisev zorei'a zera…yihiyeh lachem l'ochlah," is element Number 3. Then element Number 4 is that the animals eat vegetation, too.
So now what are the titles and how do you connect those? When you connect them, you see that the blessing is really -- there's a story in the blessing. It's not just like a bunch of random things in the blessing. So these are important kinds of exercises you can do and tools that lead to important kinds of questions that you can ask.
Another kind of tool you could use to see important questions is playing, if you were there or what I call a game you can play, sort of, stop the tape. Imagine the story ended here, what would you expect to happen next? What happens next? It's the what happens next game. That's another place where you can see how surprising it is, what actually happens next.
So for example if you're Moses talking to Pharaoh and you say to Pharaoh, so God says "Shalach et ami v'yachogu li bamidbar," and Pharaoh says, "Lo yadati et Hashem v'gam et Yisrael lo ashalei'ach," stop the tape. If you're Moses, what would you do next? So you could say, well, I can imagine two possibilities. The kids will come up with all of these possibilities. I could go back to God and say well, I did what you told me to do, he said no. So God, it's your move, what should we do next? That would be the reasonable thing, like he was pretty unequivocal about it in that no. He said, I've never heard of God. Or if I want I can up the ante. I'd say, you never heard of God, Pharaoh? Well boy, you're about to hear about him. You have no idea whom you're messing with. Don't say you don't know God. He's going to destroy you with all these plagues. You'd better keel over now, or else you're not going to have anything left of Egypt.
Then what you do is actually read the text to see Moses did neither of those, and he chose a third option which in retrospect is very surprising. He says, oh, "Elokei ha'ivrim nikra aleinu," oh, the God of the Hebrews came to us. Can we please go for just three days? Because we're mad that God's going to get really mad at us. Well, you already said that you don't know who God is. You already said I'm not sending out the Jews. Did Pharaoh not make himself clear? Why do you think this is going to work? And it doesn't work. So what was Moses thinking?
So that's a really important question, but you only see that question if you stop and you say okay, what would I expect to happen next? Or "Vayishlach Yaakov malachim lefanav el Eisav achiv artzah se'ir sdei edom." So here Jacob is going to meet Esau. He's going to send a message, stop. What would you think the message is? If you haven't seen your long-lost brother Esau and your last interaction with him is you pilfered a blessing from him 20 years ago and now you're going to see him, what would you say? You might say sorry. You might say --
Student: I'll try to appease him.
Rabbi Fohrman: You might try to appease him. You might send him gifts, right? Now, if you look what actually happens is, he says, "Im Lavan garti va'eichar ad atah," it's been a while since I've seen you. I've been with Laban. "Vayehi li shor vachamor tzon v'eved v'shifchah, va'eshlechah l'hagid la'adoni limtzo chein b'einecha." I have all this cattle, I have all these servants, and I have all these maidservants. I'm just sending word to you limtzo chein b'einecha, just because I thought you would be pleased. Just letting you know how rich I am. What was that about?
Then he comes and sends 400 men to attack you; like that's a surprise? What are you doing? Why would you provoke him like that? But you only see it if you stop and say, well what would I do now? Now, let's play the tape and see what actually happens. Those are really kind of weird things. So that's a really helpful kind of tool.
Then in terms of observations -- those are kinds of questions, which is that this doesn't makes sense. In terms of observations, that's where you get to sort of some of the literary techniques that the Torah is using. I don't know if this is a question or observation, but grammatical problems. Every once in a while you run into a grammatical problem.
I believe that the Torah in its no hold barred approach to convey meaning will sometimes create grammatical oddities on purpose because that's a way of conveying meaning. So the Torah will use grammar that doesn't make sense as a way of conveying meaning, and it knows it doesn't make sense, but it's going to do it anyway. Subject-verb disagreements, you know, all of those things are significant. So "Vayikach Shem v'Yefet et hasimlah," singular verb, right? Two people doing it. So that leads to the Rashi which is "limeid al Shem shenit'ametz b'mitzvah yoter." So Rashi is trying to deal with that issue, but it's a grammatical problem.
Another kind of observation issue is one which I use a lot. I call it, where have we heard these words before? It is the intertextual game. The Torah uses that all over the place, but it's where the Torah intentionally evokes a later story or an earlier story as a way of connecting the two stories. That stuff's all over the Aleph Beta videos, if you watch them. You can train kids to begin to see that, especially if you give them two parallel texts (inaudible 00:23:45) parallel and say, break them up into groups, find the ways in which this story echoes that story. Have each group come up with this list. Put the list up on the board. That's a great fun game, and have them speculate what they think it means.
Another thing to play when you play that is, is this a coincidence or not? Which is also an important game to play because sometimes it's coincidental, like it could be coincidental. So if I find one connection between stories, that could be coincidental, right? So if I'm reading the story of the splitting of the sea and I notice that the first aspect of the splitting of the sea is that it was dark because it was night, and God made a "ru'ach kadim azah kol halaylah," God made a wind come all night long.
