Here is an article I wrote for our school newsletter:
As the school year begins we focus on Elul, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.( The High Holidays) If you ask most students what these days mean to them, they will tell you it is a time for “Teshuvah.” What
does Teshuvah mean and how can we make it real for our students?Literally translated Teshuvah
means to return. At this time of year we return to Hashem ( G-D)and we hope and pray that, as the
Navi ( Prophets) tells us, Hashem returns to us as well. Most students, however, will tell you that Teshuvah means to say I am sorry and ask for forgiveness. Yes, asking for forgiveness is an element of the Teshuvah process, but it is not the complete understanding of Teshuvah.
How can we make the important and central theme of personal growth practical and real for ourselves and,
more importantly, for our students?
I would like to share two thoughts on this topic. Thefirst I learned last week when Rabbi Shmuel Silber, Rabbi of Suburban Orthodox Toras Chaim, came to speak to our students in grades five through seven. Based on a Rashi in last week’s parsha ( Bible Portion ), he said that the reason we do a Chesed (act of kindness) is not for the recognition or the honor but because it is the right thing to do and the Torah( Bible) told us to do it. When faced with choices, at times the right choice can be unpopular or not the “in thing” to do. Nevertheless it is the correct path to follow. It reminded me of a quote that I saw, “Stand up for what is right even if you stand alone.” For our students today, the message of making the right choices is a very practical and real one.
My second thought on this topic stems from research about setting goals and dealing with change. It is an idea that our Gedolim (sages) have mentioned as well. When setting goals, it is important that our goals are small
and attainable. I shared with the students that during the first Gulf War in 1991, Jews around the world were asked to increase their observance of mitzvot,( Commandments) tezedakah (Charity) and chesed( Acts of Kindness). It is said that someone asked Rav Shach ZT”L what he would do differently, and he answered that when he says Birkat HaMazon (grace after meals), he will use a Birkon (bencher) and not say it by heart. The lesson is clear. Even one of greatest Gedolim knew that to achieve change and growth small and attainable goals would need to be set.
As we enter this time of year, there are a lot of challenges and great opportunities ahead of us. As educators we strive to make the learning in all subject areas across the Judaic and general studies come alive for
our students. By connecting our learning to our world, we become lifelong learners. May we all be zocheh (Merit) to see great things from our children, our school and our community.