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Creating a Beautiful Whole

February 14, 2020
By Adam Tilove

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, after the giving of the 10 commandments, we find the following curious line:

“If(when) you make for me an altar of stones, do not build it with hewn stones, for by wielding your tool (sword) upon them you have profaned them.” (Exodus 20:22)

Isn’t it unnecessary to say that?
Who would bother cutting stones anyway?

In New England, there are fieldstone walls built all over the place, each containing full, uncut stones. Who would bother cutting them? Those stones were built by the people who originally tilled the fields and found each stone, one at a time, before placing them carefully and thoughtfully together to create a wall. It was a labor of love in which each stone was considered individually.

Today, when we need to get something big done, we tend to use a factory model, with distribution of labor. Thus, one team of people cuts the stones; another lays them down. A process like this doesn’t require much thinking, which is the hardest, most time-consuming part of any project.

In Parshat Yitro, following closely after the giving of the 10 commandments, I believe the altar represents the community. It brings everyone together, serving to create a beautiful whole out of unique individuals - all in the service of G-d.

Today, our school is like the altar, and the stones are our students. Like the altar, we have to make sure we never apply a factory model to our children. Each one is unique, each one should be respected and admired according to their own merits. Placed carefully together, each with its own unique attributes, we have a beautiful community. For if we attempt to make each child the same simply to make our job easier, we do a grave injustice to both the students and our society.

Our teachers do the work to know each child as they are, and follow the words of Proverbs 22:6: “Teach each child according to their way.”  

To teach with a high level of thought, individuality and care is exhausting. Our teachers know this is the most important work there is. They are builders of children and of community, and I am grateful for the love they have of their craft and of our children.

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