A week ago, the 5th grade class invited teachers and administrators into their classroom to pitch their ideas for redesigning their classroom. With COVID-19 reshuffling some of our classroom spaces, it has worked out that 5th grade is now spending their second year in the same room. As a result, they have developed some insights into how their learning space, materials, and supplies impact their learning experience. For the past few weeks, Ms. Seligman and Ms. Dittemer have led the 5th grade class in a Project Based Learning Assessment with the objective of redesigning their rooms. The project involved thinking big about the objectives of a classroom, dreaming of their ideal learning environments, interviewing teachers about their learning goals, and researching possible solutions for their design problems. The end result was magnificent, with students eloquently and confidently describing a vision for refurbished classrooms and presenting the administration with an organized budget and proposal. The requests included a new projector, different seating arrangements, bean bag chairs for reading time, and even string lights because as one student put it, “they are ‘on trend.’” The students’ work reflected the best of our school, confident students taking ownership of their learning community and spaces.
In this week’s Torah portion, we encounter one of the most famous verses from the Humash. When Isaac is granting Jacob the birthright he gives him a number of blessings (thinking he is actually speaking to his brother Esau). One of them is recited every Saturday night during Havdallah to request prosperity and success for the week. “May God give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, abundance of new grain and wine.”
In Genesis Rabbah (a Rabbinic homiletic commentary on the book of Genesis), the Rabbis expound the meaning of this verse. One commentary explains that the true meaning of this verse is “May God give you blessings and the ability to conquer them.” Rabbi Menachem BenZion Sacks explains this idea by sharing that material possessions have the ability to consume a person. He writes about people who have wealth but have no control over their wealth due to their incessant pursuit of more. He warns that people should not let their possessions control them, rather they should control their possessions. Thus, our Rabbis understood that Jacob’s blessing was not only for prosperity and wealth, but for Jacob’s wealth to be a source of happiness and contentment rather than anxiety and concern.
Teaching our students how to value and appreciate their requests is crucial. We could have just asked students to come up with a list of requests for what they wished for in the classroom, but instead, they developed a deep appreciation for why each item was needed. Having spent over a year in the classroom, these students became experts on their space. If students simply developed a wish list for what they wanted, the hunger and urge for more possessions might never stop. However, their teachers cultivated in them a deep appreciation for the worth of each item.
Today it is so much easier for us to buy our children different things. A few clicks on the phone and almost anything can be at our doorstep in a few hours or days. A generation ago, things were different. Cultural attitudes towards consumption were different and the inconvenience and specialization of shopping meant that what we wanted was not always available to us. Convenience is wonderful, and the Jewish tradition values prosperity and growth. However, we have to ensure that we always have control over our possessions and that we understand the value of working hard for what we desire.
Have an amazing week,