“There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.”-Aldous Huxley
Not long after I made aliyah, I learned one of the phrases that is a cornerstone of Israeli life at this time of year “acharei hachagim” or “after the Holidays.” It basically means that all routine and regular work schedules go out of the window as the country shuts down for Rosh Hashanah, starts up again just in time for Yom Kippur and then closes down again for Sukkot, the intermediate days of Sukkot and then for Simchat Torah. It is meant as a way to justify pushing off completing tasks on the ever-growing to-do list. However, this cycle of activity, rest, activity, rest etc can also provide us as educators with built-in opportunities to take stock and reflect on what we are doing well, what is proving to be challenging for us and what can be improved on. The different characteristics of the chagim at this period offer varied ways to reflect and to improve our important work.
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur both provide ample opportunity for introspection. The process of teshuva begins as an internal one, whereby I look inside to understand ways in which I have not reached the standards of behavior I have set for my personal life. It may be that I will be disappointed in myself, but that is the beginning of the process. What steps can I now take to make sure that I do not feel that sense of disappointment again? I am seeking to challenge myself to improve. This approach can be extended for me to review my professional life and to measure how well I have done to reach my professional standards. Again, I may find that I have let myself down, but this is the first step forward. What practical steps can I take to make sure my performance as an educator is improved? What weaknesses do I have as an educator, and what resources can I use to address them?
Sukkot is the festival of trust. We take ourselves out of our comfort-zones and move into temporary dwellings to show our trust in Hashem. Reviewing classes with my colleagues is one way in which I can improve myself as an educator. In these situations, it is necessary to trust your colleagues and for them to trust you. In order to create a relationship in which both sides are learning and feel safe, trust is paramount. Taking ourselves out of our comfort zones, and opening ourselves up to new challenges, can be very intimidating. I am constantly going over conversations and scenarios from class with my colleagues to see if they would have handled these situations in a similar way, or if they have insights into ways that I could have handled events differently.
The final chag in this stop-start cycle in Tishrei is Simchat Torah. The joy associated with finishing the cycle of Torah reading always confused me as a child. I could never understand why we were so happy to have finished the Torah. I always thought we were supposed to enjoy learning Torah, not be relieved about finishing it. It was only later that I gained a real appreciation of learning a text and then relearning it, and relearning it yet again. Each time we learn a text we are able to discover more and more depth to it and to come away with new ideas and inspiration. So too in our teaching, as we prepare to reteach a topic or a text, we must explore deeper so that we are able to bring even more depth to our teaching.
The chagim are truly a national celebration in Israel. There are so many religious, cultural and social events at this time of year. However, it is also a time for personal celebration. To celebrate my accomplishments and to celebrate the positive impact I have had on the world. By using the chagim as an opportunity to reflect and grow, next year our personal celebrations will be even more meaningful.