19 October 2012
3 Cheshvan 5773
This was a special week for me as I was invited to participate in two national conversations about the future of Jewish education. On Sunday I spoke on a panel at the celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University. The next morning I traveled to New York City for a day of visioning and deliberation with the Board of Directors of the Jim Joseph Foundation, national lay leaders, rabbis, scholars, and foundation professionals. Both of these experiences gave me the chance to engage with and be inspired by thinkers and leaders from around the country who are passionate and deeply committed to the Jewish future and Jewish education.
On Sunday, my mentor, friend, and Gann parent Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, Gann’s founding Head of School and now president of Hebrew College, challenged all of us to think differently about the essential goal of Jewish education. Quoting from both Rabbis Joseph Soloveitchik and Mordechai Kaplan, he suggested that we should be educating first and foremost toward creativity, for at the core of being human and being created in the Image of God is having the capacity to create, and Judaism’s mission is to unleash this creative impulse in all of us. At Monday’s meeting in New York, Stanford University Emeritus Professor Lee Shulman, President Emeritus of the Carnegie Foundation, talked about the professionalization of the field of education and Jewish education, specifically. Lee called for a much greater commitment to research, collaboration, and the gathering and dissemination of knowledge that is relevant to educational practice. Citing other professional fields, such as medicine or sports, he defined what it means to be a “professional”: “Professionals are people who need to make decisions about the future without having all of the data or information they want or need to make a perfect decision; professionals are, therefore, people who necessarily will make errors, for whom risk and failure are a necessary part of the job; and, therefore, professionals are also people who must learn from their failures and, in a community of practice, from others’ failures and successes in order to grow and improve their practice.” What a powerful reminder not only about what it means to be a professional but also about what it means to be a learning, growing human being!
As I reflect on both Danny’s and Lee’s inspiring words, I am reminded of this week’s Torah portion, Noach (Noah), in which God, the Creator-in-Chief, learns a powerful lesson about His relationship with humanity and the world. God takes the ultimate risk in creating a world that has never existed before and that will, by definition of its otherness from God, be imperfect. When God first steps back from His creation, He feels regret and probably some disdain for the corruption of humanity and probably for what He perceives to be His own unsuccessful creation. After He destroys nearly the entire world with the flood, God learns, both about the world and Himself. Perhaps, most profoundly, as a result of this learning, God changes. The covenant God makes with humanity not to destroy the world again by flood illustrates His realization that even God’s creation will necessarily fall short of His hopes and expectations and that only if God can balance the impulse to judge and destroy with the middot (character traits, qualities) of chesed (compassion) and savlanut (patience) will God’s relationship with humanity and the world be able to continue. Only then will human beings be able to actualize their potential as God’s partners in creating and repairing our imperfect world.
While some people find this portrayal of an imperfect God who tries, fails, learns, and grows theologically disturbing, I find it compelling and inspiring. In many ways God is the ultimate model of the creativity and professionalism that enable imperfect human beings to actualize their divine potential.
Rabbi Marc Baker