H

omemakers celebrate one of the most momentous occasions in the history of our nation — the giving of the Torah — with a mad dash for the best cheescake recipe they can get their hands on. Now we know that eating dairy reminds us of last year’s best cheesecake, ice cream, and blintzes recipes — I mean, the fact that the Jewish people didn’t yet know how to keep kosher properly, with all that this implies. The custom to eat delicious dairy, which keeps our attention focused on the seemingly mundane, physical aspect of our existence, allows us to understand a higher spiritual concept (the significance and spiritual impact of halachah). Clearly, our teachers wanted us to enjoy learning our lessons.

 

Making Learning Fun

Moreover, our rabbanim knew something research is just beginning to confirm: Emotion enhances learning. Indeed, the more intense the emotion, the more readily and thoroughly learning occurs. The development of post-traumatic stress symptoms is an outgrowth of this phenomenon: Persistent vivid memories of traumatic events occur due in part to the intense emotionality associated with trauma. Thankfully, positive emotions similarly affect learning.

Excellent classroom teachers will take advantage of this fact by creating lessons that provoke emotion through piquing curiosity, energizing the student, and stimulating joy. Even making students chuckle by opening a lesson with a joke has the ability to enhance learning. So in light of all this, we can better understand how cheesecake can help us remember the lessons of Shavuos. Everyone wants to know Why cheesecake? When did the Jews learn the halachos? What did they do until then? And so on. We’re into it.

 

Fun at Home

Since parents are teachers, they can certainly learn and utilize the principles that will enhance their instructional efforts. It can be challenging for parents to create an intensely positive emotional environment in order to optimize learning. So they often skip that, and do this sort of thing instead:

Mom: Meir Simcha, please stop leaving your shoes in the front hall. Someone could trip on them.

Meir Simcha: Sorry.

Next day:

Mom: Meir Simcha, please stop leaving your shoes in the front hall. Someone could trip on them.

Meir Simcha: Sorry.

Five years later:

Mom: Meir Simcha, please stop leaving your shoes in the front hall. Someone could trip on them.

Meir Simcha: Sorry.

Meir Simcha’s wife: Honey, could you please not leave your shoes in the hallway? I always trip on them.

Parents try to save energy by getting right to the point. Do this, don’t do that. I told you this twice already, so why haven’t you learned it? But what if they spent a little more effort on the first one or two “lessons,” and then saved themselves 15 years of ineffective repetition. Wouldn’t that be worth the extra effort?

Let’s say Mom has noticed that Meir Simcha leaves his shoes in the hallway. She decides to teach him how to put them away on the convenient shoe rack right by the entrance. She needs to create an effective, ideally emotion-charged, lesson.

Suppose that Meir Simcha loves cheesecake. Mom places a generous slice of cheesecake inside a clear container. She places the container on the shoe rack. Taped to the container is a note with the following instructions:

1. Place this container on the floor.

2. Put your shoes in the spot where the container was.

3. Take the container to the kitchen table, open it, and eat. Enjoy!

When Meir Simcha follows the instructions, the fun-filled, tasty lesson makes an indentation in his brain. In order to make that a permanent mark, Mom will have to make a few more emotionally charged lessons. She can place a paper bag on the shoe spot and write a short riddle on the outside of the bag with the instructions to replace the bag with the shoes, take the bag directly to her, and get the answer to the riddle.

True, this will take some effort on Mom’s part — but it’s not nearly as much effort as the non-fun approach will take. Could Mom have made her point in an intensely negative emotional context (i.e., by screaming at him)? Sure. But doing so reduces learning ability over time, harms the parent-child relationship, and destroys the child. So… cheesecake it is. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 592)