But the land, to which you pass to possess, is a land of mountains and valleys and absorbs water from the rains of heaven, a land the Lord, your God looks after; the eyes of Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year – Devarim 11:11-12
The above verses describe our holy land and the special divine providence it enjoys. What is curious is the final segment, which details how such oversight will occur “from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” While the translation may not reflect any inconsistency, the original Hebrew states that it will occur “from the beginning of the year (“hashanah”) to the end of year (“shanah,”omitting the prefix hei).
Rabbi Paysach Krohn explains that this change of expression can be understood to reflect what one might call our new year’s resolutions. As we approach the yamim noraim, we begin to reflect intently on the outgoing year. We think about past errors and ways by which we will improve ourselves and our lives. “This year will be the year,” we tell ourselves.
For most of us, however, such remorse and resolve tends to be fleeting. Following the days of inspiration and introspection we begin to lapse back into the behaviors and attitudes of yesterday, converting “the year” into just another “year,” leaving our resolutions for change behind.
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Throughout the Jewish world, tens of thousands of children and young adults will soon be heading back to the classroom for another year of schooling. The excitement is palpable. Children and parents are busy purchasing and labeling school supplies, clothing, lunchboxes, and other related items. Teachers have been working diligently to ready their classrooms, organize materials, and foster an engaging, productive learning environment. Administrators have toiled throughout the summer to have everything in place for day one, including back-to-school programming for students and professional development for teachers.
The first day finally arrives. With great eagerness, children rise early for school, ready to reconnect with friends and meet their new teachers (assuming they haven’t yet done so). They learn new routines, begin to understand expectations, and set off on a new journey ripe with opportunity. They come home smiling (for the most part), in anticipation of more learning and activities in the days ahead. Parents are relieved that their children are happy and have begun a new cycle of learning.
Teachers may come home drained, but their first day has also been energizing. They’ve met a new group of children they will engage for the next ten months. They’ve enthusiastically shared plans, dreams, and expectations, all with the hope of achieving much success.
But a funny thing happens along the way. Our initial enthusiasm often dissipates, sometimes within a few days. We start to think of school less in terms of growth potential and achievement and more in terms of the daily grind – an endless process of work, discipline, assignments, and the like – that for too many converts opportunity and passion into burden and indifference (if not outright contempt or despair).
So what can we do to make this school year the one that fulfills all of its promise? How can we make this year the best one ever?
While there is no formula that will work for everyone, there are some strategies that if followed carefully and consistently can help our children – and us – gain the most from the upcoming school year.
Adjust your mental paradigm. Too often we think of tasks and processes as sprints. Our goal is to get off to a quick, strong start and we don’t anticipate having to sustain our effort for all that long. To succeed at school requires a different approach. Children as well as the adults who teach and support them need to take a long-term view of things. This may include general persistence and strong study habits. It also refers to a mindset that we are in it for the long haul, with much to do before we can say we’re finished (at least with this year’s work). Frequently we become disillusioned because we feel we should be done and we resent the fact that we still have a considerable way to go. If we can program our minds from the outset to think in terms of distance and long-term goals, it will be easier for us to keep going until the very end.