Shema, Honey, and Learning

My boys’ last day of school was on Thursday. It was bittersweet, as they won’t be going back to public school next year. I am both nervous and excited to take on the sole responsibility for my children’s education. We will start up a full time homeschooling schedule in the fall, but for the summer, we will be doing some part time school. During the month of June, we will be doing a Sheep Unit.

Until 6 or so months ago, I don’t think I had ever thought much about sheep before. I mean, I thought they were cute, and I knew they were mentioned a lot in the scriptures, but they weren’t necessarily something that I dreamed about. Haha.

Learning about my Swedish ancestors has greatly increased my interest in and love for sheep. I now have a dream to own a little mini farm / homestead someday… complete with a few sheep.

I also love the spiritual symbolism of sheep and shepherds and I am excited to learn more about that with my kids.



Today was our first day of summer school. I wanted to start the first day with laying the foundation. … so we pulled in some ancient Hebrew traditions, and how they taught their children, that I read about recently.  Sorry for the super long quote, but it’s just so interesting to me and I wanted to include all of it in case anyone else is interested as well.  Especially since the book that it is from, The Beloved Bridegroom, is currently out of print.  I’m lucky enough to have a copy of it that I inherited from my Grandma.

“The ideal family life was considerate, respectful, and loving.  Like the children in Israel today, they called their parents Imma and Abba (Mama and Daddy).  In this environment, the little ones were carefully taught from an early age about their social and religious responsibilities.  Especially emphasized were the importance of family loyalty, respect for elders, and obedience to parents. 

The Hebrew word for parent, horeh, derives from the root yareh, which means teaching, instruction, and direction (Wilson 216).  The three most essential requirements for parents were: to love God, remember His commandments at all times, and then teach them to their children at every possible opportunity.  This obligation was taken very seriously.

Until the age of three, the education of the family was mainly the responsibility of the mother.  When a child turned three, the father became the primary source of information concerning the history of their people and the laws regarding correct behavior. 
Deuteronomy 32:7 reflects this and counsels children to “ask thy father and he will tell thee.”  The father was expected to know and live the law and to “make it known to the children and their children’s children.”
“The word Torah in Hebrew does not only mean “law”, it also means “teaching”.  Moreover, the root for “Torah” can be traced to the Hebrew word meaning “to shoot an arrow,” or “to hit the mark.”  Thus, the word “Torah” means literally, “teaching,” whether it is the wise man instructing his son, or God instructing Israel. 
Hence, we can say that “Torah” is God’s teaching, hitting the mark of man’s needs, including his need to know who God is and what His righteousness looks like (Berkowitz 7).”
To know and live the law required much diligence.  Through a careful study of 5,845 verses in the first five books of the Bible (the Torah), the Jews found 613 commandments.  These were the basis of the Law of Moses.  When Christ was questioned about which of these 613 statutes was most important, he quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, is One Lord.  And thou shalt love the Lord with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
This scripture is called the Shema (pronounced as Shma) which means HEAR! or LISTEN! or PAY ATTENTION!  This was the very first and most important religious principle that a child was taught.  He memorized it and recited it several times daily.  It gave him a true understanding of God compared to the polytheism so common in the surrounding cultures.
The shema was written on parchment, rolled up, and placed in a small cylinder called a mezuza which was fixed on the doorpost.  A child was taught to kiss his fingers and touch the mezuza whenever entering or leaving the home.  This action helped establish in the child’s mind the importance of remembering the love of God in governing all his actions.
The principle of being a good listener is also emphasized in modern scripture.  The first verse of section 63 of the Doctrine and Covenants states:
“Hearken, O ye people, and open your hearts and give ear from afar; and listen, you that call yourselves the people of the Lord, and hear the word of the Lord and his will concerning you.”
This single verse contains five directives to hear the Lord’s commands: “Hearken”, “open your hearts” (spiritual ears), “give ear”, “listen”, and “hear.”  The two passages parallel each other beautifully.
Hear, O Israel… and these words… shall be in thy heart.” (Deut. 6:4-6)
Hearken, O ye people, and open your hearts… (D&C 63:1)
In the Old and New Testament, “to listen” or “to hear” is the root for the idea of obedience.  Both of these verses cited imply that truly hearing and heeding will naturally lead to improved behavior and greater love for the Lord. 
The importance of listening, hearing, and remembering can not be overstated, because the Hebrew culture was based on oral transmission of scripture.  On the Sabbath, in the temple and in each synagogue, the same portion of the Torah was read aloud. 
The entire Torah was divided so that a complete reading was accomplished every three and a half years (Edershiem SJSL 277).  By the time a person was middle-aged, the expectation was that they would have it committed to memory.
Besides scripture memorization, another educational tool used by parents is illustrated in Joshua 4:4-6.  In this passage, the Lord instructs Joshua to have a representative from each of the twelve tribes take a stone from a dry riverbed (where a miracle had just taken place) and to pile them up together so that “when you children ask their fathers in time to come saying ‘what mean ye by these stones?” … these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel forever.”
This is a good example of how they used the natural curiosity of children to provide the best motivation for learning.
First, the child was shown a symbol or a ritual to stimulate his interest.
Next, the meaning was first explained by using a historical reference.
Lastly, the child was taught the personal significance of the event for his life – to liken it unto himself.
It is interesting that the sentence, “What mean ye by these stones?” can also be translated from the Hebrew as, “What do these stones mean to you?” 
This last question offered the father an opportunity to bear a personal witness of the Lord’s involvement in his own life and to teach his child to seek an expect similar experiences.” (Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, pg. 4-7)


I taught my kids about the Shema and the importance of obeying God’s commandments. It is through obedience to laws that we obtain blessings. But in order to obey the commandments, we have to know what they are. And to know what they are, we have to Hear, Listen, and Pay Attention.


Next we got first hand experience with a Hebrew tradition of the sweetness of learning…

“Remembering is such a significant spiritual ability that God employs symbols and symbolic acts as instruments for communicating and retaining ideas. The truth of God’s Word is never entrusted to mere words [alone]. [His truths are] supported by symbols and symbolic acts that make for a far greater impact and more enduring retention. (Jewish Symbolism, Hirsch, pg 19) 
The ancient Hebrews believed learning was a sacred activity and that letters and numbers were symbols given by God. Because of this belief, they followed His pattern and used symbolism whenever possible to imprint spiritual lessons on the minds of their children. This idea is reflected in the ritual used to introduce very young children to the concepts of reading, writing, and arithmetic. 
To begin, the child was shown a wax covered tablet which had been smeared with honey. The parent, being the child’s first and most influential teacher, would guide the child’s finger on its surface to form aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The child’s finger was then touched to his lips so that he would always associate learning with sweetness. 
The Jews thought that reading and writing were so vital because they enabled one to gain the wisdom of God as well as the knowledge of men. It was important to maintain a spiritual focus while pursuing temporal learning and they believed that the main purpose for learning to read was to have access to the scriptures. 
Here is that first letter a Hebrew child learned. (aleph) 
Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 4.03.07 PM.png
 This small letter is a powerful symbol which teaches numerous concepts. It is the first letter, and the first of anything is always significant. You’ll recall that when Christ was asked what was the first and greatest commandment, he responded with a scripture found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which scripture, incidentally, the Lord had commanded Israel to place on every gate and door post. [NOTE: gesture parallels between honey tablet and mezuzahs] It says, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.””  (Donna B. Nielsen, Bubbles, Seeds, and Stones, pg. 2)


The kids loved the honey activity. They couldn’t get enough of it. Haha.



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