Rachel is Prizmah's Director of Educational Innovation

When words fail -- Show me

The very first mitzvah we received as a nation was Rosh Chodesh and there are many commentators who ask why this mitzvah, and why now- but I want to ask a less popular question that has me thinking about teaching and learning- and that is the HOW. 

I am curious about HOW Hashem taught us this first mitzvah.  The pasuk says: “Hachodesh haZEH lachem…” “THIS month shall be for you…” The Mechilta DeRebb Yishmael (12:2:1) picks up on the implied stage directions -- the Torah says “ZEH” or “THIS” which implies that Hashem SHOWED Moshe what the moon would look like when it is time to declare it a Rosh Chodesh.  Hashem showed him, according to the midrash, because Moshe was having trouble understanding what Hashem meant. Moshe Rabbeinu did not get it.  He needed help.  So something amazing happens between the lines-- when Moshe does not get it, he keeps asking, unashamed, and then Hashem uses a new approach to teach him.  This was not a big chesed of Hashem, nor was it a big ask, since Hashem’s desire and goal is to teach the Torah and pass it on so we can fulfill it.  Hashem tries another approach- showing Moshe the picture of what the moon looks like- like ZEH, like THIS, and then- AHA! I get it now!

So I ask this: If Hashem can use multiple ways of teaching, and is open to showing, to explain in a new way, how can we emulate how Hashem teaches Moshe? When words fail, how can we show? As educational leaders, we are often overwhelmed with things to do, fires to put out, and lists upon lists of things to accomplish, but do we check for understanding? Do we ensure that what we teach - whether to students or faculty or parents - was understood? 

One of my heroes in teaching is Mrs. Esther Dzeidek from Maryland, and among her many lessons to me was this: when you teach middot, make sure the students know what this middah looks like in action. Brilliant.  She understood this pasuk and its message clearly. The idea isn’t understood until it can be translated, until the student can picture it in action, until the student knows what this lesson looks like in real life. We continue teaching until the picture is clear.

In this month, when Tu B’Shevat reminds us of the rebirth happening deep under ground, we are privileged to learn this lesson again and again- learning is happening all the time, even when we do not realize it.  And there are many ways to teach and inspire, many ways to access understanding.  It is our job as leaders to support one another in helping our students to find their access points and grow, connect and see themselves as integral to the process and beyond. At Prizmah, we have been privileged to help many schools in their process and we are thrilled to celebrate your schools. Please send us articles and pictures of what your school is working on to share and inspire the field, so we can celebrate some of the wonder in action!