It’s hard to imagine a worse quality
for a school teacher than anger.
And yet, shockingly, that seems to be the quality that Yaakov Avinu was looking for in Jewish teachers! After reprimanding Shimon and Levi for their rage that destroyed the city of Sh’chem, Yaakov prophesied that these two tribes would eventually be scattered throughout the Land of Israel (B’reishis 49:7). Rashi explains that Yaakov felt Shimon and Levi had the aptitude for teaching young children. By spreading their descendants across the country, Yaakov hoped to ensure a proper education for the whole nation.
Why did Yaakov think that his most hot-headed children would make great school teachers? Wasn’t he concerned that they would fly off the handle after the first spitball?
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l explained that Shimon and Levi were not doomed to remain angry people for the rest of their lives. Their takedown of Sh’chem was not a random burst of violence; it was the ultimate expression of concern for their sister’s wellbeing. When her safety was in question, they plowed through all obstacles, and stopped at nothing to bring her home. True, as rambunctious teenagers, their passion got out of hand, but as they matured and learned self-control, their underlying nature of intense loyalty on behalf of their loved ones became the perfect quality for a teacher.
Yaakov Avinu knew that the best teachers are those who care passionately about their students. They are the ones committed to doing everything necessary (and then some!) to ensure the proper development and education of the children, even if it entails repeating the same material yet again, or fighting tirelessly to get them special services. Yaakov saw this quality in Shimon and Levi, and wanted them to be the teachers of all the Jewish people throughout the land.
Of course, this is an important directive and standard for our esteemed rebbeim and teachers. More broadly, however, it is a crucial lesson about properly channeling our underlying character. The premise of the classic musar work, Orchos Tzadikim (published anonymously in the 15th century), is that there are not “good” and “bad” midos, but general traits that have appropriate and inappropriate applications. Regardless of the midah, there is always a worthy cause to which we can direct our inclinations and interests.
After cursing the path that Shimon and Levi’s anger had taken in their youth, Yaakov Avinu immediately proceeded to help steer their passion toward the betterment of Jewish education. With proper introspection, we, too, can look for ways to channel all of our midos toward avodas Hashem.