The month of Tishrei, the first month of the Jewish year, was a busy one at The Toronto Heschel School. This was a month of celebration and joy, at home, in the synagogue, and of course, at school. There is a pasuk from the Torah which we read at the conclusion of the holiday that best depicts the idea of celebration and joy at this time of the year. The verse is specifically referring to Sukkot, but I believe it applies to the entire month of Tishrei.

וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֖ בְּחַגֶּ֑ךָ…וְהָיִ֖יתָ אַ֥ךְ שָׂמֵֽחַ

“VeSamachta BeChagecha… VeHayita Ach Sameach!”

“You shall rejoice in your festival…and you shall have nothing but joy!”

Deuteronomy 16:14-15

In commenting on this verse, Rashi explains, “According to its plain sense, this is not the expression of a command, but it expresses an assurance: ‘you will be rejoicing.’”  In other words, we are not “commanded” in the month of Tishrei to rejoice, but it does set up an expectation – “you WILL be rejoicing.”

We all need time to celebrate, rejoice, and be happy. Our tradition is replete with these opportunities. Be it Purim, Hanukkah or Pesach, we have many opportunities to celebrate, rejoice, and be happy throughout the year. Each Shabbat, we come together with family, friends, and community not only to stop, rest, and reflect, but also to celebrate. The holidays throughout the month of Tishrei most definitely fall into the category of rejoicing and happiness.

Over the past few years, I have been studying the work of Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, and his theories of happiness and well-being. In brief, Positive Psychology is “the scientific study of the factors that enable individuals and communities to flourish.” Dr. Seligman asks the question: “What is human flourishing and what enables it?” His theory of well-being is an attempt to answer these fundamental questions. There are five building blocks that enable flourishing – Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment – and there are techniques to increase each. This is true for communities as well as for individuals. I would argue that one of the factors that has led to the resiliency of the Jewish people throughout the ages has been our expectation to celebrate, even amidst the darkness. As the Torah teaches us, you WILL be rejoicing!

As I reflect back on the month of Tishrei that has just come to a close, I can’t help but think about the joy and celebration I saw at the Toronto Heschel School throughout the entire month. This joy and celebration manifested itself in many ways. There was joy in welcoming our happy, smiling children into school each and every morning. There was happiness in watching our nurturing teachers interact with their students. There were the festive moments of students celebrating the holiday of Sukkot by visiting the Sukkah, and using the Lulav and Etrog. There were the joyful sounds of children in Tefillah. There were the delightful celebrations of our students coming together for Shabbat as a community. There were the celebrations of community among parents as they gathered in grade groups to share and bond. These are but a few of the many ways in which the month of Tishrei was joyous and celebrated at the Toronto Heschel School.

I hope that your month of Tishrei has been as meaningful as ours at the Toronto Heschel School, complete with joy and celebration! May we continue to build on this positive and hopeful path, and may our school continue to grow from strength to greater strength!

Moreh Alan