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Michal Cahlon Dvar Torah-August 2011

Michal Cahlon has been at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, Overland Park, KS since 2006. She currently teaches Jewish Studies and World History.  Michal may be reached at tiuvta@gmail.com.

Here in beautiful Kansas we start the school year in August. Accordingly, our in-service days - teacher work days which precede the academic year - started during the week of parshat VaEtchanan

At the beginning of the parsha, Moshe recalls how he pleaded with G-d to allow him into the land, but G-d did not relent to his plea, as per Devarim 3:26: "But the Lord was wrathful with me on your account and would not listen to me. The Lord said to me, Enough! Never speak to Me of this matter again!" (JPS translation

Two things stood out for me in this pasuk: First, the curt rav lakh, two little Hebrew words that JPS renders as "Enough!" and which may also be translated as "it is too much for you". Second, not only did G-d turn down Moshe's request, G-d also forbade him - al tosef daber - to continue asking.

The sharp "Enough!" message of rav lakh holds special meaning for me as a teacher. My colleagues and I tend to become consumed by our work. We will put in crazy hours, over-prepare for our classes, and explain a concept four hundred times (hat tip, Rav Pereida)*, out of a sense of duty and obligation towards our students. But at a certain point, this level of overwork becomes counter-productive; unhelpful to both us and our students. We need to step back and acknowledge that we have done all that we could have done, and further effort will only lead to exhaustion and burnout.


On a personal note, the first group of 7th graders I ever taught will graduate high school this year. The first time I met them they were rambunctious and squirrelly; now they are poised and confident young men and women, all of whom are taller than I. I am grateful that I will have the chance to teach them in this, their final year of high school, although I suspect I will get a bit maudlin as graduation approaches. Soon they will be crossing over into haaretz hatova - the good land - of college (or gap year, or work, or the military) and I will remain on the other side of the river, wishing that I could cross that river and teach them again. At that point, I will think back to VaEtchanan, and tell myself, emphatically, rav lakh.


Now, assuming that G-d had already made up his mind as to Moshe not entering the land, what is the problem with letting Moshe continue pleading? One possibility,

'a la'  Rashi, is that those hearing the pleading would think badly of the master (G-d) and of the student (Moshe). Another possibility, however, is to read the al tosef as an exhortation, to Moshe and to us, to let go. Accept when something is over and done with, and recognize the point where the pleading and the asking is no longer useful or relevant. Which brings me back to my initial point about teachers and their tendency to become consumed by their work. May all of us, teachers, students and those who care about teachers and students, experience a school year in which the the rav lakh and al tosef moments become clear to us, and we act on them, sooner rather than later.

*Rav Pereida is mentioned in the Talmud Bavli, tractate Eruvin 54B. He had a student that didn't understand the material even though he explained it 400 times. 

Click here for a lovely explanation of the story (Hebrew):