This week we learn the middah, “think before you act.” This weeks parshah, Toldot, focuses on Rivka and her twin chidren Esav and Ya’akov. Esav, the firstborn, impulsively sells his birthright to Ya’akov for the sake of some soup. By contrast, Rivka’s carefully thought out plan helps Ya’akov receive the blessing of the firstborn, and thus become the leader of the Jewish people. Both Rivka and her son Ya’akov are presented in rabbinic literature as contemplative types who seek understanding through contemplation and learning. This week, we discussed with our students the many ways we can think before we act: thinking carefully before we speak, considering which strategy to use when solving a math problem, considering the consequences of our actions, and playing safely on the playground.
Executive function is a term commonly used these days to refer to a person’s ability to reflect before acting. Executive function is key to being a successful learner. At Heschel, we help our students strengthen their executive function through mindful approaches to Tefillah. We use mindful breathing techniques, movement techniques, and focusing exercises as part of our prayer practice. By integrating mindfulness and meditation practices into our Tefillah services, we provide students an opportunity to begin the day in a relaxed, calming way.
The middah this week is a simple one, yet it is the one upon which the leadership of the Jewish people is determined. This Shabbat, may each of us take a few extra moment to be mindful before we act.