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Pause for Reflection

This week we begin the book of Leviticus, or in Hebrew, Vayikra. The literal translation of Vayikra is "And He called," which refers to God's call to Moses at the start of the first verse of the book. Rashi comments at length on this word, noting that each time God spoke to Moses, He preceded His speech with a call, as a mark of respect and affection.

The Torah includes not only sentences and paragraphs but also breaks between the paragraphs. Rashi uses this fact to make an important point about learning that has special relevance for the kinds of learning that take place in in-service programs. Rashi wrote:

One might think that the breaks too were preceded by a call. Scripture, therefore, states, 'and [the Lord] spoke [to him],' denoting that only for speech was there a call, but not for the breaks. Now, if each break in the Torah does not represent a new call from God to Moses, then what is the purpose of these breaks? To give Moses space to contemplate between one passage and the next, and between one subject and another. And if this pause for contemplation was given to the great Moses when being taught by God, then how much more necessary is it for an ordinary person learning from another ordinary person."

Learning in general, and in-service learning in particular, are a kind of threshold - a doorway or liminal space between where you were before and where you will be next. It is a place where you are given space and time to pause and reflect about what matters most and to plan your next steps. But even under these optimal conditions, it is easy to become overwhelmed - not by workload as in one's regular routine, but by the mental and emotional load of tough questions and new ideas.

In the spirit of Rashi's insight, I encourage designers of in-service programs to build pauses within the larger pause that is the program, for reflection and contemplation.

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