Whether the High Holidays fall a little earlier or later on any particular Gregorian calendar year, they always coincide with the start of the new school year. Many Jewish educators and parents would like nothing more than to push them off by a few months; in contrast, I believe there could not be a better time for the High Holidays! From the get-go of each new school year, we reflect, commit, and wish together as we close out one Jewish year and prepare to welcome the next.
Like any Jewish educator, I spent a lot of time this week pouring through holiday resources online. While browsing Jimena's website (JEWS INDIGENOUS TO THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA) for Rosh Hashanah seder texts, I happened across a 433-year-old quote from a Moroccan scholar that took my breath away. Hacham Avraham Azulai Fez wrote:
"Such is the Torah; each person makes sense of it in keeping with their understanding and sees its image in it. Each soul will interpret Torah in keeping with the interpretation it received, and will find that particular interpretation in Torah, just like a mirror that reflects the shapes of all people, despite that they each have different shapes."
This rings true every time I study Torah, whether exploring a new text or reading the parashah again for the fortieth year in a row. It rings most true when we delightfully eavesdrop on our students learning Jewish texts together in chevrutah. In turn, we understand the texts and our students more profoundly.
As we prepare for the imminent High Holidays, we read a series of seven haftarot on Shabbat referred to as the Seven Haftarot of Consolation. These excerpts from the Prophets help us transition from mourning on Tisha B'Av to optimistically petitioning God on Rosh Hashanah. They are poetic and have inspired generations of Jews. And, of course, I read them through my individual lens, just as Hacham Avraham Azulai Fez.
At this moment, my lens is of abundance- shefa- and blessing- berachah. We opened school this week in a new, permanent home: a vessel befitting the beauty of our community.
We have reached this moment because of the abundance of investment, perseverance, resilience, and love of everyone in this community. Each of you reading this Ta Shma has contributed to the abundance of our community. Maybe you donated to the Capital Campaign, volunteered with the Parents Association, shared your wisdom and talents with a class, added to a simcha with your physical or virtual presence, or read this weekly email and cared about the Beit Rabban community from afar. Maybe you took a risk in sending your child to a small school some years back because you believed in what it stood for. All your investment has brought us to this moment of abundance of space, light, new beginnings, and new opportunities.
And so, this lens of abundance guided the way I read the haftarah of Parashat Ki Teizeh a few weeks ago when the Prophet Yishayahu instructs the Israelites:
הַרְחִ֣יבִי ׀ מְק֣וֹם אׇהֳלֵ֗ךְ וִֽירִיע֧וֹת מִשְׁכְּנוֹתַ֛יִךְ יַטּ֖וּ אַל־תַּחְשֹׂ֑כִי הַאֲרִ֙יכִי֙ מֵיתָרַ֔יִךְ וִיתֵדֹתַ֖יִךְ חַזֵּֽקִ
Enlarge the site of your tent, extend the size of your dwelling, do not stint! Lengthen the ropes, and drive the pegs firm.
As we expand our tent and grow in space and size with the goal of having the resources to serve every family that wants to be part of our Jewish community, we also lean into the anchoring community that exists. We drive in the pegs firmly, relying on the families who have been with Beit Rabban for the long haul to welcome the newcomers and invite them to add their abundance to our children's lives.
This was the lens through which I read Parashat Ki Tavo when God promises that our good deeds will lead to many blessings, including:
בָּר֥וּךְ אַתָּ֖ה בְּבֹאֶ֑ךָ וּבָר֥וּךְ אַתָּ֖ה בְּצֵאתֶֽךָ
You will be blessed in your exits and blessed in your arrivals.
Indeed, our community is blessed in this moment of literal arrival. What a blessing it has been to see the faces of children, parents, grandparents, caregivers, alums, and staff as they enter our new building for the first time, with wide eyes and smiles that reflect gratitude and excitement for the blessings of this arrival.
This is my lens as I read this week's Torah portion Nitzavim, when the Israelites are reminded on the brink of entering the Promised Land:
כִּי֩ אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֨ר יֶשְׁנ֜וֹ פֹּ֗ה עִמָּ֙נוּ֙ עֹמֵ֣ד הַיּ֔וֹם לִפְנֵ֖י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ וְאֵ֨ת אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵינֶ֛נּוּ פֹּ֖ה עִמָּ֥נוּ הַיּֽוֹם
I make this covenant not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before our God יהוה and with those who are not with us here this day.
We are a school that has been in existence for over thirty years. We stand on the shoulders of giants, starting with our visionary founder, Dr. Devora Steinmetz, who inspires our classrooms today. The teachers of Beit Rabban have persevered through some unusual circumstances- teaching in trailers, stairwell landings, synagogue balconies, and, most recently, outdoors on the roof in frigid temperatures during the pandemic. And… our families. Core families have made countercultural choices throughout these years to send their children to a pluralistic school with an intensive text-based Jewish curriculum. And we have had generations of parents and grandparents who stepped up in times of crisis to sustain this community financially and otherwise. Some of the earliest of these families are still involved. Some current families have had children in four different buildings. They all brought us to this day. We hope each of them will share this new home's abundance with planned and spontaneous visits!
On this last Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah and our first Shabbat of the school year, may we enter the new year with a lens of shefa and brachah, abundance, and blessing.