I say well, it's kind of interesting because back in creation it was dark. Back in creation there was a ru'ach Elokim and it was merachefet al pnei hamayim, it was blowing over the waters. Here in the splitting of the sea we have this wind from God that's blowing over the waters. I wonder if the Torah is linking creation to the splitting of the sea. That's a very intriguing possibility, but it also could be coincidental. So right you don't have enough evidence to know. How would you know? What would be the evidence? How could the Torah convince you one way or the other?
So typically, the way the Torah will convince you is that, if you're really on to something you'll see more indications of it. So if you go back to the splitting of the sea story, if you go back to the creation story and read them carefully, do other connections emerge between them or not? So if you show me two connections; if you show five connections; if you show me 12 connections between them, some of which are unique words which only appear here or only appear there, and then you show me that the second thing that happened in creation was that God made "rakiyah b'toch hamayim vayehi mavdil bein mayim l'mayim," and then you're looking at the splitting of the sea and oh, there's air between water and there are two walls of water, it's mavdil bein mayim l'mayim.
So all of sudden, now maybe we're talking about something. If I keep on seeing more of these, then the connection becomes more and more convincing. So that's something -- you could always ask them, so if you had to bet now if this is real, would you bet that it's real or would you want to see more? Because it's sort of like a scientific investigation. You really are looking for evidence. So the intertextual stuff is important. Then chiastic structure is important. Are you familiar with the chiastic structure?
Rabbi Fohrman: So letting them see that, they can begin to pick that stuff out too, to see the center of gravity that something revolves around and what the meanings of that is. So those are kind of a thumbnail sketch of a suite of tools which you can use. But if you use those and go back -- I'll e-mail you this recording, but if you go back and look at the Aleph Beta videos, you'll find that a good 70-80 percent of everything that I do there boils down to one of these things.
Student: That's a good healp. Two questions that aren't directly related these tools you're providing me. One is, so all the approaches you're giving sort of lays down a certain set of assumptions that kids are already interested in the text. Very often there is the famous tool tafkid k'kriyah, where I first draw the kids into the text by posing a question that's relevant to them and then linking that to the text. Not the best example, but let's say with the Spies. So with the Spies, discussing what is so dangerous about lashon hara, and bringing that something into their life. You know, the class (inaudible 00:27:37) tying it together. Why is it that the Torah is so fascinating? I need to draw them in initially before I can approach those two -- before I can connect those two together.
Rabbi Fohrman: So my instinct is actually to do that stuff at the end and not the beginning and to find a different way to draw them in, and I'll tell you why. Because if you do that, that's the classic way it's done. Like if you go to Azrieli, that's what they'll teach you to do, okay? I don't believe in doing that and I'll tell you why. Because if you do that, you're prejudging the text and you're teaching the kids to prejudge the text. So basically what you're doing is you're walking in and saying, I'm telling you that the Spies story, the central issue of the Spies story is lashon hara, so I'm going to go and talk about the importance of lashon hara. Now we're going to see it in the story. But that's your view of the Spies story.
What I'm saying is, walk into the Spies story with a completely open mind, that's the lullaby effect. The first thing you need to do is don't assume that the Spies story is about lashon hara. Assume the Spies story is about something really important. What I want to excite the kids about is, we're on a journey of discovery in the text, to try to figure out what that important thing is and we don't know yet. So that's the adventure and at the end --
Student: What's the important thing that the kids can anticipate to find?
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, at the end you may be done with your lesson and you'll give it to them. You say okay, now what does this mean? You're going to have to find a way at the end of actually making that really come home to them very powerfully. But then they're really impressed because then it's like wow, the Torah actually said this and here it applies to me.
Student: Rather than --
Rabbi Fohrman: Whereas the first way around is, my teacher says this and here is where it applies to me because what's your goal? Your goal is -- your overarching goal, like when you walked in, you said your goal was to have them be fascinated by the text. The way they're going to be fascinated by the text is to say, here's this text, I don't know what this text says, but I'm going to sit down without preconceived notions of this text and this text is going to teach me what it says.
That's very empowering because what you're saying to them is, you may not have a long beard and you may not be Rashi and you may not be the Ramban, but God gave you this book and you're supposed to establish a relationship with it and you have the tools with your brain, to be able to sit down with this book and open it and have this book teach you what it needs to teach you. When you're done, you'll be amazed at the layers of depth and what you're going to see is a whole new world.
