On Thursday, September 22, Akiva School participated in World Character Day, joining organizations in over 121 countries in dedicating this day to talk about character and what kind of person each of us wants to be. According to the website – http://www.letitripple.org/character-day/ – over 88000 events were held on this day worldwide.
In our school, the children starting talking about different character traits and values that make up a mensch about two weeks ago, and they created hashtags that expressed what these traits looked like or meant to them. On Thursday, we had an assembly for the whole school where we shared the hashtags and put these values into a big bucket so that together we created what an Akiva mensch looks like.
In this week’s parashah – Ki Tavo – Moses sets out a list of curses that will befall upon the Israelites if they do not obey God’s commandments, and a series of blessing from which they will benefit should they live according to God’s directives. The introductory verse to the blessings is:
It will be that if you diligently listen to the voice of the Lord, your God, to keep, to perform all of His commandments that I command you this day, then the Lord your God will make you supreme over all the nations of the world.
In the Hebrew, the word diligently is understood from the doubling of the verb “to listen” – shamoa tishma’u. Why does the text use this doubling of the verb? It is usually understood as we should not just listen to God, but really listen. In contrast, the opening verse to the curses says:
And it will be that if you do not listen to the voice of the Lord your God to keep, to perform all His commandments and all His decrees that I command you today, then all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.
In this verse, there is no doubling of the verb “to listen.” It is a simple conditional statement – if you don’t listen, these are the consequences.
Many commentators asked what we are meant to learn from the difference in style between the introduction of the curses and the blessings.
The rabbis of the Talmud and Rashi explained that from the doubling of the verb we learn that if we abide by God’s commandments, then we will continue to abide by them. In other words, the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah itself, and the more we do, the more we will want to do.
Kindness breeds more kindness. Gratitude brings more gratitude. The more you practice being mindful the more mindful you will be. And this applies to every character trait we explored today as we built our Akiva mensch: Gratitude, Bravery, Community-minded, Confidence, Cooperation, Empathy, Honesty, Leadership, Compassion, Loyalty, Mindfulness, Humility, Patience, Problem-Solving and Responsibility.
Each of us has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to every one of these values and traits, but the more we focus on our strengths, the more we practice them and build on them, the stronger each individual will be and the stronger the people in our world will be as well.
I leave you with a short clip we showed to the children from the World Character Day video – The Science of Character.
“So if you can be a better version of yourself, how do you want to be?”