by Daniel R. Weiss
Daniel R. Weiss is the Head of School at Bornblum Jewish Community School in Memphis, Tennessee.
In this week’s Torah Portion, Kedoshim, we learn, Lifnei iver lo titten michshol, in front of a blind person, do not put a stumbling block (Lev. 19:14). As a child this can be a very difficult to understand. Many children have never met a blind person and certainly wouldn’t leave any blocks out for someone to trip over.
This past week there was controversy in the horse racing world as favorite Maximum Security was the first to cross the finish line, but just over 20 minutes later was disqualified from the race. I have never been a fan of horse racing, but I have found that through it we can learn a lot. When horses are prepared for their race, they have blinders put on. These blinders cut off the peripheral vision of the horse, so that s/he can only see what is right in front, not becoming distracted by the horses and fans to their side.
This is true of human beings as well. We are often so set in our ways that we do not see what is on the side. We do not see other possible paths.
Ignorance is blindness.
Keeping someone in the dark by not teaching them information that they are lacking is tantamount to putting a stumbling block in front of a blind person. The purpose of education, therefore, is to remove the blinders from our eyes. It gives us the opportunity to see what surrounds us and to helps us to make informed decisions.
We cannot act alone. We need others to remove the stumbling blocks that are in front of us, to remove the blinders from our eyes and we need to do the same for them.
Walking through the hallways of our school daily is an enlightening experience. Our hallways are decorated with student work, reflecting the diversity of topics taught in our classrooms. Music and song emanate from each classroom as students are engaged in learning. We are removing blinders in every corner and crevice of our campus.
As a school we focus on varied approaches to education and pedagogy. We realize that each student learns differently and that our role as educators is to help each child on their individual path to academic excellence. We are removing blinders.
As parents, many of us want our children to excel in every subject, on every test, in every discipline. But how many of us as adults can do so?
Dr. Janusz Korczak, who together with the orphans of the Warsaw Ghetto, boarded the trains to the Polish Death Camp known as Treblinka is seen as an advocate for children’s rights. He is quoted in the book, Loving Every Child: Wisdom For Parent, saying, “A child is a piece of parchment which has been thoroughly covered with minute hieroglyphics, only a very small part of which you will ever be able to decipher.” A later quote goes on to say, “Mentalities vary, and children can be steady or capricious, compliant or contrary, creative or imitative, witty or earnest, concrete or abstract; the memory can be exceptional or average; some are congenital despots while others have a wide range of interests.”
We must look at each child for who they are; not who they are compared to anyone else. Blinders that exist for some children are different than those that exist for others. The professionals in our school can identify each student’s blinders and effectively find ways to remove them. We help to set each student on their best path for their academic and social emotional success.
I am reminded of the story of Reb Zusha, a Chasidic master, in which Reb Zusha was laying on his deathbed surrounded by his students. As he lay there, he was crying and none of his students could comfort him. One student asked “Why are you crying? You, Reb Zusha are almost as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham.” Reb Zusha answered, “When I pass from this world and appear before the Heavenly Tribunal, they won’t ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you as wise as Moses or as kind as Abraham,’ rather, they will ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you Zusha?’ Why didn’t I fulfill my potential, why didn’t I follow the path that could have been mine.”
We have seen our students at their best. We recognize that each person has a different ability in this world. Each deserves the opportunity to get a quality Jewish education and the experiences that we provide. It is why we created a school in which each child is given an opportunity to learn, where each child is seen as an individual in the greater context of a large class.
As both an administrator and parent, I am confident that by sending our children to Jewish Day Schools, like Bornblum, we are part of the process of removing the blinders, removing the stumbling blocks, and ultimately showing our children that there are many things to learn which can impact our opinions and the paths on which we travel.
This week, as our eighth grade students travel through the land of Israel and as our sixth and seventh graders traveled to Nashville, our students have shown their potential and the path that we have set for them. Our students have spent time with the pen pals from Shoham, experienced Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut in Israel, learned about Andrew Jackson and the history of Tennessee by visiting the Hermitage, Capitol Building, Tennessee State Museum and the Parthenon. In both places, they learned to take care of one another, to teach each of their classmates, their teachers, their guides what it means to be a student in a Jewish Day School. Our guides and our friends in our sister city, continually complement our students.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,