The commandment to observe Rosh Chodesh Nisan – the new month of Nisan – is the very first mitzvah commanded to the people of Israel as a whole. The commandment to commemorate the month of Nisan — also known as Chodesh Ha’aviv – the Spring Month — comes as bnai Israel prepare themselves for leaving Mitzraim (ancient Egypt). Up to this point, all the mitzvot, including the aseret hadibrot (the ten commandments), are obligations for individuals. Now, the whole people are commanded to commemorate the new month together.
Pesach, which falls on the 15th of Nisan is the chag that marks the formation of the Israelites as a free and autonomous nation – bnai chorin: free people. As free individuals, we are a diverse and inquisitive bunch, a fact acknowledged through the four children of the Seder – each with their own personality and questions. Yet, despite our uniqueness and differences, we all sit together at the seder table, celebrating our freedom as a community.
At Heschel, we recognize that we are not merely individuals, each alone on our learning journey. We are members of families, of relationships, of friend groups, chaverutot, and working partnerships. As Jews we are members of an ancient people with a long and profound history. We are diverse, and yet unified. We respect each other’s differences, and we join together to learn and celebrate.
During the month of Nisan our students came together to celebrate, lead and commemorate many community events with peers and families. Just before Pesach, our Grade Five students took to the stage for their epic Living Haggadah performance. Immediately upon our return, our Grade Eight students led a moving Yom HaShoah memorial service. This week, our Grade Four students performed their novel study plays based on Mordechai Richler’s famous novel Jacob Two-Two.
Each of these “performances of understanding” are expressions of deep learning, preparation, and learned skills. These are our Heschel “exams”—tests of understanding that engage a wide range of learning domains: comprehension, memorization, presentation skills, teamwork, and artistry; they embody learning that speaks to the whole child—mind, body, heart, and soul.
But they are more than that. They are also ways of learning that build and strengthen community. By preparing and presenting for peers, friends, and families, our students learn how to communicate with one another, rely on one another, and experience together the nervousness, excitement, and joy that comes along with challenging and rewarding work.
They learn that being free is not about being left alone to do whatever they want. Being free means working together with others collaboratively and creatively, each contributing uniquely to the larger whole.
Chodesh Nisan is a month of collaboration and community.
Thank you for joining us on this journey.