The Foundation is in the Basement
This past Thursday, our committed Foundation School educators dedicated several hours to an important training session. Part of that time was spent crystallizing their own learning around our school’s Reggio based educational philosophy. This inquiry based approach nurtures the whole child by supporting their own explorations in all realms, including the moral, social, spiritual and intellectual. If you attended Sukkot services, you were treated to a lesson in how to wave the lulav by our able pre-schoolers.
We should all take pride in our remarkable pre-school. Sometimes it may seem out of view, located as it is in our building’s lower level. Given the life-changing impact it has on our children (and therefore society), I encourage you to contact Leah Conley to schedule a tour and learn what is happening downstairs. Even if you don’t have pre-school age children, you will be inspired. You may be surprised to discover that what happens in the basement can provide insight in to how we approach our own lives as well. With that in mind, here is a bit of relevant Torah that highlights an interesting approach to education and influence.
God’s Growth as a Teacher
The juxtaposition of last week’s parsha, Noah, and this week’s Torah reading, Lekh Lekha, provide us a special vantage point to witness God’s development as an educator. That divine unfolding provides us with a model that we can also use, whether we work as teachers, managers or want to improve our home life.
Normally, when we examine Noah’s ark-building escapades, we wonder why he does only what God says (build an ark, put some animals on-board, save your own family), and why Noah lacks concern for the fate of humanity. After all, Abraham will argue with God in an attempt to stave off the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah. Why isn’t Noah similarly motivated?
A poignant quote attributed to Antoine de St. Exupery, author of the “Little Prince,” may help us understand: “ When you want to build a ship, do not begin by collecting wood, cutting boards, and handing out tasks, but awaken within the heart of man the desire for the vast and endless sea.”
God does not engage Noah, does not stimulate his curiosity about the coming deluge. Rather than waking Noah up, we are presented with a text in which Noah seems lost in a fog. He is fulfilling a divine dictate by the numbers, but seems tremendously removed from his own actions. Indeed, our ancient commentators note that Noah’s first action after the flood is to plant a vineyard and get drunk. Noah’s life is defined by moral and physical stupor. As a consequence, we never hear of Noah again. His divine encounter does not change the contours of his moral life, and so we have no need to learn more about him.
Is God disappointed in the outcome with Noah? The Torah is silent. Or is it? Immediately after this episode, we are launched into parshat Lekh Lekha with no prelude. God’s relationship with Avram begins with the words “‘Lekh lekha’–Go! to an unspecified land…and I, God, will bless you…and you–be a blessing!”
God gives a close-ended command to Noah, which is not designed to elicit surprise. But to Abraham (Avram), God offers two open-ended directives:
- Go and explore an unnamed place, and
- Be a blessing.
Rashi, expanding on this, says God is telling Avram to go “for your own benefit.” It is as though God has learned how to be a better teacher. Rather than approaching Avram in the same authoritarian manner used with Noah, or teaching to a particular test (Ark Building 101), God draws forth Avram’s innate curiosity and wanderlust and also makes Avram understand that he can and must be a blessing (The Hebrew “be a blessing” is in the imperative “command” form). God demonstrates tremendous trust and belief in Avram. After all, there are no clear cut instructions here, only a form of deep spiritual engagement. God, in other words, has awoken within the heart of Avram a desire for the vast and endless sea of self-discovery. Moreover, this desire will not be limited to his own well-being, as Noah’s was; Avram, by being told to be a blessing, must act on behalf of others from his own center of talents and abilities.
A different approach, a different outcome. Avram’s divine encounter, unlike Noah’s, is deeply ethical. It changed the moral contours of his life. Remarkably, it did far more than that. The story of Abraham reverberates through time, and continues to shape the billions of people who are adherents to the three Abrahamic faiths.
Applying God’s Pedagogic Model in Our Lives
We are now ready to distill the lessons from these two encounters between God and human and to state them as four positive principles. They are realistic and concrete. They are principles we can each apply.
- Express your faith in others. It is tremendously powerful–and empowering.
- Grant the people around you the opportunity to express their giftedness and utilize their talents. It is a sign of respect and an invitation for their engagement.
- Encourage curiosity. Curious people are better problem solvers. They also tend to have a bit more light in the eyes.
- Focus and align people’s talent and curiosity toward shared visions and goals. It enhances the prospects of success, whether that is in your family, your weekend sports team or your work.
Now, go and be a blessing!
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