When lighting the menorah in the Tabernacle, Aaron the High Priest is commanded to “raise the flame” of each of the seven lights. Rashi, commenting on this enigmatic expression, explains it to mean that Aaron should hold the light by the menorah until the flame “stands by itself.” He should create a completely independent flame, not a flickering one, before moving the light away.
The menorah is the part of the Tabernacle that represents wisdom. An obvious, but very important, lesson can be drawn by analogy. When one is lighting “flames” of wisdom, i.e. in providing education, one’s job is not complete until one has imparted in the student full independence.
The greatest challenge in Jewish education is to develop independent thinkers – people who are able to use their own minds to make decisions in an objective and thoughtful way. It’s relatively easy to create zombies – people who will blindly follow because you have programmed them to do so. This, unfortunately, is a temptation in education, because it’s so much easier.
The educational method of force-feeding Judaism has provided us with a generation of disinterested and disillusioned young Jews. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Tell people they have to be Jewish because you, Torah, God or anyone else for that matter, says so, and as soon as they arrive in the big wide world, they will find much better reasons not to be Jewish.
Teach them to think for themselves and to understand why they should be Jewish, and that big wide world will pale in comparison.
Not only are independent thinkers stronger in their own convictions, they are also comfortable listening to other points of view. And they will take responsibility and lead.
Perhaps more than ever before, this is the educational challenge that we face today. It’s easy to create followers. The challenge is to create leaders. A flame that stands by itself can light many others. A flame that is flickering will struggle to hold its own.