A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 42 – Communication Skills from the Passover Haggadah

A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth

In addition to the three general principles discussed in the previous chapters  which govern an educator’s approach to communication–that his motivation be sincere concern for the student; that he say only what is helpful and appropriate in the moment; and that he not adopt severity as an educational methodology–there are also specific techniques regarding communication and education which can be derived from studying the Passover Haggadah.

The sages composed the Haggadah to fulfill the obligation of teaching Jewish children the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Its entire purpose is as a teaching aid, and so it represents a practical distillation and application of the sages’ thinking on the subject of education. The Talmud explains that through its deliberate disruption of routine, “in order that the children will ask,” we learn the importance of arousing questions in the student, and the advantage of teaching in the form of questions and answers.

From the requirement that the Passover plate be on the table, and that each item be identified in its turn–for example, “this ismatzah,” “this is bitter herb”–we learn the importance of illustrating abstract ideas with concrete examples and observable truths.

The Haggadah insists that each of us identify with the Exodus from Egypt, both by discussing it in the first person as though we ourselves were there, and recognizing that if God had not redeemed the Jewish people, we and our children would still be slaves to Pharaoh. This teaches the importance of focusing on the practical implications of an idea and demonstrating how it concretely affects the student’s life.

From Dayaynu–a recitation of a list of God’s many miracles–we learn the value of breaking a large matter into small, individually digestible pieces, so the student is not overwhelmed by the complexity or expanse of an idea.

Finally, from the seder ritual–which is divided into fifteen sections ending with Hallel (praise of God) and Nirtzah (a prayer that our observance be favorably accepted by Him)–we learn that every class session should end by affirming a relationship of good will between teacher and student, a rapport that is deepest when founded upon a previous exchange of praise and positive feedback.

These are some practical guidelines for effective teaching and communication based on the techniques employed by the sages in the Haggadah. Yet there remains the question of how to perfect our own skills of articulation. We can feel a deep concern for others and apply all the proper techniques of education, but unless we can express ourselves effectively, we will not succeed. The ability to speak clearly and concisely is acquired only through study, toil, and practice. It is a proficiency which can be cultivated by anyone willing to make the effort.

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