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Counting the Omer with

Day 11 — Debating with Students

Pilpul Ha’Talmidim • פלפול התלמידים

By Rabbi Jonathan Biatch, Madison, Wisconsin

Beulah Trey, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Beulah Trey, and her family
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Each of us has, in our role as teachers, at one time or another come across a situation where we might disagree with a student. Maybe his knowledge is mistaken; perhaps she has learned but forgot. Maybe their teacher taught one lesson, and our students learned another. And maybe we simply see things differently.

What do we do at such a moment? Perhaps one of the most important lessons a teacher can integrate is that middah embedded in Psalms 119:99, “mikol m'lamdai hiskalti — from those who have taught me have I been educated,” and amplified by Ben Zoma in Avot 4:1, “Who is wise? They who learn from everyone.”

“Those who have taught me” can be anyone, at any time; each person and situation has the capacity to teach us. Even when we serve as a teacher, still we can learn from others each day, and we need to be open to learning with every breath of our lives.

So when we engage in pilpul with our students, we must remember to treat them as a potential m'lamed, providing them the respect that each human being, made in the image of the Divine, deserves. They may be right, or they may have a lot to learn. But remember: What we teach, and how we impart that knowledge, will all be part of their education.

We teach in every moment, and every human interaction, every day.

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