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“Try it, you’ll like it!”

“Try it, you’ll like it,” was, by all measures of Madison Avenue, a very successful and effective advertisement for Alka-Seltzer. The ad campaign was built around the concept of “experiential learning.” Experiencing the soothing effect afforded by this product, as the jingle went, “plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is,” reinforced its repeated use. People learned the benefit of Alka-Seltzer by using it.

Educational literature is filled with discussion of experiential learning. That is, the learning should not just be an abstract presentation of ideas. Learning also takes place by having students do something or experiencing something that affords them the ability to understand the lesson perhaps in another dimension. This process helps students incorporate the knowledge learned into their lives. The activity, in turn, may generate more and even deeper questions and the learning spirals. Learning in this way can lead to greater comprehension often coupled with more willful performance. Educators seek to find activities that will spur the student to discover ideas on their own while bringing the point home in a concrete way. Any athletic coach can attest to the veracity of this teaching method. There is “chalk talk” but there is no substitute for practice. Game time brings all the learning together.

In a much more sophisticated and profound way, Judaism has this element, experiential learning of modern education, woven right into its very fabric. This unique feature was incorporated into our religion by God from its very inception at Har Sinai. Our religious system of mitzvot, the 613 commandments, is designed not only to be studied but to be put into practice, to be experienced. The valuable life lessons contained in each mitzvah are thus reinforced, enhanced, and repeated.

Through the process of performance or non-performance (as in the case of actions to be avoided, the “don’t do’s”), we come to shape our behavior and internalize the abstract lessons embodied in every mitzvah. The performance in turn will, hopefully, spur questions and greater learning. As the system of mitzvot revolves around our daily life, our “game time” is constant. Our experiential learning is thus ongoing and everlasting. We become what every educator hopes his/her students become… lifelong learners.

“Try it, you’ll like it,” was a powerful advertising slogan for Alka-Seltzer. But the same could be said about our system of mitzvot. God in his wisdom created humanity and the system of life that satisfies his/her intellectually and experientially. It is designed specifically to give mankind the best, most enjoyable life. But you will only know this truth by learning about it and experiencing it, first hand.

At Har Sinai when the people heard about the new way of life, the system of mitzvot, they responded “נעשה ונשמע”, “we will do and we will listen.” We are willing to experience this life while pursuing its understanding as well. The very experience is beneficial on its own, and knowledge will only enhance the experience.

People often ask about keeping Shabbat, one of the commands found in this week’s Torah portion. Experience a day of not running to answer the phone or occupying your time with your daily business. Experience a day when you enjoy your favorite foods already prepared, a day when you wear your nicest clothes, relaxing with family and friends. Experience a day when perhaps you spend some time studying and delving into a moral, scientific or philosophic issue. But don’t take my word for it. “Try it, you’ll like it!”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Robert Kaplan