Rabbi Moshe Stern, who has been teaching for fifteen years (the last twelve in Montreal) is the grade four teacher in Montreal’s Lubavitch Yeshiva. He is soft-spoken, caring and has a great imagination coupled with vision. He also sees the potential of his young students, each in their own, unique way.
Grade four boys are between nine and ten years old, energetic and active. Rabbi Stern has taken this energy and positively channeled it, giving his young charges both a positive sense of self and a greater understanding of what it means to live and work with others.
In grade four the boys are taught the following Torah Portions: Vayigash, Vayechi, Shemot, Vaera and part of Bo. After learning the stories of each portion during the year, the boys are given the opportunity to literally bring them to life. Toward the end of the year, with the help and guidance of Rabbi Stern, they re-create parts of each Torah portion using a myriad of props. The end result is an unbelievable three-dimensional model of stories of the Chumash. Even more importantly, they know the stories not only through a book, but in a very practical way.
Bringing the Torah to Life
The students are involved in all the decisions of the project. For example, they are asked how they would like to lay it out – via the storyline or geographically. Because this year’s students chose the latter, they clearly understood the geography of the area.
They took the stories of: The Jews going into Egypt, living under Joseph’s rule, receiving blessings from Jacob, how they were enslaved in Egypt, the ten plagues and finally leaving Egypt, depicting them realistically in their project.
Rabbi Stern purchases the materials necessary and leaves it up to the students to decide, as a group, how to begin, which leads to working together as a unit and using each friend’s strengths. Some children are more ‘artsy’, others veer more toward construction. It is the children themselves who decide who completes each task.
Beginning right after Passover, once a week for an hour they slowly and painstakingly put the pieces together. They must work with a partner which teaches them clearly what it means to work in a team. They learn that every person counts and each has their own individual strength.
At the outset the boys could not envision the finished project, but it slowly evolved as they built houses, the palace, the Nile, finished the people, animals and other elements. Daily they watched as it began to take shape. As each piece was completed it was placed on the windowsill of their classroom, awaiting the day when it would all come together.
It takes three days for the setup. Rabbi Stern is given a room right next to his class. He covers four tables with oak tag, each piece cut to represent the different parts of the display: Israel, the Nile, the palace, etc.
The boys work diligently to create their masterpiece – and it truly is a masterpiece – as depicted by the picture. Slowly and methodically they transfer the parts of the puzzle from their class to the table. Under Rabbi Stern’s watchful eye, they carefully place every person, house, chair, animal, boat, plague, etc. and watch their creation come to life.
Once it is finished, there is a three-day viewing period. Parents, grandparents, classes from both Beth Rivkah and Yeshiva are invited to ‘ooh and aah,’ and they do. Every child proudly shines as they watch the people react.
Aside from the pride they take in their work, these young boys learn a very valuable life lesson, taught by the Lubavitcher Rebbe and brought to life by their teacher: Our differences are as valuable to our Creator as our similarities.