I begin this article by asking the reader’s indulgence in two areas. First, this Chinuch Reflection will not focus on any COVID-related issue per se. Even though we are still in the throes of a very challenging situation, I thought it would be best to look at a timeless issue—relevant to today, and to years down the line as well. Second, the beginning of the article will sound very much like a dvar Torah rather than a pedagogic insight; however, I do assure the patient reader that the conclusion will certainly bring us to what I believe is sound educational practice. With those caveats out of the way, I will proceed.
It was not long ago that we commemorated Asara b’Tevet—the first of the four days throughout the year that we fast, and to a degree mourn, the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. While these fast days stem from a rabbinic decree—they are m’drabbanan—they are mentioned explicitly in Tanach: “Thus says Hashem, the Lord of Hosts, the fast of the fourth month (Shiva Asar b’Tamuz), the fast of the fifth month (Tish’a b’Av), the fast of the seventh month (Tzom Gedaliah), and the fast of the tenth month (Asara b’Tevet) will be to the House of Judah joy and happiness, and great festivals…” (Zechariah 8:19). The Rambam codifies this principle at the end of Hilchot Ta’aniyot by stating that these four fast days will be canceled in the future, in the time of Mashiach; and not only that, they will be festivals and days of joy and happiness.
Now, we can well understand why these fast days will be canceled. The reason for their advent altogether—the central motif of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and the ensuing exile—will no longer be extant in the time of Mashiach. However, we may ask, why will these days become festivals? It does not seem sufficient to make a festival on these days just because they are no longer fast days. Festivals are celebrations of an event—on the anniversary of that event. What joyous event that will have occurred on the tenth of Tevet will we be celebrating?
I do not think that there will be new joyous events to celebrate on these dates. Rather, I think that these dates will be marked to celebrate the truth and efficacy of the process of teshuva and the relationship that we have with Hashem. The Rambam famously teaches that when tragedy befalls Bnei Yisrael, we are enjoined to cry out to Hashem and to engage in communal teshuvah—and this will reverse the decree of tragedy (Hilchot Ta’aniyot 1:1-2). This is exactly what we are engaged in on the four fast days. And when Mashiach comes and the Beit Hamikdash is rebuilt, we will celebrate on the anniversary of the days that we used to fast and pray and repent—celebrating the fulfillment of Hashem’s promise that our observance on those fast days would bring about a reversal of tragedy.
The lessons that can be derived from this idea, directly and indirectly, are multifaceted. One that I think has profound implications in the world of education is that it behooves us to stop from time to time to celebrate successes. It is not sufficient to experience success alone; rather, it is important as part of the educational process to acknowledge success and to celebrate it. This is certainly true for the development of the young student—but it is also true for the development of the young, and even veteran, teacher. And if this idea is true during “normal” times, how much more true it is during times of challenge.
Rabbi Saul Zucker is the head of school at Ben Porat Yosef, BPY, in Paramus.