The concept of a living Torah means that whilst the Torah is thousands of years old, the principles that we can extract from it are as relevant now as they have ever been, as the following module illustrates.
There is a Midrash that when Moshe went up (to Heaven) to receive the Torah, he was confronted by the ministering angels who were incensed that he was allowed in their domain and asked what he was doing there.
G-d answered: He has come to receive the Torah;
The angels responded: This treasure that was created … You want to give to flesh and blood?
G-d told Moshe to answer them. After an assurance that he would not be harmed by them Moshe stated his case:
What is written in it?... honour your mother and father. Do you have a father and mother? … Do not murder … do you have an evil inclination? ...
Immediately the angels capitulated became close friends with Moshe and gave him gifts of secrets of the universe.
By answering two questions on this esoteric teaching, we can see the living Torah in action and reveal an essential understanding of the intellectual divide between the Subject Matter Expert and the learner.
We can answer these questions using a modern day analogy.
Imagine a contemporary graphic designer running his own studio and working primarily on Adobe Creative Suite. This designer receives an invitation from the CEO of Adobe Systems to come to Adobe HQ and receive a free version of the latest Creative Suite.
On the big day he arrives at Adobe Systems, downtown San Jose, California and is ushered into the conference room with the CEO sitting at the head and all the software engineers of the Creative Suite around the table glaring at him in shock.
After regaining their composure they say to the CEO: What is this Arty doing amongst us MIT graduates?
He answers: He’s come to receive the latest Creative Suite package.
In an incredulous tone they tackle the CEO: What, you’re going to give this Jewel of software engineering to this Art School Graduate who doesn’t know the first line of code? The CEO tells him to answer them.
He says: What does this package contain, Illustrator – do you guys do any digital illustration? Photoshop – do you do any image manipulation? InDesign – do you do page layout? This is what I do all the time. This program is created for me, the end-user; you guys are actually working because of me.
They catch themselves and eventually capitulate and as a sign of reverence reveal keyboard shortcuts as gifts. What were the engineers thinking in the first instance and what changed
At first, they were relating to the package from an engineering perspective. As such they were 100% correct; this is an engineering marvel and does not belong in the realm of the visual artist.
The designer came along and revealed to them the ultimate purpose of the package, ie the end use being digital design. This not only gave them a different perspective of the package ie what does it do, but also the realisation that the greatness of their work goes way beyond the genius of the coding, to affect a whole universe of visual aesthetics.
So it was with the angels. They were looking at the pure spiritual content of the Torah and as such it belonged in the higher realms and has very little to do with the physical world. But, when Moshe pointed out that the ultimate purpose is the application of Torah in the physical world, they realised a whole different dimension that they did not perceive before.
Herein lies the key to spanning the SME/ learner divide. The SME, quite correctly, from the perspective of his or her expertise, is looking at the learner with something of an intellectual disdain.
Their understanding is at a level that only peers can comprehend and is indeed a language unto itself. The learner is not particularly interested or able to comprehend this language only the translation of it into his or her world.
The learning designer is entrusted with the task of creating a program that will extract and distil from the SME’s knowledge only the content necessary for the learning task. In order to do this, the instructional designer must understand the domain of the SME, how it relates to the domain of the learner and how to create the communication channel for transmitting the content.
In the Midrash, Moshe whilst understanding the perspective of the angels in the hidden dimensions and essence of Torah, translated it into living Torah for a physical world, thus bridging the gap between the angel and human perspectives.
By populating the mind-space of the SME, the learning designer is able to relate to the SME on their level regarding the expertise, guide the SME to the lay space to translate the knowledge into the learner’s vocabulary and thus bridge the SME learner divide.
Thus through a contemporary analogy, we can distill an invaluable lesson in education, illustrating the application of timeless principles in the living Torah.