It’s a remarkable time to be at Wornick. Our lower school students are deeply engaged in their Mitzvah Shuk program and our school walls are filled with instructions and prescriptions to make the world a better place. 4th grade students are reminding us to be cautious in our speech and to not gossip about one another. 2nd grade students are gathering warm clothes for the “one warm coat program.” Our 5th grade students are engaged in the mitzvah of Leket (donating the gleanings of a field to those who are needy) and are volunteering at the PJCC justice garden. In 1st grade, our students are gathering books for children who don’t have access to books, and in 3rd grade our students are engaged in Hashavat Avedah (returning lost objects to their rightful owner). Our Kindergarteners are engaged in a particularly unique Mitzvah Shuk program. They are learning about the Jewish traditions of animal rights and are gathering materials for a local animal shelter. This mitzvah is particularly relevant as we witness the daily impact of fires in Australia on the animals and their habitat.
In this week’s Parasha we begin the book of Exodus and the story of Moses. One of my favorite analysis of Moses’ life story comes from the book Darkhei Moshe by Rabbi Moshe Halfon HaKohen, the former Chief Rabbi of Djerba in Tunisia. According to Rabbi Halfon, the story of Moses is the story of the birth of justice. He analyzes Moses’ first actions: leaving the royal palace, stopping an Egyptian from beating an Hebrew slaves, intervening in a disagreement between two slaves and stopping the exploitation and abuse of Jethro’s daughters at a well by a group of male shepherds. Rabbi Halfon explains that each of these actions can be seen as an evolution in humanity's understanding of what justice means, starting with the personal and moving to a more universal concept that is rooted in the idea that every individual on this earth is deserving of a just life.
I want to highlight our Kindergarten teachers for approaching the teaching of animal rights in a brilliant way. Over the past week, they have integrated the study of a “city” with the study of animal rights. Our Kindergarten students have been learning about public buildings like fire stations, police offices, and libraries and they have been going on walking tours to visit these sites. During these tours, our teachers have been guiding our students to notice the ways in which urban environments provide shelter to humans by protecting us from the sun. Students have become aware of the ways in which buildings provide shade to humans. It’s a fascinating way to approach the need for shelter for animals. In the same way Moses started with the personal and grew to understand the concept of justice as universal, our students are also building on their personal empirical experiences with shelter and developing a broader universal understanding that incorporates all beings.
It’s a beautiful thing to watch a concept “click” for a five year old. It’s magical to witness them all of a sudden understand that shelter is all around them in various forms. Albert Einstein wrote about moments like these. He reflected on his childhood and noted that one of his most powerful learning moments was when his father gave him a compass as a birthday present. He was fascinated by the fact that no matter which way he moved the compass, the needle always pointed north. In his autobiography he wrote, “The needle behaved in such a determined way and did not fit into the usual explanation of how the world works. That is that you must touch something to move it. I still remember now, or I believe that I remember, that this experience made a deep and lasting impression on me. There must be something deeply hidden behind everything.”
May we all be inspired by the Mitzvot that our students are leading us in, and may our good deeds grow from the particular to the universal, over and over again.