Sometimes, the best learning comes up unexpectedly. It’s up to us to seize the moment.
There we were, pulling apart the structure of Rabban Gamliel’s argument (really! with great enthusiasm!), and one fourth grader said, “Hallel is in the Tanakh.” [Tanakh is an acronym for Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).] And I said, “Prove it.” And thus begun a fabulous 10 minutes of synthesizing skills we’d been working on this year.
Some children went to the bookshelf to pull out a Tanakh. I heard them decide which book was a Tanakh by reading the words on the spine: Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim. One boy figured out that maybe Hallel would be listed on the chart of the books of the Tanakh we have posted, and he went to look. He didn’t find it there. (Hallel isn’t the name of a book in the Tanakh; it’s the name of a prayer.)
I offered a clue. I wrote: “Hallel = Psalms 113 – 118.” The boys knew what psalms were, but couldn’t remember the word in Hebrew. They found a Hebrew-English dictionary on our shelves and pulled it out. They flipped through the pages but it was a modern Israeli children’s picture dictionary, and I was pretty sure they wouldn’t find the word they wanted.
I pulled a siddur (prayerbook) off our shelves and opened it to the prayer called Hallel. I pointed to the page and said, “A really big clue is on this page.” I stepped back and waited.
Finally, they found the word they were looking for. Psalms = תהילים, they found out. They went back to the Tanakh chart to see where Psalms -תהילים is in the Tanakh, but it wasn’t spelled the same in the prayerbook as on our chart! I confirmed it was the same word, spelled two different ways. The children proudly confirmed that Psalms – תהילים is in the Tanakh!
Then they went on to memorize the statement immediately following Rabban Gamliel’s in the haggadah:
בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ, כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרָֽיִם
In every generation a person must see himself/herself as though s/he personally had gone out of Egypt, as it is said: “You should tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what Adonai did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8)
What an afternoon of being personally involved in our learning!