Benjy Rickman
Everyone can be inspired

Jewish schools – A miracle in our time

Each night of Chanukah affords us the opportunity to contemplate the miracles our people have experienced throughout the ages. We daven every day “V’al nisecha sh’bchol yom imonu”, we are surrounded by miracles, by the unexplained every day. At times we see them and appreciate the closeness of Hashem in our lives. Most of the time, miracles go unnoticed, which is probably why we must train ourselves to express our gratitude to Hashem every day.

One question that I get asked every year is why Hashem doesn’t perform miracles anymore. The assumption being, that open miracles would create better or easier conditions to believe in Hashem.  In his masterful essay on miracles, the Ramban explains why Hashem seems to have retired from the full blown miracles in our times:

“Behold, from the time of there being idolatry in the world  from the days of Enosh  the opinions about faith started to blur. Some of them deny the fundamental principle and say that the world is prior to Hashem’s creation. Some reject His knowledge of particulars. Some of them concede His knowledge but reject His oversight. They say, ‘”The L-rd has abandoned the Earth.”‘ And when Hashem favours a certain community or individual and does a wonder for them by changing the custom of the world and its nature, the nullification of these opinions becomes clear to everyone.  As the amazing wonder teaches that there is a G-d in the world who innovated it, and knows and supervises and is able to do whatever He wants. And when this wonder is first proclaimed by the mouth of a prophet, the truth of prophecy also becomes clear from it that Hashem speaks with man and reveals His secret to His servants, the prophets. And with this, all of the Torah is established.

And since Hashem will not do a sign and wonder in each generation in front of the eyes of each evildoer or heretic, He commanded us that we should always make a memorial and a sign to that which our eyes saw. And we should copy this thing for our children, and their children for their children, and their children for the last generation.

And the intention of all the commandments is that we believe in Hashem and acknowledge that He is our Creator. The intention of raising of davening and the intention of Shuls and the merit of communal tefila is that there be a place for people to gather and acknowledge to Hashem that He created them and makes them exist, and to publicise this and to say in front of Him, “We are Your creatures.”

And from the great public miracles, a person can also concede to hidden miracles, which constitute the foundation of the entire Torah.”

Let me reveal one example of a hidden miracle. We have all experienced it, some liked it, others, couldn’t wait to get out. I am referring to the miracle of Jewish schools. If you notice a cynical thought rising in your head, squish it and keep reading.

We are blessed with an abundance of schools. Recently, a fundraising drive was held in Manchester on behalf of a new school. The new MBY, Manchester Beis Yaakov school captivated the attention of over 1500 donors and Baruch Hashem the original target was reached and a bonus target attempted. As a people, we celebrate and get excited by schools.

There are many schools in our community and each ought to be celebrated and appreciated for what it achieves. Schools will never be perfect, teachers, parents, students will always find something to complain about.  Perfection is Gan Eden and I sincerely hope no one reading this is overly keen in discovering perfection to soon.  This world is about effort, we must celebrate success and improvement instead of mourning a lack of perfection.

Rav Hirsch writes in his masterful essays on education “ what good  will it do if we the older generation cling faithfully with every fibre of our being and every drop of our hearts blood to the sacred heritage of  our fathers  but leave the spiritual  growth of our  children to chance? The most vital problems of a Jewish school can be solved only in cooperation with the entire community. Educators no matter how proficient and well-meaning, cannot deal with these problems alone.”

When looking at the Chanukah flame teach yourself and your family to see the miracle of our schools in their light. We have survived throughout history despite the best efforts of our enemies in some measure due to our school system.  Rav Hirsch also continues to teach us that school must work together with the home. It is therefore fitting that we bring the miracle our schools into our homes during Chanukah.  “Living and working together with classmates and teachers at school should accustom the young person to practice good manners. Attending school should train him in the art of self-control…school life will constantly afford the young person opportunities for the exercise of polite manners.”

However after developing this line of thought Rav Hirsch then reminds us “the home is the only true effective training ground; the school can only act as a supplement to the home.”

It is Chanukah with the emphasis on education and the home where this lesson really needs to be taught.

As part of the fundraising for the new MBY School, I had the good fortune to interview Rabbi Danny Kirsch, Chairman of the JLE.  With his trademark effervescent smile he recommended that schools should focus on 3 Alephs:

  1. Ahavat Hashem- Make Hashem real, build a relationship, talk about Hashem.
  2. Ahavat Habriot- School must prepare students for the real world. Young people must learn social communicative skills. Torah knowledge is vital but so is emotional intelligence marriages work relationships dependent on learning how to build positive relationships.
  3. Achrayut- Responsibility, we must use the gifts Hashem has given us, to positively impact the community and broader society.

The Rebbe of Piaseczna in his Chovas HaTalmidim teaches that “our goal is to get in touch with the student’s entire being. We want to take hold of the nefesh, ruach, neshama of the Jewish child and connect them to Hashem.” I believe that the advice from Rabbi Kirsch does just that. Our Neshama connects us with Ahavat Hashem, the Ruach is our spirited emotional connection to each other and finally the Nefesh is our physical part which ought to drive our participation in society.

During one night of Chanukah ask yourself if your home and then school focuses on the whole child, the different aspects that make him/her tick. Be part of the continued miracle of Jewish education. Commit to work alongside your choice of school to build the next generation. Ask yourself the question the Maccabees asked “Mi L’Hashem eilai! Let’s do it for Hashem. Take a long look at the light of Chanukah, challenge yourselves to see miracles, even ones that do not result in perfection. Celebrate and appreciate the gifts that Hashem gives us in each generation, Ba’yamim ha’hem ba’zman ha’zeh!

About the Author
Benjy Rickman is an experienced educator and religious broadcaster. Currently he is Head of Religious Studies at King David High School in Manchester, assistant Rabbi and Baal Tefila at Holy Law Shul and Director of Think Tuition Manchester. Benjy launched an interfaith portfolio opening lines of communication between Abrahamic faith schools. He was praised by OFTSED School inspectors for his lead role in incorporating the teaching of British Values within a religious framework. He is an exceptional communicator of ideas. He is an expert educator and educational consultant.
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