Go “above” the enemy: Growth mindset in the Torah?

The first words of this week’s Torah portion (Ki Tetzei) are typically translated, “When you go to war against your enemy…” A closer reading of the Hebrew yields a slightly different version. The Hebrew word “al” is translated “against,” but more literally means “above.” What can be learned from the idea of going to war above the enemy?

One possible answer given by commentators is that this isn’t meant to be taken literally. In a figurative sense, perhaps we are going to war against our own internal enemies – after all, they are often what stands between us and success. At what point do we begin to get in our own way? How do we learn to rise above our own tendencies?

For the past few years educators have been abuzz about the idea of “Growth Mindset,” coined by Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck. In her recent book, Mindset: The new psychology of success, she describes the differences between growth and fixed mindsets. Put very simple terms, a growth mindset is one in which you believe that if you put forth enough effort, you can grow in literally any aspect of yourself, including intelligence of various kinds. A fixed mindset holds the opposite view–that your innate abilities are what they are, strengths and weaknesses, and that there is only limited change possible.

Dweck’s research shows that holding a growth mindset leads to improved outcomes in learning and long-term successes in livelihood and relationships. While the idea isn’t complicated, it does include many nuances (enough to warrant reading her excellent book). It has lead directly to many of the recent articles on how to or not to praise your children.

Faculty members at Gesher JDS read Mindsets in the Classroom by Mary Cay Ricci this past summer, which is designed to help schools and teachers take the research and concepts from Dweck’s work and apply them throughout the school, as well as in the classroom. We are looking forward to discussing these ideas during in-service next week, and to bringing them to our work when the children arrive after labor day.

We are excited to help our students realize that failure is truly an opportunity for growth, and that without it, there can be no real learning.

Shabbat Shalom,