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Deborah Andstandig Dvar Torah

Ever since I was a little child, my favorite song has been "לא עליך".

"לא עליך המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין להיבטל ממנה..."


"It is not up to you to complete all of the work, but neither are you free from trying... "

Taken from Mishnah Avot, the text of this song acknowledges both the potential and limitations of the human experience.  


I came to appreciate this lesson on a new level this summer while working at the Kayam Farm. Located on the grounds of the Pearlstone Retreat Center, Kayam is an organic Jewish educational farm that provides opportunities for people from all backgrounds to work the land and care for its animals. We created a pluralistic Jewish community together, supporting and challenging each other. Yet it was clear that we were all united by the recognition that our work can be imbued with a sense of sanctity, of kedusha. I was joining in the process of the human experience, acknowledging both my abilities and my restrictions as one person in this vast system.


Every Thursday was Harvest Day for the farm's Community Supported Agriculture Program.  As I cut beautiful heads of romaine lettuce from the ground, I felt grateful for the ability to be a part of this process. I was reaping the benefits of the effort of those who came before me: the person who created the plot of land, tilled the soil, prepared the beds, placed the irrigation tape, planted the seeds, weeded the plants, and removed any of the predator bugs that would have prevented the lettuce from sprouting to its completion.    


The well-known phrase from Tehillim Chapter 126 immediately came to mind: הזורעים בדמעה ברינה יקצורו-those who sow in tears reap in joy. Written to express our people's yearning to return to Zion from exile, the psalmist utilizes the metaphor of the farmer to express the challenge and pain of the process of growth. One does not merit harvesting one's crops without work and toil, sweat and tears.  


This metaphor of sowing seeds in tears and reaping in joy feels appropriate and applicable to our lives as educators. Three years ago, before I began my first year teaching, the faculty received an email from the administration hoping that we were having a "healing" summer.  Three years into the field, I understand the choice of words. As teachers, we invest endlessly to produce lessons that are meaningful.  We differentiate for the needs of the diverse students in our classroom, consider and reconsider why we made certain choices, and plan how we can engage our students more to help them find their ways through our exquisite tradition. Yet it is not without tears. As my administrator Mark Shinar reminded the faculty at our opening meeting those years ago, sometimes our job is to be the planters of seeds. Although we hope to see the progress and growth of each child while we are in the classroom, we cannot possibly anticipate just when and how our efforts will see their fruition.


Our greatest model for this process is none other than Moshe Rabeinu, who for forty years tried to shape the lives of the People of Israel. Imagine having a class of your own students, and then their children, for forty years, on a perpetual field trip with no clear sighting of the destination! Despite their many mistakes, lack of trust in him and in God, and even clear articulation that they would rather go back to Egypt or die in the desert, Moshe manages to stick with them. Although he certainly has his difficult moments, Moshe's faith in the people and its future leaders is ultimately what enables them to enter the Land of Israel, and begin the next phase of their journey.


As Parker Palmer acknowledges in his inspiring work The Courage to Teach, people are driven to education for its potential to create change. "We became teachers because we once believed that ideas and insight are at least as powerful as the world that surrounds us " (pg.20). 

As we prepare for another school year, may we draw strength from the images of the farmer, Moshe, and the teachers who inspired us. May we be blessed with the patience and humility of these great figures to be able to endure the hard work.   And may we be comforted by the fact that while we cannot give up, all we have to do is try our very best. Hatzlacha Rabah and Shana Tova.