Habits of the heart

שַׁמַּאי אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה תוֹרָתְךָ קֶבַע. אֱמֹר מְעַט וַעֲשֵׂה הַרְבֵּה, וֶהֱוֵי מְקַבֵּל אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם בְּסֵבֶר פָּנִים יָפוֹת:

Shammai says, “Make your Torah [study] a fixed habit, say little and do much, and receive every person with a smile.”

Pirkei Avot, Mishnah 1:15

Ask any Gesher educator about the role of routines in their classroom, and you will undoubtedly hear how powerfully important it is for children to know what to expect, particularly as they transition into or out of different spaces or times during the day. Setting up rituals, routines, habits, and clear expectations is one of the core building blocks of outstanding education–it allows children to feel comfortable enough to truly explore and learn, knowing that they safely bounded at the edges of their daily experiences. It communicates respect and trust, helps to create cohorts and communities, and offers a reliable anchor for learning and growth.

Habits are remarkably powerful things. As adults, we either slip into them, or craft them intentionally, or sometimes find a combination somewhere in between. Part of the work of the mature adult is to occasionally step back, gain perspective, and ask if the habits we are currently in are healthy. Are there some that we should consider changing, or tweaking? Anyone engaged in ongoing learning will always find some habits that need attention, particularly since our lives and relationships are typically dynamic rather than static. Changing circumstances will certainly require some changes in habit.

Our sages considered Torah study to the a (the) core habit because they believed that correct living would always result from engaging in that routine. As with other passages from the Mishnah, there is intentionally room in these words to suggest that these are either three separate axioms, or instead that phrases two and three derive from the first — that making study habitual will lead to the wisdom of actions over talk and the ability to greet others openly.

As we move through the last phases of the fall Jewish holidays, I encourage you to talk you child about your habits, their habits, and perhaps also family habits, any of which might benefit from some examination.

Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday),