The Mitzvah Tree that is painted in the main hallway of the school is symbolic of many of the Judaic and educational goals of The Toronto Heschel School. As a tree, it reminds us that all living things grow, change, and develop. In prayer, the Torah is likened to a ‘tree of life’ (‘eitz chaim hi’) where all of its branches lead to peace. It also shows us that learning is growing, and every moment of our lives we are growing, changing, and developing. We are lifetime learners.
The tree gets its name from its leaves. It is a Mitzvah Tree because each leaf has inscribed on it a particular mitzvah that a student at Heschel observed someone else performing. It is important that the children not report on themselves but rather on mitzvot they have observed others fulfilling. This is to broaden the perspective of the child beyond the self. In that way the children become more aware of their surroundings and more analytical of the deeds they observe every day.
Each week, students are guided by the Middat Hashavuah. The Middah is a phrase derived from the weekly Torah portion. This Torah phrase is paired with an ethical or social-emotional instruction to guide student behaviour for the week (and every week). Teachers and students make note of the middah every morning, singing the trope and discussing ways to implement its instructions. On Fridays, during Kabbalat Shabbat, students are asked to reflect on ways they practiced the Middah. They are then encouraged to look beyond themselves and to observe classmates. They then recognize a way that a classmate fulfilled the Middah this week. The final step is for the students to create their leaf and pin it up on the tree.