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26 Old Mill Road, Great Neck, NY 11023 (516) 487-6100                                                  Shabbat Announcements Bamidbar 5781
         literacy. “The law that Moses gave us is the possession of   that man is to be blessed, namely Joshua ben Gamla, for
         the assembly of Jacob” (Deut. 33:4) – the whole assembly,  but for him the Torah would have been forgotten from
         not a privileged group within it.                    Israel. For at first if a child had a father, his father taught
                                                              him, and if he had no father he did not learn at all…They
         The symbol of this was the revelation at Mount Sinai, the   therefore ordained that teachers should be appointed in
         only time in history when God revealed Himself not only to   each prefecture, and that boys should enter school at the
         a Prophet but to an entire people, who three times signalled   age of sixteen or seventeen. [They did so] but if the
         their consent to the commands and the covenant. In the   teacher punished them they used to rebel and leave the
         penultimate command that Moses gave to the people,   school. Eventually, Joshua b. Gamla came and ordained
         known as Hakhel, he gave the following instruction: “At the   that teachers of young children should be appointed in
         end of every seven years, in the Sabbatical year, during the   each district and each town, and that children should enter
         Festival of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear   school at the age of six or seven. Universal compulsory
         before the Lord your God at the place He will choose, you   education did not exist in England – at that time the
         shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble   world’s leading imperial power – until 1870, a difference of
         the people—men, women and children, and the foreigners   18 centuries. At roughly the same time as Joshua ben
         residing in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear   Gamla, in the first century C.E., Josephus could write:
         the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this   Should any one of our nation be asked about our laws, he
         law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it   will repeat them as readily as his own name. The result of
         and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in   our thorough education in our laws from the very dawn of
         the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (Deut.   intelligence is that they are, as it were, engraved on our
         Again, the whole people, not an elite or subset within it.   We now understand the connection the Sages made
         This is echoed in the famous verse from Isaiah 54:13, “And   between the wilderness and the giving of the Torah: it was
         all your children shall be learned of the Lord and great shall   open to everyone, and it was free. Neither lack of money
         be the peace of your children.” This was and remains the   nor of aristocratic birth could stop you from learning Torah
         unique feature of the Torah as the written constitution of   and acquiring distinction in a community in which
         the Jewish people as a nation under the sovereignty of God.   scholarship was considered the highest achievement. With
         Everyone is expected not merely to keep the law but to   three crowns was Israel crowned: the crown of Torah, the
         know it. Jews became a nation of constitutional lawyers.
                                                              crown of Priesthood and the crown of Kingship. The crown
         There were two further key moments in the history of this   of Priesthood was conferred on Aaron…The crown of
         development. The first was when Ezra and Nehemiah    kingship was conferred on David…But the crown of Torah is
         gathered the people, after the Babylonian exile, to the   for all Israel…Whoever desires it, let them come and take
         Water Gate in Jerusalem, on Rosh Hashanah, and read the   it.
         Torah to them, placing Levites throughout the crowd to   I believe that this is one of Judaism’s most profound ideas:
         explain to people what was being said and what it meant, a   whatever you seek to create in the world, start with
         defining moment in Jewish history that took the form not of   education. If you want to create a just and compassionate
         a battle but of a massive adult education program (Neh. 8).   society, start with education. If you want to create a
         Ezra and Nehemiah realized that the most significant battles   society of equal dignity, ensure that education is free and
         in ensuring the Jewish future were cultural, not military.   equal to all. That is the message the Sages took from the
         This was one of the most transformative insights in history.
                                                              fact that we read Bamidbar before Shavuot, the festival
         The second was the extraordinary creation, in the first   that recalls that when God gave our ancestors the Torah,
         century, of the world’s first system of universal compulsory  He gave it to all of them equally.
         education. Here is how the Talmud describes the process,
         culminating in the work of Joshua ben Gamla, a High Priest
         in the last days of the Second Temple: Truly the name of

                              Great Neck Synagogue
                     26 Old Mill Road, Great Neck , NY 11023

                         Rabbi Dale Polakoff, Rabbi
                      Rabbi Ian Lichter, Assistant Rabbi
                   Rabbi Yehoshua Lefkowitz, Intern Rabbi
                    Dr. Ephraim Wolf, z”l, Rabbi Emeritus
                           Yitzy Spinner, Cantor
                    Eleazer Schulman, z”l, Cantor Emeritus
                     Rabbi Sholom Jensen, Youth Director
                  Zehava & Dr. Michael Atlas, Youth Directors
                      Mark Twersky, Executive Director
                     Dr. James Frisch, Assistant Director
                          Jordan Wolf, President
                     Dov Sassoon, Chairman of the Board
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