Parshat D’varim: Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22; Isaiah 1;1-29.
This week’s parsha, is the first of the last book of the Torah. Thirty-seven days before his passing, Moses begins his repetition of the Torah to the assembled Israelites, reviewing the events that occurred and the laws given during their journey from Egypt to Sinai to Eretz Yisrael. Deuteronomy contains addresses from Moses to the people covering a history, the past set of prophecies, warnings about the future, laws, narratives, a song and a set of blessings. Together they constitute the most comprehensive, profound vision of what it is to be a Holy People, dedicated to God.
Moses knew he would not enter the land along with the Israelites due to the punishment given to him by God in Parsha Chukat weeks ago. Nevertheless, Moses understood that he could still be with them intellectually and emotionally if he gave them the teachings to take with them.
In his commentary on Parsha D’varim in 2019/5779, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks commented that it was at this moment that Moses became the pioneer of perhaps the single greatest contribution of Judaism to the concept of leadership: the idea of the teacher as hero.
Heroes are people who demonstrate courage in the field of battle. What Moses knew was that the most important battles are not military; they are spiritual, moral and cultural. Since March 2020, our world has engaged in a single battle against COVID-19 and a new group of individuals emerged as heroes. Three-thousand years after Moses addressed the Israelites, we have seen school administrators, teachers, and staff were frontline heroes this past year.
As the head of school of Hillel Day School, I witnessed our leadership, faculty and staff come to school each day, putting their own health at risk, to provide for the academic, emotional, social and spiritual growth of students. The same was true for educators at our other Jewish day schools in Metro Detroit. Educators showed immense courage, faith, joy and conviction.
Teachers adapted; they learned new technologies; they learned how to engage students across the screen; they learned how to reach an entire classroom of students while wearing a mask. In a year when millions of children were alone in their bedrooms or houses learning remotely, Jewish day school educators in Metro Detroit put the needs of their students before their own. That is the true essence of a hero.
Like Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher) did for the Israelites before they crossed into the Promised Land, teachers impart knowledge, wisdom, life lessons and love to their students. As we emerge from the pandemic, let us always remember that teachers shape society, handing on the legacy of the past to those who build the future. This has sustained Judaism for longer than any other civilization.
Dr. Darin Katz is head of school at Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit in