Mishlei Twenty-Two: Education

“Train a child according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not turn away from it (Proverbs 22:6).” This verse comes up a lot in Jewish education settings, and for good reason. It’s an iconic endorsement of individualized instruction, drawing on the idea of teaching each child in his (or her) own way – the way that works best for them. We know that not every child, or learner of any age, responds in the same way to the same materials and teaching methodologies. Therefore, we’re instructed to differentiate, and provide each learner with a pathway to success that meets their needs. It’s hard, to be sure. It’d be much easier for the educator to plan for one than to strive to connect with each student in order to best meet their needs, but it’s infinitely more rewarding for all involved to do so. Watching learners light up is the greatest pleasure of being an educator, and it’s truly an honor to call myself one every day.

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Mishlei Twenty-One: Justice

“Performing charity and justice is preferred by God to a sacrifice (Proverbs 21:3).” I love this verse. Sacrifice, of course, is something that the Jewish people haven’t ritually performed since the destruction of the second Temple. We’ve substituted prayer in its place, but there are definitely people who still see that as a placeholder for what ‘should be.’ However, here we’re seeing that the lack of sacrifice isn’t what we should obsess over, because far more important is charity and justice, things that we can actively commit ourselves to every day. The amounts and format of each of these things aren’t specified, so it’s on us to make this challenge our own and do these things.

Mishlei Twenty: Sleep

“Do not love sleep lest you become poor, open your eyes and be sated with bread (Proverbs 20:13).” Awkward. I actively love sleep, particularly on days like today when it seems like everything has piled up, is happening, and needs to happen. Yes, it’s been ‘that day.’ I’m actually flying back to Israel tomorrow, so sleep is elusive. Instead, I’m in a mad dash of work, packing, and a general sprint through all of my to do’s. But sleep sounds lovely. I understand that we’re not supposed to laze away days (something else I do all too often), but I can’t help but love snuggling in my bed and drifting off to sleep. Anyone else with me on this?

Mishlei Nineteen: Calm

“It is good sense for a man to be slow to anger, and it is his glory to pass over a transgression (Proverbs 19:11).” This is something that I want to work on in order to become a better, more patient person. While most of the time I’m pretty even-tempered and can take things in stride, there are certain people – typically the ones who I’m closest to – that can push my buttons much easier, and I’m more likely to react rashly as a result. It’s not a healthy or pleasant feeling, so I want to be more mindful of it and take even the most basic steps to behave in a more relaxed manner.

Mishlei Eighteen: Spirit

“A man’s spirit will sustain his illness, but a broken spirit – who will bear it (Proverbs 18:14)?” I don’t mean this flippantly, because I understand that there are many people who suffer horribly despite positive outlooks and good attitudes, but I think the second clause of this verse is fundamentally true. There’s nothing worse than a bad spirit on top of whatever circumstances a person may find themselves in. I can only hope that no matter what life throws at me, I’m able to maintain a happy and positive attitude. I see people who have gone in both directions – those who have stayed smiling and bright eyed despite the difficulties of life, as well as those who approach things with a frown. Of course, there are plenty of reasons why someone can be down, and I’m in no way talking about bad feelings and legitimate pain and sadness. But whenever possible, I want to make sure that my spirit and countenance lean towards light and positivity, no matter what.

Mishlei Sixteen and Seventeen: Sweetness

Sorry squad – today is going to be another double post. I had every intention of writing a post when I got home yesterday, but wound up being incredibly sick and literally couldn’t lift my head, let alone my laptop. So we’re doing a combo once again today!

“Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:24).” Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how I present myself as a woman, both at work and in terms of my personal life. While some mentors recommend being brash, (and I can be bold with the best of them!) a lot of times I find it easy and helpful to be a bit more pleasant and unassuming in order to get what I want. I’m not fully comfortable with that – I want to be assertive and strong, but I find that people respond best to kindness and sweetness.

“Children’s children are the crown of the aged, and the glory of the children is their fathers (Proverbs 17:6).” Today is my grandmother’s 87th birthday. She and I have been best buddies throughout my life, and it’s pretty safe to say I hold the status of unofficial favorite with her. While my grandmother definitely has a personality, and would never be described as ‘easy,’ it’s a pleasure to be kind to her and to provide her with joy, particularly now when time with her is so limited and precious.

Mishlei Fifteen: Happiness

“A merry heart makes a cheerful face, but by sadness of heart comes a breaking spirit (Proverbs 15:13).” I’m focusing on the first part of this verse right now. It reads to me like a biblical iteration of the idea of ‘fake it ’til you make it.’ It’s proven that our outsides and insides often mirror each other, so that if you smile you’ll eventually feel happier, and if you feel happy your face and body language will reflect it. I regularly tell my students that what’s on the inside is the most important, and I firmly believe that.

Mishlei Fourteen: Home

“The house of the wicked shall be destroyed, but the tent of the righteous shall flourish (Proverbs 14:11).” There’s a clear juxtaposition between the words house and tent as relating to the wicked and the righteous in this verse. While a house is materially superior to a tent, in that it’s more stable, permanent, and potentially luxurious, in this case it’s the wicked person who has it, and it’s destructible. On the contrary, while a tent is often flimsy, it’s what the righteous person has. So what does that tell us about a tent? In Jewish tradition, a tent can be opened on all sides, welcoming others in, and is therefore capable of holding an untold number of people ‘inside it.’ While the fixed walls of a house don’t allow for such infinite welcoming, a tent, because of its flexibility, has far-reaching capacity. It’s fitting that I read this chapter during the holiday of Sukkot, when we traditionally build and live in semi-permanent structures outside of the firm walls of our homes. While they aren’t tents, and do have walls I think the same theme pervades, wherein the righteous are open and welcoming, rather than closed off and proud.

Mishlei Thirteen: Friends

“He who goes with the wise will become wise, but he who befriends the fools will be broken (Proverbs 13:20).” Who we surround ourselves with shapes who we are, for better or for worse. Our families, as well as the friends and companions we choose, influence us in countless ways that we may not even realize. I’ve found that we have two choices generally – either to select people whose level we can rise to, who bring us up and inspire/motivate us, or to choose those who enable us to be stagnant, or even to move down. We don’t just fall into long-term relationships – at least most of the time. It’s an active process, and we need to make the best choices in creating the cohorts and thereby the versions of ourselves that we most want to be.

Mishlei Twelve: Positivity

“If there is concern in a man’s heart, let him cast it down, and a good word will make it cheerful (Proverbs 12:25).” At some point in this Tanakh-reading project, we’ll come to the verse there is nothing new under the sun, and it’s that concept that this line made me think about. It seems like such a modern and hippie-ish concept – positive thinking and imagery make us happy when we’re worried. These are ideas that I know very well – whenever I’m not feeling my best, I try to surround myself with positivity and with a kind of fake it till you make it mindset, I smile until I really feel it. I don’t enjoy wallowing in sadness or stress, and try to overcome as best and quickly as I can. And apparently that’s not just modern pop-psychology, but a literally age-old concept.