The Torah is concerned about us making mistakes and learning from them. Many mitzvot are guidelines for rectifying wrongs done to each other. If we did not have the tendency to give in to our human desires and animalistic behaviors, or we did not act on our impulses, even as adults – let alone as children – the Torah would not have to remind us to let go of hate, stop and de-stress (Shabbat!) or make amends.
Sometimes, the Torah is so concerned that we will make a mistake about one mitzvah or another that we get a reminder that a particular teaching is connected to the revelation at Mount Sinai. This week’s parashah is Behar. “On the mountain……on Mount Sinai…..you were told about the mitzvah of giving the land a rest.” From the time of Mt. Sinai, we were instructed to be environmentalists! [We want to salute all the middle school families who changed at least one light-bulb to the new CFL bulb they received, in our Earth Week Lightbulb Exchange.] Learning from our mistakes, I hope we are all making more sustainable decisions regarding our own environmental impact.
For next year, we are planning on instituting a recycling program! We will be involving middle school students in our collection of materials and in keeping our containers from overflowing. Additionally, we will be planning Environmental Action Days and a Return to Nature program. Details will follow, and I encourage everyone to put all this programming in the context of learning from our past mistakes, in addition to gaining the proper ethics.
If we reflect on the place of learning from mistakes in the Jewish tradition, and holding out hope that we will be able to fix and heal the world, Rabbi Akiva comes to mind. He is a central character for this time in the Jewish year, because he and his students are associated with the OMER, the 49 day period between the second seder and the next yom tov of Shavuot.
In the Talmud, it is reported that his students so mistreated one another that myriads perished. This is a reminder that we must learn from our own mistakes. When we speak lashon ha-ra or act unkindly, it diminishes life and dignity. Instead of giving up hope, Akiva ben Yosef repented, learned from his mistakes and raised-up thousands of new scholars. It is said that he was able to finally convince his students that they must mend their ways!
We must learn from our mistakes. One misstep that we must pay attention to as a third generation Jewish community is losing some focus on the central place of demanding a decent level of respect and obedience from our children. As parents, it is taught in the Gemara that a child may not call his parent by his or her first name. A child may not sit in his or her parent’s seat, at the dinner table. A child must serve his or her parent, at the parent’s request; it is a matter of respect. Additionally, a child may not challenge or speak sarcastically to a parent, especially in public. In educational terms, parents must work together with teachers to hold kids accountable for their actions, even if “everyone is doing it.” It works the same way as if we get a speeding ticket on the highway; everyone may have been driving 80mph, but if the radar locks onto you, then you are made to feel guilty, by the encounter with the officer of the law. Points can be assigned, fines assessed, licenses revoked or even worse yet.
The metaphor does not carry entirely; school is a place wherein we want each child to grow and learn quickly from misguided decisions or impulsive actions. We want to see children making amends for wrongs done. We want to feel that we are able to achieve a level daily advancement, with one another. As a learning community – human beings helping one another advance and refining each others’ minds and souls – we must hold out hope that every member can achieve even greater potential than every yesterday. Our practices must reflect this goal. Sometimes strict rules must be invoked, and other times a strict adherence to tshuvah will be the answer – admitting we have done wrong, taking responsibility for it, apologizing and moving forward.
There is another area whereby learning from mistakes is an important aspect of school life. It is quite alright for kids to have to return to subject matter or experiments, in order to get it right the next time. If a child is not immediately mastering a subject or process-orientation, then let the child chart the bump in the road and steer clear the next time. We should not provide easy solutions, give answers or, worse, do a child’s work or project for them!!
It is proper to model the steps a child needs to succeed in classes. Great pedagogues and parents know that. Every human being has the capacity to learn and tap our inner resources to grow from our mistakes, if we are encouraged to unlock our own inner potentials.