June 24, 2024
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מצוינות עצמית in the Tanach

One of the pivotal moments of leadership in the Tanach is Moshe Rabbeinu’s appointment as leader. Hashem has to convince Moshe that despite his self doubts, he will, in fact, be a great leader. Showing children early on how to get beyond that self doubt and find that core value of מצוינות עצמית, commitment to best self—to identify their own strengths and understand how to move through their growth areas—is an essential part of an educator’s task and a key component of the elementary school years.

The core value of Commitment to Best Self helps to build the essential skills most learners, young and old, need; understanding who we are as learners, recognizing our growth areas and mapping plans to achieve them.

This begins in early childhood programs, where children receive their foundation. Here they learn to care for themselves and their environment. Practical life skills, dressing and food preparation are but a few of the building blocks ensuring cognitive and social/emotional learning. Teachers also promote building essential traits like concentration, patience and critical thinking. Teachers take on the role of modeling and guiding, just as Hashem took on the role of guide for Moshe. For the most part, Hashem empowered Moshe to go forth and lead, but when Moshe comes to Hashem (Shemot 6:12) asking how Pharaoh will listen to him if the Israelites won’t, Hashem reminds Moshe of the task at hand, to free Bnei Yisrael, which is just enough guidance for Moshe to move forward. The midrash also tells us of Hashem redirecting Moshe when he was spending a little too much time praying and not enough time talking to the people (Shmot Rabbah 21:8).

Differentiated instruction is key for the value of commitment to best self in a school environment in order to ensure that no child falls through the cracks. The rotational model, a key element in many lower schools, builds strong bonds between teachers and students in small group learning to ensure that each child is appropriately challenged. Here the teachers are providing personalized, differentiated learning materials to support strong self-esteem development and acquisition of new skillsets. Moshe actually had the instinct of differentiation, according to the midrash (Shemot Rabba 2:2) in which Moshe chases after a runaway sheep who has gone off to drink and rest. Seeing this sheep’s needs, Moshe carries him back to the flock. Here we see the educator’s responsibility to ensure that each child is challenged but not pushed too hard, and accounting for where he is in his academic, emotional and physical status.

The middle school years inspire a love of meaningful learning, promote goal setting, time management and character growth. As students prepare to leave the walls of their elementary school and head out into the world, it’s important to regularly check in to see what’s working, what’s not and to address their socio-emotional needs. Mentors/teachers try to see through the students’ experience and walk alongside them to problem solve and grow. This is quite similar to the depiction of Moshe watching Bnei Yisrael work, feeling the pain of how hard the work was and even pitching in to help (Shemot Rabba 1:32)

We learn so much from the ways in which Hashem and Moshe interact and how Moshe grows as a leader. Encouraging students to do their best, know themselves and their growth areas and have confidence and competence—these are core to building strong adults who can navigate the complicated paths of adulthood and maybe even inspire others along the way. Confident, self aware, self assured children become the leaders that our community needs in the long term.


Jen Vegh is director of admissions at Westchester Torah Academy.

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