Parashat Vaetchanan includes the first paragraph of the text of the daily Shema recitation, in which we are commanded that the words of the Torah shall be “upon your hearts” (6:6). Seforno explains this command as requiring is to make the Torah’s laws and values the purpose towards which all our actions are geared. Placing the words of Torah “upon your heart” means making them our highest priority and the focal point of everything we do in life.
Rav Moshe Alshikh, in a remarkable passage in his Torah commentary, adds that this command is but an introduction to the next verse, in which we are commanded, “ve-shinantam le-vanekha” – to teach our children Torah. In order to teach our children effectively, Rav Alshikh explains, we need to place the words of Torah “upon our hearts.” In the Alshikh’s words: “In order for your words to be effective, to enter your children’s heart, you must first accept them upon yourself in your heart…and then, when you teach your children, the words will penetrate and enter into their heart.” We need to first commit ourselves fully and passionately to Torah, before we can hope to successfully inspire this commitment within our children’s hearts.
The Alshikh adds that for this reason, the Torah formulates the obligation to teach children with the unusual word “ve-shinantam,” rather than using the more familiar term “ve-limadetem.” The word “ve-shinantam,” he suggests, stems from the root sh.n.n., which means “sharp,” and is used in reference to especially sharp, pointy arrows used in warfare (“chitzei gibor shenunim” – Tehillim 120:4). The command “ve-shinantam” requires us to do what we can to ensure that our words of Torah instruction and guidance will penetrate our children’s hearts like finely-pointed arrows. This command is therefore preceded by the command to place the words of Torah “upon our hearts” – to assure that our own hearts are firmly devoted and committed to God’s laws, as this is a necessary prerequisite for the success of our efforts to guide and inspire our children. The words we teach become “sharp arrows” capable of penetrating our children’s hearts when our own hearts are imbued with a genuine love of Torah and passionate desire to study and observe it to the best of our ability.