Rays of Light: Was What You Thought You Heard What I Thought I Said?

by Lali Ray

My husband, Eric Ray (author of Sofer: The Story of a Torah Scroll) had a lovely experience some months back. He was doing a program on the Torah for a group of nursery school students. It was their custom to begin each day with the recitation of the Shema and then proceed to their activities of the day. After Eric’s portion of the program was over, one three year old came up to him and said, “Dr. Ray, is it true that God is One?” “Yes,” said Eric, “that’s right”. The child thought for a moment and then said, “When does He get to be two?”

If I remember correctly, a similar story triggered the title of Shema Is For Real. How do we know when our message is getting across?

When I started to do teacher workshops years ago, I thought that there were some things that all teachers would know and understand just because they were Jewish teachers. A colleague of mine once asked me to do a workshop for a group of teachers and warned me that this group was very new at the job and many had little Jewish background. I prepared something that did not assume a lot of prior knowledge. During the workshop, I mentioned something and attributed it to the Talmud. “What’s that?” asked one teacher. That taught me a lesson I never forgot. Treading the line between “talking down” to people and talking over their heads is a very thin one, but one that we, as teachers, have to tread.

As you all know, there are many ways of “testing” whether information is understood. For example, with very young children, their drawings are a real eye-opener. One of my kids drew a picture in Sunday School of a black limousine with three people in it. I thought it odd for a religious school picture. “What’s that?” I asked. “That’s God driving Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden”. ‘Nuff said.