11 16 07
I am writing this week from the Alexander Muss campus in Hod Hasharon, Israel. Julie Koven (Librarian and 11th Grade Class Dean) and I just arrived in Israel this evening and we were reunited with our juniors, who returned tonight from their final tiyul (trip) to Northern Israel. They welcomed us warmly and enthusiastically and I am already inspired by their energy and excitement about their experiences here.
When I spoke to some of their teachers here (whom our students adore, by the way), I was struck by the connections they have made and the relationships they have built. The teachers commented on how special our students are. They also praised our school – through living, travelling and learning with our students it has become clear to them what a special community Gann is. They shared that, in addition to their sharp and critical minds, our students are mensches and they are vibrant neshamot (souls). The teachers told me with heavy hearts how sad they will be to say goodbye to our students.
In that moment, I was reminded of the first line of this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Vayetze, which reads, “And Jacob left~(vayetze) Beer Sheva and went to Haran.” In the spirit of close reading and examining every word, our commentators wonder why the text needed to tell us that Jacob was leaving Beer Sheva when we already knew where he was. Why not just tell us, “And Jacob went to Haran”? Rashi (the medieval commentator) responds to this question by explaining that “the leaving of a righteous person from a place leaves a mark on that place, for when he is there, he is its beauty and its glory, and when he leaves, so too does the beauty and the glory.” The text did not tell us that Jacob left in order to remind us of his location, but rather to draw attention to the impact of his departure. I am proud to report that, like Jacob, our students have made a strong impact on their teachers and this program, and their departure will certainly leave a mark.
After I spoke with their teachers, our students wanted to show Julie and me “their town,” so they took us to their favorite falafel stand a few minutes from campus. As we ate I was amazed, even overwhelmed, by the students’ talking – both the pace and the loudness – about their experiences. I think our arrival, as well as their pending departure, inspired some reminiscence, and the stories just kept flowing. Then one of the students announced that she had a picture of the first night they ate at this falafel stand almost three months ago. They all gathered around the picture and their faces seemed to say, “how far we’ve come, and how much we’ve learned.” And then I realized that there is another way to read the opening verse of Vayetze. Not only does the person leave a mark on the place, but so too, when a person leaves a place in which he has had profound and transformative experiences, that place leaves a mark on him. From their words and from their faces it is clear that these past three months have left their mark on our students, and I look forward to their return so we all may benefit from their experiences and their growth.
Our Torah draws our attention to the fact that journeys and life are not only about where we are going; they are as much, in fact, about where we come from. Our past – our experiences, the places we have been, and the people we have been with – shapes us and leaves its mark on us; and we hope in the process that we, like Jacob and like our juniors have done here at Muss, leave our mark as well.
Rabbi Marc Baker