by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
In Australia today it is the last day of the school year. During the school term children spend most of their waking hours in school under the care of a wonderful group of people we call teachers. These great individuals are probably the most underpaid and underappreciated group of people around. As a parent of a few of school age children I reflected on this last year and thought of a biblical model that would probably best describe the teaching experience.
In Temple times there was a little room called the "holy of holies". This was the most sacred location of the temple and no one had permission to enter with one exception. On the holy day of Yom Kippur the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) entered this little room for a few minutes to offer up some incense. When he did this he generated a beautiful fragrance and cloud of smoke symbolic of the Divine presence.
There were a few rules associated with this experience.
a) The high priest would take an oath before Yom Kippur declaring his commitment to carry out his duties faithfully.
b) When these special moments arrived no one entered with him. It was only him and G-d alone together.
c) The incense that he offered up was a combination of eleven spices ground together. But amazingly they weren't all sweet smelling. One of these spices actually generated a foul odour. Yet it too had to be included in the concoction. Leaving out any of these ingredients was considered a serious transgression.
This whole process reminds me of the teaching profession. Every teacher is like the Kohen Gadol doing sacred work. Nothing compares to the privilege and the responsibility of educating young pure children. A teacher who kindles the flame of a young soul is like a Kohen Gadol entering the holiest of places generating purity and sweetness.
But like the high priest there are a number of things for the teacher to remember.
a) Education is a tremendous commitment. The dedication of a teacher can never be underestimated. The decision to teach is a commitment to embark on a journey that will be unbelievably rewarding but very challenging at the same time.
b) The teacher is alone. Apart from the occasional pat on the back from parents, school principals and boards none of us really appreciate what goes into your amazing work. No one is there in the classroom to witness the care, the effort and the enthusiasm that you generate. Like the Kohen Gadol only G-d alone observes and really appreciates the miracles you perform every day.
c) The sacredness of teaching lies in the combination of spices. A successful classroom is not one that is made up only of naturally talented, bright and cooperative students. Every classroom will also include those students that are less talented and more challenging. The true Kohen Gadol is the teacher who can ensure that every student, sweet smelling or not, becomes part of the sacred concoction.
So as a parent myself and on behalf of all the parents out there the least we can do is to say - Thank you. Thank you for another great year of hard work, effort, care and dedication. May your efforts be rewarded with happiness and success.
Have a great summer and a well-deserved break.