Lifnai Vlifnim Brings a “Ruach Chadasha” to My Teaching and to Our School

Written by:
Rick Schindelheim
Access editable doc with student handouts:
heart of torah

What do we really want for our students? Of course we want them to know the profound and holy texts we teach. On a higher level, we hope that learning these texts will result in behavioral changes (i.e. improved middot, more consistent and meticulous observance of halacha). But even behavioral change is not our loftiest aspiration. Our true mission is to engage in avodat Hashem - and to help our students do so - בכל לבבנו ובכל נפשינו. Knowing and doing are certainly prerequisites. But they are not enough. רחמנא ליבא בעי. 

In describing the return of Am Yisrael to Hashem and to our land, the Navi tells us: 

וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ, וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם; וַהֲסִרֹתִי אֶת-לֵב הָאֶבֶן, מִבְּשַׂרְכֶם, וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם, לֵב בָּשָׂר. וְאֶת-רוּחִי, אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם… (יחזקאל לו:כו-כז)

In order to make room for the רוח השם we must exchange our heart of stone for a heart of flesh. Of course, we can learn Torah even with a dry and hardened לב של אבן but that Torah will remain only “על לבבך.” How do we develop a לב בשר which enables the Torah to become “בלבבך?” This, I believe, is the potential of Laflaf. When we build a strong sense of belonging, practice slowing down and looking deeply into ourselves, into our students and into our learning we begin to create the conditions necessary for replacing the לב האבן with a לב בשר. This לב חדש is what enables our Torah learning to penetrate our souls, inspire us and elevate us towards a greater closeness with הקב”ה. 

One example of this kind of learning took place in my senior boys Chumash class at the beginning of last year. We were learning about the עץ הדעת and the notion that awareness of our mortality, painful as it is, can motivate us to make the most of the limited time we have. After studying the psukim and mefarshim, I asked students to spend a few minutes quietly writing a response to the following prompt:

When considering the fact that you will not be alive forever, what does that make you think about? What are some things that you want to make sure that you accomplish, experience, give etc., before your time is over? (Consider contributions you might make to the world as well as relationships you currently have - parents, siblings, friends - what do you want to make sure they know before it’s too late?)  

I then gave students the option to share their writing with the class. There were several highly thoughtful and meaningful responses, but one student’s response stands out. Part of what he shared with his peers was “...and I want Hashem to be proud of me.” Knowing the student, I was shocked that he’d write such a thing and even more so that he'd be willing to speak those words in front of his classmates and me. This was a student who was less than cooperative about Tefillin, Tefilah, etc. over the years. Publicly uttering the words, “I want Hashem to be proud of me” when he could have easily sat quietly was far beyond what I had expected. I wish I could say that from that day forward this student davened, learned and behaved like making Hashem proud was his priority. He did not. But this experience and many others like it have convinced me that over time, this type of learning has the power to turn a לב האבן to a לב בשר.

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Please help others by sharing how you used the resource, how you adapted it (link to your own version!) and what worked more or less well. You can also post questions that Lifnai Vlifnim staff or community members will try to respond to.

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