Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Va'yelech 74 Hakhel - Learning that touches the heart and soul

The Parasha-Portion of Va'yeileich - Devarim- Deut. 31:10-13 deals with the mitzvah of ' Hakhel where the king read passages from the Torah in the presence of the whole nation. All the men, women, and children - including infants had to attend the event. It was a re-enactment of giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It took place in the temple in Jerusalem after the Sabbatical year during the festival of Succoth, once in 7 years. The Shmittah -Sabbatical year and Succoth allude to God's divine protection and providence, and Israel's faith and loyalty to their God.

 The Talmud – Cha'giga 3, asks why the ' infants-  ha'taf ' had to attend? Two answers are given. Even if these infants   do not benefit directly from the ' hakhel experience', their parents and especially their mothers are credited for bringing them. The underlying reason is - by bringing their infants and making sure every person would be present at this event, they show an appreciation of the importance and centrality of the Torah for the Jewish nation and for future generations.  The Talmud – Masechet Sofrim adds the following reason - there is in fact a benefit and intrinsic reward for the infants themselves from the Hakhel experience. People would according to their intellectual levels and obligations, either engage in studying the words of the Torah, or just listen to the reading of the king, but all would be emotionally moved by the ' Hakhel ' experience which would make them more appreciative of the wonder and awe of God, to love God ,his law and be more committed to God and his Torah. 
 The hakhel experience also supports cooperative learning and 'ahavat yisrael ' the  emotional connection between people .

An emotional connection to learning leads to better cognition and  a deeper understanding.The Malbim explains that the toddlers and infants will be affected emotionally in a bigger way than the adults by the incredible atmosphere of fear and love for God and awesome sight of millions of Jews standing united for hours for the sole purpose of hearing the lessons that the king is reading from the Torah. Their lack of intellectual understanding allows the imagination to make an indelible impression of what they see and experience. This experience is intrinsically valuable as it will contribute to the love and fear of God when they become obligated to do the mitzvoth.

The purpose of the Hakhel experience is to move people emotionally, so that their learning experience will touch their hearts and souls and motivate them to higher levels of love and fear of God. The big events such as the festivals do the same thing and give us an ' emotional lift' out of our routine existence. But our aim should be that all our learning and experiences should touch our hearts and souls. 

When it comes to our kids' education, people are becoming aware of the importance of social-emotional learning to help kids regulate their emotions and improve their social skills, but no attention is being paid to something equally important – that a kid's learning should touch their hearts and souls. The reason that this does not happen is that learning is driven by extrinsic motivators like grades and competition. Kids, parents and teachers focus on how well kids are doing, and any emotional input is put into the ' good job' praises or expressions of disappointment. Instead success or failure should be experienced only as information. This allows parents and teachers  help kids  to focus on what there are doing and learning  , making meaning of what they are doing, sharing their  learning and learning from others ,  and ' connecting to  ' the learning so that the learning  touches their hearts and souls. Instead the emotional connection is not with the learning but with the grade or position in the classroom rankings. 

It was previously understood that emotions interfere with learning. The author and researcher Mary Helen Immordino-Yang says that emotions are important and integral  to children's learning. They form a critical piece of how, what, when, and why people think, remember, and learn. Emotion and cognition are supported by interdependent neural processes. Emotions are not add-ons that are distinct from cognitive skills Complex emotional feelings, such as interest, inspiration, indignation, and compassion, are active mental constructions. We only think deeply about things we care about. deep understanding depends on making emotional connections between concepts. Emotions are triggered by the meaning kids make of their learning , and in turn emotions like interest, excitement , curiosity , feeling of connection with the learning or a sense of awe in beholding beauty, become a dimension of the cognitive  skill itself leads to better cognition and understanding. Interest can precipitate a lifetime commitment to studying a topic, that kids have such trouble applying themselves when they don’t know why they would ever use a skill outside of class, and that offering kids candy will make them like coming to class but will not help them learn to appreciate mathematical thinking.

 Curriculum should be based on kids' interests and what is relevant and meaningful to their lives. They should be expressing their opinions and perspectives in the context of a caring, cooperative learning community and not just giving the answers that teachers want. In this way they will develop deeper understanding ,a connection and  love for learning, act on newly acquired knowledge in other areas as well and show a commitment to the values underlying their learning. They should be hearing stories of real people whose lives give expression to lessons learned and they should also tell their own stories and share their own experiences. The Mitzvah of ' Hakhel' comes to remind us to open our hearts to our learning, and that all learning and experiences can and should touch our hearts and souls and those of our children and students, support the emotional connection between learners themselves and the emotional connetion with God  and lead to deeper understanding.

1 comment:

  1. Yes!! Please join our Twitter hashtag #jschat so you can connect with like minded Jewish educators.