We love back to school pictures that flood social media around this time of year. We love seeing the creative signs kids are holding and how they’ve grown from last year. We love seeing their smiles and personalities show through in the uniqueness of the image. We love seeing each of these children as individuals before they join the community of the class and school. And while it is important for them to feel a part of the community and learn to work together with their peers, maintaining this individual identity and sense of specialness is also important throughout the year.
Pablo Casals wrote in his book Joys and Sorrows, “Each second we live in a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all of the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. And look at your body -- what a wonder it is! Your legs, your arms, your cunning fingers, the way you move! You may become a Shakespeare, a Michaelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. For, yes you are a marvel.”
This idea, the uniqueness and marvel of the individual, has deep roots in Judaism. The Mishnah (a Rabbinic text) tells us that “each and every one must say ‘the world was created for me,” showing how special (what a marvel) each of us is. Both Casals and the Mishnah put forth the idea of the potential each of us holds, a potential that is so very strong in each of our students when we recognize and celebrate them for whom they are.
This unique individualism is something that is found throughout text when looking at God’s relationship with mankind. For example, while the high holiday liturgy is written in the collective form, meaning that we pray for the forgiveness of “our” sins, the Midrash tells us that God judges each man and animal individually. According to tradition, while God recognizes our collective responsibility for each other, he also recognizes the true beauty of the individual, getting to know all of His children, learning about them, and considering them as individuals in how they lead their lives. He differentiates for each of us in life, setting individualized goals and assessing our progress according to our individual growth.
As we transition from the “Back to School” time period to that of the holidays, it’s important that we continue to help our children better understand who they are and to celebrate what makes them special.
Psalms (139:14) includes a line that says, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!” While our school and classroom communities are so incredibly important, we must remember those back to school pictures over the course of the year...celebrating each wonderfully complex individual!