April 12, 2024
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Counting and Accounting: Delta and Sigma

Endings Explicate Beginnings

The approach of the end of the school year is a time of deep reflection.

ס֥וֹף דָּבָ֖ר הַכֹּ֣ל נִשְׁמָ֑ע אֶת־הָאֱלֹקים
יְרָא֙ וְאֶת־מִצְוֺתָ֣יו שְׁמ֔וֹר כִּי־זֶ֖ה כׇּל־הָאָדָֽם׃

Kohelet, one of my favorite books of Tanach, ends with the repetition of this pasuk. Now, in many nuschaot, Kohelet is read on Sukkot and we are in the ‘count up’ to celebrating Shavuot, so why am I referencing this? Loosely translated, this pasuk describes how, when all is said and done, we can only fully understand the beginnings of an experience by its outcome at the end.

There is so much over which we do not exert direct control; rather, it is our responsibility to make proactive decisions in our relationship with Hashem. This ‘yirat shamayim’ which is in our power relates to our ability to subsume our will or our limited human understanding to Hashem’s plans. Finally, relationships are built through communication, and mitzvot are the conduit for communicating and connecting with Hashem. It is only at the end of Sukkot where we can fully grasp the experience and excitement of Shavuot—the counting and receiving of the Torah. The start and breadth of the school year can only be fully appreciated in retrospect. Endings explicate beginnings.

 

The Heart of Education

Emily Dickinson epitomizes the heart of education as she wrote, “It’s all I have to bring today—/This, and my heart beside—/…Be sure you count—should I forget/Some one the sum could tell—.”

This relational basket is the center of learning as a social transaction. In my self-analysis, I often ask about this beating pulse—being a Chief Empathy Officer, as Thomas Hoerr pithily encapsulates. Have I brought my heart to school every day this year? Have I tended to the broken hearts? What is the sum of all the buzz around our school? How do all of my actions add up? Did I ensure that every child was seen and counted? How adaptable and flexible was I as a leader? Did I encounter each situation with fresh approaches? Was I directive or supportive in the right combinations?

 

Math Metaphors

As we count towards Har Sinai, we are simultaneously doing an accounting of our character during the sefira period. Why was I an agent of change; was the delta of my start point and endpoint positive? Was I genuinely transformative or did I only translate from one quadrant to another? If I weigh my year in the balance, what is the summation of the emotional experiences?

Every new school year ushers in changes, some hidden and some obvious. Sometimes, we do not know who is carrying a grudge or pain in their hearts; we can inadvertently either soothe the hurt or exacerbate it in our transformation journey.

One day, during a long Uber ride, the driver and I had a pleasant conversation and at the end, she commented to me about my kindness and the kindness of ‘my people.’ The force of this remark knocked the wind out of me—how frightening the power of a moment, of making every moment count, of bringing our hearts wherever we go—of empathy to grant us the space to be wholehearted. The literal journey of the car ride eerily parallels the inevitable changes and bumps in our metaphorical school-year ride.

 

Rainbow Reminders

As I was on my way to school the other day, it had just stopped raining and the sun was peeking through the clouds. If I looked straight down my driveway, I could see a dazzling rainbow. I immediately went to find the bracha to say, as it is not often that I have ever seen such a vivid and full rainbow arching across the sky. What message about errors, failure and the human condition is transmitted by the rainbow?

Inevitably, to lead means to err. Did someone feel left out, embarrassed or ashamed and was I the cause of or contributor to someone’s pain? Sometimes, the mistakes are practical and task-based. Perhaps I committed to a particular curricular goal and coaching that was an overreach for a year already filled with significant change. A rainbow reminds me that no matter how many human errors, Hashem is ultimately in charge, and that is a comfort.

 

Sigma, Summation and Soaring

Questions abound as the milestones of each successive school year accumulate. I recognize when the sum of the parts reflects Torah-true values and the core mission of the institution. Did every child and teacher find a spark of joy in their year? Did I foster collaborative relationships and support the mediation of conflict in relationships? Was I consistently intentional in my language? Was I an ‘eved Hashem’ and a servant leader? Was the year filled with smiles and laughter, grit and courage, exploration and design, cooperation and kindness? Did we all have the capacity to query, to quest, to invest, to influence, to step into our greatness? When the responses to these queries are a ‘yes, and,’ then the questions we ask are the foundation for a sturdy future.


Mrs. Chana Luchins is the principal of general studies at Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison.

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