June 25, 2024
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Chinuch in the Age of the Influencer

Parshat Yitro serves as an important landmark parsha in the Torah for many reasons. The first of which is obviously Maamad Har Sinai, the receiving of the Torah—the foundation of our entire lives. The parsha also serves as an interesting segway into a new kind of story for Bnei Yisrael. From the beginning of Sefer Shmot up until Parshat Yitro, we witness with increasing intensity, miracle after miracle. It began with the saving of a baby, continued on with a stick turning into a snake, 10 miraculous plagues, the fulfillment of an unlikely promise, the splitting of the sea (!!!), manna falling from the heavens, bitter waters turning sweet, winning an unlikely war against Amalek, and ultimately, the incredible experience of Har Sinai. How could one not be swept away by awe and connection to Hashem after witnessing all of this?! After this week’s parsha, things start to slow down a little bit and Bnei Yisrael settle into living a life of “mundane” miracles and learning the many new rules that they will be obligated to follow as they transition into a Torah lifestyle.

There is a famous Gemara that discusses the idea that during Matan Torah, Bnei Yisrael were forced into accepting the Torah: שׁכּפה הקּדוֹשׁ בּרוך הוא עליהם את ההר כּגיגית (Shabbas 88a): A mountain was held over their heads and they were forced, by fear of death, to accept the Torah.

This is quite a statement about the nation who also jumped in and accepted the Torah without question by stating the famous words “Naaseh v’nishmah, We will do and we will hear” When I read the words “Kafah… aleihem et har k’gigit,” I prefer to look at it as a metaphor: After witnessing the above mentioned miracles and so much more, how could this generation do anything but follow Hashem, accept His Torah and learn His ways. It seems to me that anyone who experienced the stories of the first half of Sefer Shmot realistically did not have a choice. There were no distractions. The miracles were right there in front of every individual. The path was clear. Kabalat HaTorah was the obvious and only choice.

Fast forward to 2023. Kabalat HaTorah feels a little bit different. We teach each of these precious stories to our students and spend entire holidays reenacting the above mentioned miracles. The main difference today is that our students have a choice. Their attention is not exclusively captivated by these incredible miracles. Enter social media, specifically influencers. Our students have more opportunities than ever to be influenced by social media, and the trends seem to indicate that they are choosing to invest much of their time in, let’s just say, non-Torah themed activities. Where does that leave us as educators? How do we “influence” this new generation that is overloaded with choice? Quite a contrast to our forefathers in the parsha!

I believe that the answer to this question begins and ends with the reality that teachers are in fact, the ultimate influencers. We have the ability to connect, educate and inspire on levels that social media can’t touch.

While researching what criteria are considered when judging the success of an influencer on social media, I came across words such as: followers, brand, frequency, partnership, connection, communication, values and authenticity. What better words could be used to describe a successful teacher? We are the ultimate influencers. Our followers are frequent as we develop strong connections and use our own individual brand to communicate our lessons and values in the most authentic way possible! Our students have the benefit of learning from an incredible group of influencers every single day. We need to refocus our mindset and remind ourselves that while our students do have more choices than ever, they are being taught by the ultimate role models and influencers whose brand is longer lasting and more meaningful than anything they will find on social media. We have the ultimate brand. We form the authentic connections that help to form the incredible people who our students will shape into as they mature into the next generation of Jewish parents and influencers.

There are two main ingredients in our brand of influencing that I believe will be more effective than any of today’s distractions.

The first is based on a pasuk in Hoshea: בּחבלי אדם אמשׁכם בּעבתות אהבה: I drew them with human ties, with cords of love. There is absolutely no substitution for the love and dedication of teachers for their students. The idea of a cord is that it has many smaller strings tied together to form a larger, stronger, unbreakable cord. Every time a student feels the human connection and love from a teacher in the classroom, the student will feel more drawn to and closer to the teacher and to the material they are teaching. No outside influencer can replicate the warmth and dedication that a student feels from their favorite teacher. We do his on repeat every single day until the connection is unbreakable and can withstand the test of time.

The second main ingredient in influencing our brand stems from Rabbi Chanina:

הרבה למדתי מרבותי, ומחבירי—יותר מרבותי, ומתלמידי—יותר מכולן : Much have I learned from my masters, and more from any colleagues than from my masters, and from my disciples the most. (Taanit 7:1).

Rabbi Chania here is describing a most valuable part of the teacher-student relationship. Not only are students expected to learn and develop connections with their teachers, but teachers should be learning and growing through these day to day interactions and relationships as well. The process of learning together requires that all parties are connecting and growing. This partnership is the cornerstone of the teacher-student relationship. Long lasting influence requires constant growth and positive interactions.

For those who lament the distractions of social media on our students, I hope that this article has provided you with the necessary chizuk to charge into the classroom each day with renewed energy and love. I feel confident that influencers in the classrooms will continue to have a more meaningful and longer lasting impact than any of the temporary distractions that our students may be challenged with today. As we approach the Shabbos of Kabalas HaTorah, let us walk with our heads held high knowing that we are the ultimate influencers, guiding our students to the true brand of choice.


Mrs. Shirley Gantz is the assistant principal at Bruriah Middle School.

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