A place of Torah

אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בֶן קִסְמָא, פַּעַם אַחַת הָיִיתִי מְהַלֵּךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וּפָגַע בִּי אָדָם אֶחָד, וְנָתַן לִי שָׁלוֹם, וְהֶחֱזַרְתִּי לוֹ שָׁלוֹם. אָמַר לִי, רַבִּי, מֵאֵיזֶה מָקוֹם אַתָּה. אָמַרְתִּי לוֹ, מֵעִיר גְּדוֹלָה שֶׁל חֲכָמִים וְשֶׁל סוֹפְרִים אָנִי. אָמַר לִי, רַבִּי, רְצוֹנְךָ שֶׁתָּדוּר עִמָּנוּ בִמְקוֹמֵנוּ, וַאֲנִי אֶתֵּן לְךָ אֶלֶף אֲלָפִים דִּינְרֵי זָהָב וַאֲבָנִים טוֹבוֹת וּמַרְגָּלִיּוֹת. אָמַרְתִּי לוֹ, בְּנִי, אִם אַתָּה נוֹתֵן לִי כָל כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב וַאֲבָנִים טוֹבוֹת וּמַרְגָּלִיּוֹת שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם, אֵינִי דָר אֶלָּא בִמְקוֹם תּוֹרָה.

Said Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma: One time I was walking on the road, and a man met me, and greeted me, and I returned the greeting. He said to me, “My master, from which place are you?” I said to him, “I am from a great city of sages and scribes.” He said to me, “My master, do you wish to live among us in our place, and I will give you a thousand of thousands of golden Dinarim, and precious stones and pearls?” I said to him, “If you were to give me all the silver, gold, precious stones and pearls in the world, I would not live but in a place of Torah.”

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 6:9

The story above is clearly designed to communicate the sense that a society living according the to tenets of the laws espoused in the Torah possesses far more “wealth” than anything we traditionally consider valuable. Even though we all know that all these intangible things like morality, love, relationships, integrity, etc. are supposed to help us lead a good life, the fact is that most of us have to find a way to pay for food, shelter, education, clothing, and lots more. If we want to set our children up for a good life, most of us think that means additional financial resources dedicated to their activities and health, along with many other needs. Integrity is great, but it can’t pay the rent, right?

Wrong. Integrity sure can pay the rent. There is a reason that so many people in the world believe in things like karma — if we mistreat others, take advantage of the weak, and generally care only about ourselves, that is what our life will be filled with – only ourselves. On the other hand, if we step outside ourselves to think about others, we generally find ourselves part of meaningful networks of relationships and communities, and it is those relationships that ultimately lead not only to living meaningfully, but also increase our chances of financial well-being as well.

I’ve been in my role as Head of School at Gesher long enough to have developed a sense for what qualities I look for in employees and professionals on my team. A sense that someone is concerned with right action and taking care of others is right up there with solid content knowledge, and can often tip the balance. We value these things particularly in schools because we know that children are looking at grown-ups for social cues all the time, and the ways in which our faculty and staff interact will indeed serve as a powerful “implicit curriculum.” These children will decide what sorts of behavior are encouraged and rewarded in our culture based on what the grownups do, so it is crucial to find people who care deeply about their own values.

We have intentionally strengthened and highlighted those aspects of our culture during my time leading our community, and have also laid out some boundaries for behavior from adults that we do not find acceptable. I am so pleased to say that the culture of Torah continues to grow at Gesher, and that is thanks to the tone set by our professional and lay leadership, as well as significant effort from our faculty. Children reading our implicit curriculum will generally see adults modeling caring, supportive behavior. In fact, educators who choose to work in schools are saying the exact same thing as Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma: rather than be distracted by the false security of fancy things, I choose to live and work in a place of Torah. Thank goodness we have so many adults saying this — our children need and deserve this message from us.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach,