Turning and Seeing

16 January 2015 
25 Tevet 5775   

Shalom Chaverim,   

Last night at our Winter Arts Festival, our students’ creative spirits and range of extraordinary talents shined brightly. The second floor Art Gallery overflowed with paintings, photography, and sculpture; the Black Box was alive with dance, improv, comedy, and vocal and instrumental music; and moving and articulate poetry punctuated the entire evening in both the written and spoken word.   

One of the highlights was student emcee, Jon Rubin ’15, whose humor was matched only by his deep appreciation of his peers and their efforts. As he introduced the evening, he said something that really caught my attention. “One of the great things about the Arts Festival is coming to see and learn that the kid who sits next to you in history class and who never talks is an amazing dancer. Or the kid who talks a little too much in your history class who you sometimes find annoying is an awesome saxophone player.” Obviously, Jon was not referring to any particular student. Instead, he was highlighting the power of the arts to showcase sides of our students that many of us do not see everyday.  Arts give us, as audience members, a new lens through which to see people and the world.  

While I ended yesterday with the Arts Festival, I began the day with a visit to our Science Department meeting, where our teachers were working collaboratively in small groups on reviewing and revising Gann’s science and engineering student outcome goals: in the areas of science and engineering, what should Gann graduates know and be able to do? And with what values and habits of mind should they graduate?  

 Among the many skills—some science and engineering specific, some school-wide, 21st century learning skills—was one that connected directly to Jon’s opening words at the festival. “Gann students should have the patience to observe something closely and learn from it.” Essentially, a scientist needs to be able to slow down, look closely, see, and learn. This is a universal skill, or habit of mind, that is fundamental, not only for academic achievement but also for moral and spiritual living. And it is something that our students learn in the science lab and many classes, as well as in the Art Gallery and the Black Box Theater, as our emcee pointed out. Tonight we slow down and see, really see, our students, classmates, and friends. We observe them, and we learn from them.   

Last week we began the book of Shemot (Exodus) and read the famous scene of Moshe and the burning bush. This story also contains a profound message about seeing, about “observing something closely and learning from it.” The text tells us that “God saw that (Moshe) turned to see (the bush that was on fire yet not being consumed) and (then God) called out to Moshe (from the burning bush).” Many commentaries pick up on this phrase “turned to see.” Surely, there were many brush fires in the desert. How many other people walked past this burning bush without noticing its uniqueness? It was Moshe who slowed down, observed carefully, and saw that this was no ordinary bush. For that matter, how many people walked past Egyptian task masters beating Hebrew slaves? It was Moshe who saw the suffering of his brethren and took moral action.  

Perhaps, these qualities—the patience and sensitivity to observe closely, to learn from what he saw, and to take action as a result of this learning—were one of the reasons that Moshe merited being called by God, leading his people out of Egypt, and, ultimately, earning the name by which future generations would call him: Moshe rabbeinu (Moses, our teacher).   

How many burning bushes do we walk by each day without being better scientists and having the patience to observe closely, to see, and to learn from them? What, where, and who are these burning bushes in each of our lives?  

 Shabbat Shalom,  

Rabbi Marc Baker 

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