When my oldest son was in the 5th grade, he came home one day all excited. “Ima, you have to hear this joke. It’s the one going around the entire Talmud Torah now,” he tells me.
So, here’s the joke:
This guy happens upon this pet store with a sign: “Unique Parrots For Sale”. Not in the market for a parrot, but curious nevertheless, the guy goes in to see. The display with the “unique parrots” looks like just regular ole parrots, though, so he decides to challenge the shop owner on this. He points to one parrot and asks, “How much is this parrot?”
“That unique parrot is a quarter of a million dollars,” is the answer.
“What?! Why so much for a parrot?!” the guy exclaims.
“Why, that’s not just any regular parrot,” the shop owner responses. “That parrot knows all of Sefer Tehillim, the entire Book of Psalms, by heart.”
“Wow! I’m impressed. That is amazing,” the guy has to admit. Then he points to another parrot and asks again, “How much is this parrot?”
“That unique parrot is ten million dollars,” is the response.
“What?! For a parrot?! Why so much?”
“Why, that’s no ordinary parrot,” replies the shop owner. “That parrot knows the entire Shas, the entire Babylonian Talmud, including all the commentaries, Rashi and Tosfot – by heart,” comes the response.
“Wow! That really is unique!” the guy has to admit again. Then, looking at the display with more scrutiny, the guy notices that one of the parrots looks a bit old. Its colors are a bit faded and a few feathers are missing here and there. So, he asks, “Hey, how much is this old bird?”
“How dare you!” the shop owner fumes at the guy’s flippant disrespect. That’s not just any parrot! That’s…that’s…that’s…the Rosh Yeshiva!”
Not about politics. Not about people. But you know what I really like about this joke?
It’s really funny. It’s intelligent. And it’s clean.
What 5th grade boys tell among themselves on the playground at recess tells you much more about what they’re really learning at their school or Talmud Torah. The jokes they tell each other are a much better indication of the education that’s really filling their minds and souls than what’s in their notebooks.
My son’s telling that joke alluded to what all Jewish mothers pray for, namely: Nachat d’Kedusha – a sign of one’s child’s love and “brent” for Torah. The components of his joke are the cornerstone of Jewish education and are what have enabled our Am to continue the mesora from Mount Sinai to the youngest of our generation to date. And the main component is that Torah is the all-encompassing mindset, in the conscious and subconscious of Am Yisrael, so it spills out into even the jokes that our children tell.
Jewish education is teaching the totality of the actual wisdom of Torah (all of the holy sefarim) along with the Torah lifestyle. This affects the continuity of Torah being the eternal standard against which all actions, words, and behavior are measured, and decisions are made – in all areas of life, whether between oneself and God, or with other people.
There is even a sing-song tune (that’s, yes, coupled with the iconic thumb-swinging gesture) that’s part of the special and traditional method of teaching Torah that stays universally the same, regardless of accent, generation, and geographical locale.
Torah is the source and measure of all morals and ethics, as it provides the measure of all that is right and wrong, good and evil, Divinely-commanded versus man-made.
The knowledge, wisdom, and mindset of Torah will stand by these children of the Talmud Torah later in whatever path they choose to follow, and carry into any field and career they pursuit.
Just as they understand that the joke is about parrots merely parroting Torah studies, they’ll have the knowledge and spiritual faculties to recognize, for instance, the idolatry of “messianics” and missionaries and thus avoid them, just as they’ll have the ability to discern what is authentic Torah over what is phony and not in the true spirit of Torah.
The essence of Torah education is teaching to truly love learning and living Torah. ‘nuff said.
Ashreinu uMa Tov Chelkenu!