Our Second Graduation Ceremony was held on Thursday, June 11, 2015!
Rav-Hazzan Scott Sokol, our Head of School, gave the closing remarks at this year’s Graduation:
Zeh hayom asah adomai, nagilah v’nismecha vo!
This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!
This is indeed a day to rejoice, to rejoice in our school, in our community and most importantly tonight, in these seven graduates of MetroWest Jewish Day School. I consider myself personally fortunate to have had so many opportunities to teach and learn with these students. We studied behavioral neuroscience together, learned mishna and Jewish ethics, analyzed Yiddish proverbs, chanted Torah trope and philosophized about comparative religion. In all these very distinct domains, the seven Te’enah students were constant challengers and constant challenges, pretty much just the way I prefer my students to be.
But the Te’enah class are not just great students, they are great leaders and great teachers in their own right. They grew into these roles over time, having had the unique opportunity of being the oldest class in the school for two years in a row. All the other students in our school look up to these seven as role models but also look to them for praise, acceptance and occasionally direction. In many ways then the Te’enah class act in almost parental roles. Given this important role, I find it more than a bit coincidental that there are exactly three young men and four young women comprising the Te’enah ranks, the exact same configuration of our Jewish parents, the biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
For the current students at MWJDS, Nathan and Micah, Benny and Sabrina, Ashley, Kendra and Jess are a bit like modern day versions of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel. I’ll leave it to you to figure out just who’s who though.
As much as I like this idea of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs as they relate to our graduates, there is an even more apt biblical reference that I’d like to bring tonight, one that coincidentally or not, comes straight from the Torah portion of this past week, Parshat Beha’alotcha. Towards the beginning of the parsha it reads, b’ha’alotcha et hanerot, which literally means “when you cause the candles to rise up.” It is an unusual expression to be sure. Why does it not say the more common “lehadlik ner” when you kindle the light, as we say every Shabbat or Chanuka?
I think the best answer is that these are no normal flames alluded to in the Torah. We are talking about lighting the ceremonial menorah in the Temple, specifically the seven-branched golden candelabra – seven branches, coincidence? Maybe; maybe not. This menorah and the flames of its candles are candlesticks, but I also believe they are intended to symbolize people.
In Sefer Mishlei, the Book of Proverbs, it says that “Ner Adomai nishmat adam, The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord.”
It also says that the mitzvot are lamps; and the Torah is our light.
The seven, multi-armed aspect of the Menorah represents the multiple paths through which we can access Torah and hopefully in so doing access our unique relationship to God. Each of us is understood to have our own distinct path through which we are able to access the gifts of life. This thought is of course conveyed in yet one more sentence from Proverbs, one of my most favorite as an educator, and not coincidentally the organizing principle of our school:
Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko, gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimena. Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
This of course is our ultimate goal at MWJDS, to provide our students with the tools and the desire to learn so that they will love learning all their lives.
Getting back to the seven-branched candelabra, there is one more very important aspect to this symbol, namely that the seven-branched menorah was all forged from one large piece of gold. This tells us that despite our differences, it is our shared goal to shed light on the world through God’s Torah. Each of our individual flames creates the overall light and warmth put out by the candles. Similarly, each of the seven flames of our graduating students creates a part of the overall light of MWJDS.
Finally, returning to the unusual expression of raising up the flames: b’ha’alotcha et hanerot, the medieval Jewish commentator par excellence Rashi tells us that the reason for this unusual phrase is that the priest had to apply flame to the wick until the flame rose up on its own, shining independently.
The goal of education at MWJDS is to help our students do just that. We want each student to rise up, not remaining contented with her current level. She should seek to proceed further, searching for a higher and more complete understanding in all things. The idea of rising up on one’s own furthermore reminds us that a student must internalize the influence of his teachers until their light becomes his own. The result, we hope, is that the desire to learn should itself become one’s own nature. Even without the encouragement of their teachers, we hope that our students will continually seek to advance, to rise up.
And so this then is my prayer to the MWJDS graduating class, that the lights we have helped to rise up in them will continue to do so on their own and for their own sake and in service to God, their communities and their families.
Here are some wonderful photos from this year’s Graduation Ceremony:
For any questions about Graduation, please contact Francine Ferraro Rothkopf (508) 620-5554.