So in other words, let me put it to you this way. Thirty years from now, these kids that you're teaching, so assuming they're still members of the Orthodox community, there are two kinds of members of the Orthodox community they can be. One kind of member of the Orthodox community is, they're really trying to do the right thing. They pay tuition and they go to daven and they learn Daf Yomi, but if you really asked them, do you really have a relationship to Torah? Do you feel like God is in your life? Do you feel like the text is talking to you? It's like they'd have to answer no, if they were honest. It's like, I learn Daf Yomi, I go through the motions. I try to do chesed. But it's not like I'm awed when I open up the Torah.
What you really want to give them is the tools to have a deep and abiding sense of awe when they open the Torah. Like, stuff that they can use in life which hopefully will make the Torah come alive for them over and over again. So how do you do that? So here's the problem. The problem you're facing is, here's this text that was written in another language, it was written a long time ago. There are lots of smart people, many smart people before now, who said stuff about this text.
When you think about it, a lot of the ways that we normally teach, in a way is kind of disempowering to a 6th to 8th grade kid because what you're saying -- like if I teach classically and I say, so here's the verse and here's what Rashi says and here's what the Ramban says and here's what the Sforno says and here's what the Emek Davar says. But there are two ways of learning Rashi. There's the Mizrachi's way of learning Rashi and then there's the Gur Aryeh's way of learning Rashi. Here's what Hirsch says and here's what the Malbim says, and that's just on one verse. You want to see what's going to happen with the next verse?
So now we're up to the memorization game, like can you spit it all back to me. If you're really bright, can you compare and contrast the different approaches. Okay. So I have to be really bright to do that, and if you ask me like the big picture question, like what do you think the story is about? What's it really telling me? It's like, I don't really know. I could tell you why there's an extra word in this verse according to the Emek Davar, but what's it all about in the big picture, how is it speaking to you? I can't really talk to you that.
What if you did it differently? What if you could say, here's this adventure, here's this text. There are tools in the text that -- the Torah is its own commentary and there are inlaid tools in the text that are keys that are going to help you discover a world of meaning that's underneath the surface of the text and it's going to be talking to you. Those tools are tools you can grasp, they're like things you can learn in kindergarten. Where have we heard these words before? Take it apart and put it back together again. What happens next? It's all on Sesame Street, all this stuff.
So it's very simple tools and all you have to do is learn how to apply it systematically. When you do, you find that all of a sudden the text starts opening up to you. You start seeing new ways of seeing it. It's like, oh, that's what the text is talking about. Now it makes sense, and this story over here is connected in 15 ways to this story and it's actually commenting on this story. This story is telling me how to understand that story. So that's like really mind-blowing stuff, that doesn't happen in Shakespeare. Like, the Torah is a pretty cool book that it can do that.
So if you have a kid that can see that coolness by their own minds, then they don't have to take your word that the Torah is cool, that the Torah is beautiful, that the Torah is awesome. It's not because you have a long beard that you're coming and telling them, trust me the Torah is amazing, right? The center of authority in the classroom isn't even you anymore, it's the Torah. All you are is a facilitator.
In other words, in a classical classroom the teacher is the power base, right? Here's the lesson I want to teach you and here's the lesson that you're going to get. You're going to see it right here in the story, right? That makes the teacher very powerful. But the teacher can be much less powerful, which is just a facilitator -- no, I'm your tour guide. We have a great adventure lined up for us. We have this spectacular text and it's crazy because there's stuff in here that doesn't make any sense, and our job is to try to catalogue the stuff that doesn't make any sense and then to begin to see how as we piece it together, it's going to start making sense in a whole new and unexpected way. When you're done with all of that, which you do with your own brain, you're going to see that the new way you have -- I'm talking about it's going to contain some sort of unexpected lesson to you that you never would have imagined that's actually going to be really relevant to your life.
So now it's not like my teacher told me something which is really relevant to my life. No. Here's this 3000-year-old document that's the core of our learning that I thought I was separated from, and I thought little old me had nothing to say about. The best I could do is learn about what all these people with beards said about it. But now I see that using my own brain, I have a relationship with this text and it's talking to me in a whole new way. Now I have a relationship with this text. Now this Torah is mine. Now it's actually talking to me. Now that kid sitting at a salad store 30 years later, they have a relationship with the Torah. The Torah talks to them. It actually guides them in life.
So that's like a big deal. That's the goal.
Student: Yeah. That was very clear. I need to process all that.
Rabbi Fohrman: So it's a whole different way of teaching, but --
Student: I have been doing the tafkid k'kriyah way, so that's --
Rabbi Fohrman: What's that?
Student: I have been doing the tafkid k'kriyah way in how I conduct my classes. No matter how much I try to convey that the Torah as fascinating, you know, try different ways, I don't think that the Torah is, as you said, the central authority in my classroom.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah.
Student: Normally, I feel like -- okay. Everybody open up your Chumash. Even if I take your approach and even if I pose to them two or three questions on a text, it's still, you know, where is that initial hook to sort of draw them in. So I figured that the initial hook was that I'm going to challenge certain assumptions they make about life, or certain problems that they identify in society.
