Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More on Haazinu

A suggestion if you are teaching this parasha: since the body of it is a poem, and since poetry is often better understood when recited rather than when read silently, I urge you to read sections of this poem aloud to your students - and dramatically!!

I never suggest having students read aloud in turn - in my opinion (and that of most educators) the only two people paying attention in that case are the reader herself and the person who is on deck to read next and wants to be sure to know the place.

The difference when you read aloud is that you will have
  • prepared the students to put themselves in the position of the people who are listening to Moshe
  • reminded them that they were born in the desert, don't have their own memories of Egyptian slavery or of the Exodus
  • pre-read the passage, thought about the meaning of the passages you have chosen, and
  • will read with expression and passion. You will be sure you
  • know how to pronounce all the words, you will possibly have
  • edited the language to be more understandable to your students without changing the meaning of the text, you will
  • direct your students to listen for the answers to some questions you have posed... How do you feel about listening to Moshe? What do you think about what he is saying? Have you ever heard any of this before? Why do you think he is talking about it now?
  • select the sections that clearly illustrate what you want your students to think about.

One of the interesting issues this parasha raises is the question of why one obeys laws. It appears that the reason for obeying the laws stated by Moshe is that the people will be punished - severely punished - if (or when, if you read the text carefully) they disobey.

There are many reasons people obey laws

Why do people obey rules?
Are there reasons for obeying some rules and not others?
Who has the authority to set the rules?
Who has the authority to punish rule-breakers?
If there were no punishment, would people obey rules?

Discuss some of the laws we live by in this country (traffic laws, taxes, etc. You might want to mention the red light cameras that are being installed in Nassau County as an example of a way of enforcing a law). Who creates the laws? Who enforces them? What happens to those who disobey the laws? Are laws and rules the same thing? Compare and contrast the rules God sets forth through Moshe and those of your community. Are they equally binding? Explain your answer.

The purpose of these activities is to help students better understand the important ideas they have been uncovering together. They are actually self-assessment rather than teacher-assessment, which is really more appropriate especially at this time of year.

  1. During this season of teshuvah, have students may come up with their own thoughts on doing better in following God's rules. This can be done privately, during quiet time in class. You may want students to write what they have decided, and to seal these papers to be opened at a future time you will determine with the students.
  2. Have students create a display that illustrates rules/laws that they expect will be followed in the synagogue/school because they are the right thing to do, rather than because of fear of punishment.
  3. Set aside reflection time at the end of each class session during the month of Tishrei for students to think about which of God's rules they have followed that day, which they might have done better in following, and which they plan to concentrate on the following session.


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