Today was the first day of school, in person for some and remotely for others. One week ago our teachers began a week of in-service. Here is my message to them at the start of that week – I think it is a message for all teachers in our day schools.
Good morning and welcome to this moment! Welcome to this school year, and welcome to all the new faculty faces in this community of heroes! Let’s begin, as we always try to, with our Torah as our anchor and our source of inspiration.
This week’s portion [Re’eh] describes a strange and enigmatic scene, memorialized and ritualized in multiple locations in our scripture. The Jewish people gather and then six tribes make their way up to an encampment on Mt. Grizim and six tribes encamp on the adjacent Mt. Eval, with the priests and some Levites gathered at the valley between. The Priests and Levites, while facing toward one mountain encampment, shout a list of blessings that will occur to the nation of Israel should they follow G-d’s will, and then the entire population, all twelve tribes, call out ‘Amen.’ This process is repeated a second time, facing the second mountain, but this time it is a list of curses and calamities that will befall the nation should they not heed the word and will of G-d. And again, the entire people respond, ‘Amen.’
While there are so many questions to raise about this scene, I want our attention today to focus on that crucial detail – that the ritual called for the entire people to acknowledge both the blessings and curses and to respond ‘Amen.’ This response was not only to whatever was being directly addressed to their encampment. The whole nation had to name out loud and acknowledge both the blessings and the curses.
That is the kind of year ahead for us all: a year of hearing both moments of happiness and success as well as moments of challenge and struggle – and yet, we will be blessing both.
We all, meaning as humans – crave answers and understanding and do not enjoy sitting in darkness. We seek out the light.
But what do we do when we cannot yet find the answers? When it’s still dark around us. When the little one at home, or the ones sitting in our classrooms tug on our sleeves and whisper they are afraid of that darkness, and want the answer to know when the light will return?
We still must sit on the mountain and listen to the darkness. Answer their questions. We still have to be able to say ‘Amen’ then too.
We are in a job this year where we are guides through the darkness, where we do not know exactly what will happen when we do the things we have always done so successfully. And for most of us, we are planners. By our choice of profession, we likely feel we enter the world by being ready, by being knowledgeable.
Now – we cannot be fully ready, and we will not fully know. Now we are truly learning too. We have always said we want to be life-long learners. Now we get to prove it.
Do you know when you know that you are learning? When you are uncomfortable. When you are making mistakes. Otherwise it’s just practicing what we know how to do, what we have already learned.
Now we get to learn – get to be in the darkness, and not know something.
We get to make mistakes.
We get to be courageous.
Which we only can be, of course, with a little (or a lot) of fear. Courage can only come out when we are afraid. We will not be just teaching about fear. We will be teaching through fear. We have the honor and the front-line task of teaching ourselves, our students, and our parents, that it will be OK to live with more darkness. To not know.
We will teach ourselves and our students and our parents, patience, courage, grace, and humor.
We will teach our community how to laugh in darkness, and whistle and sing in darkness. We will learn to lean into the darkness, name it out-loud to ourselves and to our children – when we show them that it will be OK, more than OK – that real life continues and wonderful blessings are still right here – a laugh on the playground, a skinned-knee visit to the nurse, an actual hand going up in an actual classroom, and the successful completion of a challenging academic task. We will show everyone that blessings continue, and that naming all of it out loud is the healthiest, best way forward. And we will help each other through that fear.
So our focus this year will be:
‘Answer the Darkness’
I do not know how each of you will answer the darkness, but I know that you will. And I know that we will talk about it again and again. You will personalize this idea, and how you want to answer the darkness for your students and their families.
We will answer it with:
We will answer this call, our calling, this year more than any other. Together we will teach ourselves and those around us to answer both the moments of blessings and the other moments with a courageous heartfelt ‘Amen.’
I am honored to be in this school, at this time, with all of you.