At Heschel, we strive to engage students in outdoor learning as much as possible.  Last night I had the opportunity to join our Grade 8 students in their Moon Observation Event.   The moon played hide and seek with us through the clouds. When it appeared, almost miraculously, just in time for each of our three hourly observations, one of the students exclaimed in glee: “I’ve never been so excited to see the moon.”  This year I have the privilege of teaching Grade 7 Learning Tefillah, where we focus on learning Hallel.  Our classes so far this year have all been outside, as we take opportunities to say:  הללויה – Halleluiah – “Praise Hashem” — in response to the amazing works of creation we see before our eyes.  

Outdoor learning is good for children.  It’s good for their minds and their bodies.  It allows them space to expand their minds and move their bodies, outside the confines of the classroom.  It reacquaints them with the natural world, from which so many of us have become estranged.  It’s also a really great way for students to expand their understanding of what it means to experience God.  

This week we study parshat Ha’azinu.  The word Ha’azinu is the Hebrew verb based on the same root as the word “ozen,” ear. Ha’azinu means “listen!”, or more literally, “incline your ears to hear!”.  Parshat Ha’azinu marks the high poetic moment in Moshe’s long parting speech to the people of Israel. Yet, it begins not by Moshe calling for the people to listen, but rather by Moshe calling upon the heavens and the earth to hear his speech:  האזינו השמים ואדברה, תשמע הארץ אמרי פי.  “Incline your ear, oh heavens and I will speak; listen earth to the words of my voice.”  The verse makes us wonder:  Does the earth listen?  Do the heavens have ears?   A few verses later Moshe continues his poetic speech: “May my teaching descend like the rain; may my speech flow like the dew.”   These lines of poetry suggest that speech and dew, teaching and rain, have something in common.  This week we considered how the creations of nature have something to teach us, something to say to us in their own way.  We recall that God created the world through speech — ברוך שאמר והיה העולם — and that God’s speech may continue to echo in a certain way through the creations.  We learned about Rabbi Nachman of Braslav who preferred to pray in the outdoors and who once declared:    

“Oh, how I wish I could hear and understand all of the songs and praises of each blade of grass as it thanks the Almighty with all its heart, without any ulterior motives or expectations that the Almighty reward it. How nice and sweet it is to listen to their songs – it’s so uplifting to praise the Almighty in awe amongst them.”  

Our middah this week is “Listen for God’s voice in natural surroundings.”  We practiced the middah both by going outside and through guided visualizations, imagining ourselves in our favourite place in nature.  We imagined opening up our ears to let all the sounds enter our bodies, minds and souls.  We wondered if the feelings these sounds awoke in us was an experience of the awe and wonder of God.   

We have so many opportunities to listen for God’s voice and God’s teaching in the amazing creations of the world.  

Shabbat Shalom Vegemar Chatimah Tovah,  

Moreh Greg / מורה שלמה