12 October 2012
26 Tishrei 5773
After an intense three weeks of holidays, we are officially back to school! On Wednesday night hundreds of Gann parents filled our halls, classrooms, and Beit Midrash for our annual Back-to-School Night. Many of you attended this event; however, as we begin this next phase of the school year and a new cycle of reading and learning the Torah, I would like to share with you an excerpt from my address to parents that evening about simcha shel Torah, the joy of learning.
Rabbi Marc Baker
Back-to-School Night, October 10, 2012
. . . Another reason why it is so appropriate that our Back-to-School Night falls on the day after Simchat Torah is because of what we can learn from Simchat Torah about Judaism and education.
Yesterday, as I was catching my breath between hakafot (the joyous, celebratory dancing and singing around the Torah that is the hallmark of the Simchat Torah ritual), one of the newest members of my community, who moved to Boston for a teaching position in one of our esteemed universities, said something profound to me: “I have studied in some of the most prestigious universities in the world. In all my years and after all of my degrees, I have never seen them take the books off the shelves of the library and start dancing with them.”
Our tradition values hard work—carving out fixed time for study, busying ourselves, toiling over learning, reviewing until we internalize all we have learned. At the same time, our tradition also has something to teach us and the world about simcha shel Torah—the joy of learning. On Simchat Torah we opened the Aron Hakadosh (the Ark) and took out the Torah, which represents the 3000-year intellectual and spiritual tradition in which we toil throughout the year. We took out that Torah, and we held it, hugged it, kissed it. We sang and danced with and around that Torah with the joy of a wedding celebration.
Where does this simcha come from and what does it teach us about education? First, it is the joy that one feels when one’s hard work comes to fruition. It is the joy of completion, of completing an annual cycle of reading and studying, and it is the joy of beginning again, of knowing that there is so much more ahead of us to learn.
Second, it is the joy of being engaged, not merely with facts and figures but rather with the essential questions of life and our world. In our tradition learning Torah is as close as we come to talking with God panim el panim, face-to-face. For our children learning is as much about discovering what questions matter to them (and to us) as it is about finding answers to those questions. At Gann learning is also about realizing that there actually might be more than one answer to those essential questions and that, once you learn to live with the initial discomfort that the complexity of the world presents, there can be profound depth, satisfaction, meaning, and even joy in our ability to live and learn through that complexity rather than trying to make it go away. As one Hasidic master puts it, God Himself dwells in the makhloket—in the space between competing values and opinions. This is one of the spiritual and intellectual foundations of our school’s pluralistic Jewish educational mission.
Finally, simcha shel Torah, the joy of learning, is found not only in what we learn but in the process of learning, in how we learn, and, more importantly, from whom and with whom we learn. Education is a profoundly relational endeavor. Here at Gann minds are not being filled; instead, minds and hearts and souls are being formed in a community of peers and through relationships with teachers and educators who know how sacred this task is, who treat it with the reverence it deserves, and who themselves overflow with the joy of teaching and learning. Our teachers love the subjects they teach, they love the craft of teaching, and they love your children, the young people whom they teach and with whom they learn so much. During the days this school is abuzz with the energy and joy of learning, and tonight you get a glimpse into your children’s world. Tonight you have the opportunity to meet these educators, the extraordinary people who, together with your children, take those books off the shelves every day and dance with them.
It is our joy and privilege to be partners with you in helping your children to grow and develop as learners, as people, and as Jews.