These are the remarks I delivered to our graduating students and their families at this morning’s Jewish Baccalaureate Ceremony.

I have found myself coming back to the writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch of late. Rabbi Hirsch lived 150 years ago in Frankfurt, Germany, and his cultural landscape bore some striking similarities to our own. In the previous century, Jews had left the ghettos of western Europe and become citizens of France, England, and Germany, as the liberalizing forces of the Enlightenment ran their course. They entered into society, becoming businessmen, lawyers, doctors, and even a prime minister of Britain.

Educational institutions opened to Jews during this time. And thus the question of how Jews should educate themselves was opened as well. Should Jews be part of Christian schools, or the emerging secular state schools? Should they maintain their own school systems? If so, what should the content of their education be?

At the root of these questions was a deeper, bigger question, about what it meant to be a Jew in the modern world. Our vision of our ideal citizen is always at the core of our educational endeavors, and so the question of Jewish education was really the question of Jewish identity itself, as it always is.

So much has changed, and yet so little has changed, in these last 150 years. Already in the 1860s Rabbi Hirsch could note that people’s lives had become divided: between public and private, work and home, secular and religious. Already in the 1860s Hirsch and others could sense that knowledge itself was becoming fragmented, as more and more became known about the world, as disciplines and sub-disciplines and specialties arose. As the world became dis-integrated, our selves became dis-integrated too.

So much has changed, and yet so little has changed. Ein chadash tachat hashemesh, There is nothing new under the sun, says Kohelet. If anything, the pace and dimesions of the disintegration of our world and our selves has increased by orders of magnitude. Today it is not only possible to be on two continents in the same day; it is possible to be on the other continent and have a video chat with another person across yet another ocean. We talk of inhabiting multiple selves, multiple identities, multiple truths.

And yet we still hunger for wholeness. We still yearn for integrity. Our souls, it seems, cannot go on without trying to make sense of it all.

Samson Raphael Hirsch’s educational motto was taken from Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of Our Sages. It was simple: Talmud Torah im Derekh Eretz, the worldview of Torah with the way of the world. What did he mean? As elaborated in his educational writings, Rabbi Hirsch envisioned Jews participating fully in the many sectors of society—law, politics, economics, education, medicine, science, and so on. That was the derekh eretz half of the motto, the way of the world.

Bound up with that, inseparable from it, is Talmud Torah, which literally means the study of Torah, but more broadly means the worldview of Torah and the language of Jewish tradition. That language—of symbols, practices, texts and ideas—becomes the way we think about the world, the way we make sense of it, the way we integrate it and weave it into a whole. And of course that action, of weaving and making whole, makes us whole at the same time. Torah—Jewish tradition and ideas in their most expansive sense—is the basis of our integration, and the basis of our integrity.

As you prepare to leave this place, as you reflect back on your education and look forward to a life of fulfillment and promise, this is my blessing for you: integrity, what we might call temimut in Hebrew. It’s not about balance—you’ll never really be able to balance, to keep things separate and to compartmentalize. It’s about integrity, the ability to be whole, the ability to integrate, the ability to be at home in the world.

And so I bless you with a sense of integrity, with the courage to walk with integrity, with the energy and commitment to work on the habits of integrity, and with mentors and communities who will help you develop them.

Thank you for these last four years and for the privilege of teaching you. We will be here for you long into the future, and we can’t wait to see the integrity you bring to your lives and ours.

Mazal tov.

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