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Danger! Inspiration!

How do you begin a new academic year after such a difficult summer? And what is the role of education during and after a war?

In last Friday’s edition of Haaretz, I read Or Kashti’s article on the start of the academic year. Kashti wrote:

As each new academic year approaches, the education system’s wrinkles disappear. This time of year is a cause for celebration, and especially after this summer’s events, Education Minister Shay Piron will do his best to sell us change, renewal and elevated spirits [in Hebrew, hitromemut ruah].

I asked myself: Elevated spirits? Celebration? Is this how to transition from a tough summer to a new academic year? The idea was jarring. I pulled out my Even-Shoshan dictionary to find the definition of “elevated spirits,” but the phrase wasn’t listed. I found an entry “soaring mood [hitromemut nefesh],” defined as: “high spirits, a festive and uplifted mood.” Once again: celebration. It still sounded grating…

Perhaps Kashti meant “inspiration [hashra'ah]?” Perhaps the role of education in difficult times is to inspire? I went back to the dictionary and found three definitions for the word “inspiration.”

According to Even-Shoshan, the first definition of the word “inspiration” is to house the divine spirit, a divine uplifting of the spirits. The second definition is intuition, internal illumination. So, right off the bat, we have both external illumination and internal illumination and things are getting interesting. The third definition is related to physics and it is the Hebrew translation of the English word, “induction.” This third definition appears on the Hebrew Language Academy’s web site as follows: “The impact of change in one field on another field. For example, electromagnetic induction, where a shift in the magnetic flow causes a change in the electrical field, and this creates voltage.”

“Changes in one field on another field, which create voltage” is a good description of the kind of inspiration that an educational institution should strive for, especially after a rough summer. We should work to inspire changes in the educational field that cause broader changes in the social field.

But the conclusion of the definition is also important: “and this creates voltage.” Meetings between fields create voltage. Especially now, I encourage us to handle this voltage cautiously. Let us choose our words carefully and let us take into account our colleagues’ sensitivities. But at the same time, let us not recoil from the encounter. Let us maintain the voltage and be changed by it. But let us also handle it, and each other, with care.

In this spirit, I would like to conclude with the prayer that Rabbi Nehunya ben Hakana would recite every day as he entered and left the beit midrash (see Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 28b):

May it be your will … that no offence occur through me; may I not err in a matter of law and may my colleagues rejoice in me; may I not declare unclean clean or clean unclean and may my colleagues not err in a matter of law and may I rejoice in them.

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