The word mitzvah means commandment. This is a reference to the commandments in the Torah. Many people think of the Ten Commandments when they hear the word commandment, but there are more than 600 mitzvot (plural for of mitzvah) in the Torah. According to Maimonides, there are 613 commandments in the Torah.
If you take the time to read Maimonides’s Book of Commandments, he gets into all the details of the mitzvot listed in the Torah. There are commandments about who you can and cannot marry, how to observe Jewish holidays, what to eat, and how to worship G-d. Among many others, we are commanded to love other Jews, not oppress the weak, and not embarrass others. We are also commanded to take care of the sick and those unable to care for themselves.
As a school, we teach our children about Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), which encompasses many of the mitvot, as they are actions that help make our world a better place. At Lerner, we talk to our students about the importance of being kind to others and choosing to do nice things for our classmates. We also talk about the challenges of doing the right thing even though it might be difficult and how to figure out what the right thing is. Some situations can be confusing and it can be hard to know what the kind thing to do is. In this context, we talk to children about what their options are, and one of those options is always to ask someone for help, often a teacher or a parent. The adult can help us think about all of the options and help us make good decisions.
As parents and teachers, it is important that we also model these behaviors for our students, and I had that opportunity this week. As we continue to contend with flu season and the latest round of germs, a member of our community raised a question about the custom of kissing a mezuzah with our hand. This is a beautiful and loving custom for many people in our community, but this question made me wonder what the best choice was for our students and families.
As the Head of School, I have a responsibility to make good decisions for the benefit of our whole community. In this situation, I was not sure what the right answer was or how to explain it to our students. So, as the Head of School, I asked for help. I emailed some of the knowledgeable rabbis in our community and asked for their advice. Apparently, I was not the first to ask this question, as I received a very thoughtful and fast reply. The Chief Rabbi of Israel has advised that we suspend this custom and kiss the mezuzah with our hearts and minds instead of our hands during this period of illness.
While I initially thought that was the answer, I was not sure. I recognized that I needed guidance from someone who had more knowledge; I also realized I could rely on another member of our community to help me figure out the right thing to do. I am so grateful to be part of such a caring community and to have such wonderful teachers to guide each of us and our students as we strive to fulfill mitzvot every day.
Head of School