The Observant Jew: Straight A’s


By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz

The editor of one of the magazines that publishes my articles asked me for a “Back to School” theme. I thought about it and was hard-pressed to come up with anything. I’m not going to write a humorous perspective about the difficulties of finding all the items teachers dream up that the kids will never use, nor about the tumult of running to ten different stores to save a nickel on #2 pencils, or how all the mothers do a happy dance on the first day of school when they can finally reclaim some peace and quiet and maybe get around to doing two months of cleaning that didn’t happen when they had the kids on their heads.
That’s not my style, and I’ve got readers who may not have kids going back to school. I was drawing a blank until I saw a Dvar Torah written by Rabbi Dovid Lewin of Ramat Beit Shemesh in his weekly sheet “Yesodos m’Hasedra,” [You can sign up through]
It quoted a famous question from R’ Yitzchak Blazer z”l. If on Rosh HaShana the righteous are instantly sealed for good while the wicked are instantly sealed for bad and the ten days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are just for the people with the same amount of mitzvos and sins, [called a “bainoni,” or in-between person], why do we need to repent? Let’s just do a few more mitzvos, tip the scales in the right direction and move on!
The answer floored me. Rabbi Lewin suggested the following: The bainoni’s problem is not that he had the same amount of mitzvos and aveiros. If that were the case then perhaps doing a few more mitzvos would suffice. The bainoni is faulted, though, for allowing himself to enter Rosh HaShana as a middling fellow. How could he have approached Rosh HaShana without scrambling for a few more mitzvos, more time guarding his tongue, and making efforts to be a tzaddik? For THAT, one must do Teshuva. And that’s when I got the inspiration for my “Back to School” topic.
Before a new school year, we go out and buy clothes, knapsacks, pencils, paper and notebooks galore. Why? So our child is prepared for the year ahead, ready to do well, study hard, and get good grades. We want straight A’s, or as close to that as possible, and we want to give our children the tools they need to succeed.
I doubt anyone would ever decide, “I’m not getting school supplies this year; let my son use a shopping bag to carry his things.” We don’t figure they can use just pens that we swipe from banks or write notes on pads we get from hotel rooms we’ve visited. You don’t hear people say, “I’m hoping my daughter doesn’t take school too seriously and only picks up about half of what the Morah says.”
That’s because we realize that education is important, that we WANT our children to learn, and we WANT them to be excited about the opportunities they have.
Not coincidentally, right around the time we’re doing all this preparation for them to be successful students comes Elul, when we are supposed to be preparing ourselves to be successful Jews. We should be prepared for the New Year just as we prepare for the new year.
Back to School isn’t a crazy tumultuous affair for naught. Perhaps HaShem rigged it to be a clarion call for those of us who didn’t quite get the message of the Shofar that we need to be ready to start the new year on the right foot. Nobody thinks they can start the school year and then pick up supplies over the next week or two. OK, maybe some people do, but I’m guessing the school Social Worker will have a particular interest in their children.
Just as you wouldn’t send your child to school without pencils, paper, or their school uniform, you shouldn’t enter the new year on Rosh HaShana without at least trying to start out as a tzaddik. Some parents start shopping for school supplies in August, while others have been shopping since January. It’s the same here. Don’t wait until the last minute to get ready. Start as early as you can, and aim for success.
You wish people, “Good Morning,” not, as a slightly-jaded teen might wish someone, “Boker Mediocre.” You want to have a great day, not one with equal parts of happiness and aggravation.
Maybe that’s the lesson we can share in preparation for the Yemei HaDin. Go for the gold, aim to be a tzaddik from day one, and don’t wait until later. Go back to school and see what you can pick up to help yourself get not just a passing score, but straight A’s, on the biggest exam day of the year.


Jonathan Gewirtz is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications around the world. He also operates, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion.For more information, or to sign up for the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF Dvar Torah in English, e-mail and put Publication Sponsorship or Subscribe in the subject.
© 2013 by Jonathan Gewirtz. All rights reserved.

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