Rabbi Fohrman: You could. You could do that if you want. If you feel you need to do that, you can, but you sort of have to keep an open mind with the class as to where this is going to go. I find it's not always helpful to put your cards on the table (inaudible 00:36:58).
Typically, I find that you can engage kids -- if you give kids permission to question a text, that in itself is a lot of fun for them. So it's like, here's this text, ask all the important questions about it. What's do you think the important questions are? It's like, really? I'm allowed to ask any question I want? Yeah, ask any question you want. Just say, but here are the guidelines. I'm interested in -- oh, I forgot to mention internal and external questions. This is important. You say, I'm interested in internal questions, not external questions.
So external questions are not questions that come from the text, they're questions that come from you. Internal questions are questions that emerge organically from the text. So if you read in the Book of Jonah --
Student: Internals come from --
Rabbi Fohrman: Comes from within the text. So the goal is enter the text world and accept that all of the assumptions that the text wants you to make, live in that world, now what are the questions on the text? As opposed to, I'm coming in 2012 and it doesn't seem fair to me and this isn't right to me that xyz. Or like, how did Jonah stay alive in the fish anyway for three days? That's an external question. It was a miracle. So you don't believe in miracles, that's your problem, but the Torah believes in miracles, right?
So accept the world of the Torah, that it was a miracle, and now ask a question. So how come Jonah was told that he should go to call out to Nineveh and the next thing he did is run away? It didn't say why he ran away. Why did he run away? Oh, that's an internal question. How could the Torah say that he got this prophecy and then he ran away without saying why? Like, why did he run away? So that's an internal question. What are the internal questions of the text?
Or you can then say -- a kind of more sophisticated question is what are the external questions and then how come if they're external, the Torah is not bothered by them? So how come only you are bothered by them, but not the Torah? What assumption is the Torah making that lets the Torah not be bothered by your question? So for example; if you're reading the Binding of Isaac and I say, I have this problem which is maybe Abraham should have just said no, it was like immoral to go kill your son. I think that maybe this whole thing is to teach you that human sacrifice is wrong and that was the whole purpose of the Binding of Isaac and Abraham failed the test. But if you look carefully at the text, the text shows you that's not true because the angel says you passed the test. The angel says that "Lo chasachta et bincha yechidcha mimeni," that it would have been a good thing for you to actually sacrifice that child.
So the Torah actually believes that had God not stopped him, it would have been the right thing for Abraham to sacrifice the child. So what assumption is the Torah making about morality that's different than mine, that when I look at this I say that's terrible, right? Why is my question an external question, which is how could he do it, but why is the Torah not bothered with how he could do it? Why is the Torah taking for granted that he should have done it, when I don't take that for granted? So what assumption is the Torah making? So that's an important kind of question too.
Student: I'm looking more for that, yeah. It's a different way to look at (inaudible 00:40:09).
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. So good luck. It's a different road, but the truth is if you look at the Aleph Beta videos and you use them, they will be helpful for you. Register as a teacher with us, it's free, and you can download our teacher guides. They give you suggestions of like, show the video, stop it, here's what you can do beforehand, here are discussions you can have. You can agree, you can disagree. You can take things in a different way, but it gives you a nice kind of structure.
If you come back to these methodological points, you'll see them all over the place there. If you want, you can keep track of those with your class. Say okay, we're playing where have we heard this before again? We're playing which one of these things are not like the other? We're playing, take it apart and put it back together again. We're playing what happens next? You can just make a list of games.
You know, it reminds me -- I don't know if see movies; you saw The Karate Kid years ago?
Student: I've never seen it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So if you watch The Karate Kid, so one of the things in The Karate Kid is there is this wise old karate guy who is teaching karate to a young kid. The kid really wants to learn karate, but in the beginning he doesn't teach him karate. He has him do these household chores. The kid's very frustrated because he's not doing -- when are we going to learn karate already? So he says, I want you to whitewash this fence. Here's what I want you to do, take this sponge and then whitewash, you go this way and then go that way and then keep on doing this a thousand times and whitewash the fence.
Student: Wipe on, wipe off.
Student: Wipe off, right. That's it from The Karate Kid. All these different things and then the kid says, well, how come you haven't taught me any karate already? And he says, relax, patience, keep on doing it. Then the kid is like, but you didn't teach me any karate. So then the master pretends to punch him and the kid just automatically blocks the punch with the same on/off approach that he used to whitewash the fence, but it was instinctive. He says there, that was it, that's how you block.
So you learn how to do it without realizing that's what you're doing. So you play these games, but the games are really methodological tools. So you see, kids get into the games and then when at the end they see the story in a whole new way, it can be pretty cool for them.
Student: A wonderful beginning to consider different approaches to the Tanach.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. Good luck. So let me stop this and I'm going to --