A teacher’s mistake once caused a national catastrophe.
This week’s Parasha of Ki Tetze gives us the Mitzvah, ‘Timche Et Zeicher Amalek Mitachat Hashamayim Lo Tishkoch’, ‘Wipe out all remembrance of the Amalekites from under the heavens – never forget’.
In the days of King David, as is recorded in the first book of Kings (Chapter 11), he asked the Chief of Staff of his army, Yoav, to fight against Amalekites. And it took Yoav six months in order to be victorious. At the end of those six months, he came back to David and triumphantly he declared, “I have killed all the males of Amalek”.
David said to Yoav, “are you not aware of the Mitzvah in the Torah where Hashem commands us to wipe out the entire people of Amalek – they are the ultimate evil that can ever be on the face of the earth, their very presence will plague good people for the rest of time”.
And Yoav said, “but the Torah only talks about the males”.
David says, “where?”
As is recorded in the Gemarah, Mesechet Bava Batra (21b), Yoav pointed to the verse in our Parasha, ‘Timche Et Zachar…’. David said, “not ‘Zachar’, meaning ‘males’, rather ‘Zeicher’, the ‘remembrance’ of them all”.
Yoav was stunned. Suddenly he realised that when at school, he was taught incorrectly. He went out and he sought to find his teacher. Eventually, he located him. By now, the teacher was an old man. Yoav came into his home with a Sefer Torah, he opened it up, he pointed to the verse and he said to the teacher “read it!”. And the teacher read, ‘Timche Et Zachar…’ – ‘Zachar’ and not ‘Zeicher’, the ‘males’ and not the ‘remembrance’ – different vowel points.
And Yoav was so angry, he took out his sword and he had to be restrained from actually killing his teacher.
The fact that the Talmud reveals the story to us is a message all about the quality of education. Of course, we must have as many schools as possible, and we must populate them with as many pupils as possible. But together with that, we should never compromise on the standard of Jewish education.
When a teacher or a parent makes a mistake, I don’t think it’s going to cause a national calamity, but nonetheless, we have a responsibility to always get it right.