The Talmud remarks that just as every person’s face is different, so does every person’s mind work differently. One ramification of this fact is the different aptitudes that people have when they learn new things. Some students “get” the material that a teacher presents to the class faster than others, and some people will easily follow a lecture. Many people will immediately understand the moral lesson of a speech, and some children learn the rules relatively quickly. Others, however, seem to have more difficulty understanding, take much longer than their peers, and may sometimes totally miss the point. A teacher, whether a traditional school teacher, a parent, or a professor, is charged with teaching all types and levels of students. How much effort should a teacher make until he or she gets the point across? How much time should one invest to get the student or listener to say “Aha, I get it?”
The proverbial rock that Moshe mistakenly hit in order to obtain water can guide a parent or teacher in this area. The rock’s ability to produce water in the desert was clearly miraculous – what difference should it have made whether the miracle was precipitated by hitting or speaking? Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895 –1986) explains that this episode should give teachers and parents an important attitude about how to relate to their students or children. They must work with one assumption constantly in mind: if one just re-teaches and repeats his or her instructional, moral, or ethical lesson, it’s possible for even the most difficult student to understand. These students must be tirelessly talked to. A teacher must deeply believe that getting their point across is worth the constant, repetitive effort and patient dedication. Even the most difficult students will not as much difficulty understanding things as a rock does. Nevertheless, had Moshe have spoken to the rock, it would have “understood” and fulfilled the will of the Almighty. If even an inanimate rock can get the message, how much more so should we give children and people the opportunity to understand. Even if they are not getting the message now, eventually they may and hopefully will. Teachers and parents owe it to their students and children to develop this sense of optimism until it becomes second nature to them to think that even rocks can sometimes listen.