As many of you know, I love greeting families in the carpool line every morning. Beginning my day seeing so many smiling (and sometimes sleepy) faces excited to come to school is a true pleasure. And with this morning ritual come the morning reminders from both parents and teachers. “Don’t forget your lunch.” “Do you have your kippah on?” “Tuck in your shirt.” “Do you have a belt with you?” “Remember to use your listening ears.” The list goes on. After a summer of different rules, it is important to take the time to remember the expectations of coming back to school.
It is fitting that we read Parshat Re’eh on the first week of school. Parshat Re’eh is a smorgasbord of laws, rituals, and reminders. It reads like a parent drop-off list, reminding the Israelite people as we become a mature nation not to take someone else’s toys (religion), to eat only our own food (the laws of Kashrut), sharing is caring (taking care of the poor in our community), and to celebrate with our friends (holidays and our calendar). Like a nervous parent, God gives this fledgling people reminders to ensure their success as they grow.
Like the feeling of taking on a new set of classroom expectations, it can be overwhelming to receive all of these rules at once. It can leave a child or adult feeling overwhelmed and unsure how to succeed. So the Torah repeats these mitzvot many times, and that repetition makes it stick.
In chapter 12, verse 8, our text states the ultimate guideline for success in a community. “You shall not act at all as we now act here, every man as he pleases.” If every person always does what is best for him and only for himself, then the community will fail to succeed. Think of an unruly classroom with children screaming, running, taking from one another; in this space there is no cohesion or safety. Instead, if we act according to the mitzvot, then we act with our own interest and the best interests of those around us in mind. With a clear guide to living the Torah, or the expectations in the classroom, we can be sure to establish a community of growth, learning, and love.
As our school year begins and we receive the expectations of the school and the classrooms, it is always important to remember that like the Torah, these guidelines were created to lead to success and growth of our greater community. By reading these mitzvot over and over again, we stay in constant conversation with God, the rule giver, so we make sure they fit our lives today. In the same way, by keeping in contact with your child’s teacher and school, we make sure that the lines of conversation are open and that our partnership works towards success.
THIS TOO IS TORAH: Parenting and behavior expert Wendy Mogul suggests that instead of endless lists of rules, we should set 6-7 expectations for behavior as general guidelines so our children are not overwhelmed. Then, adding details and clarifications is possible because the student already knows the most basic expectations. Clearly, the 613 laws in the Torah are not a comprehensive list of everything we encounter in today’s world. But with a basic grasp of what is expected of us, we’re more prepared to work, create, and adapt.