January 27, 2017                    Parashat Va'Era                 29 Tevet, 5777 
In This Issue
D'var Torah
Thoughts of the Rav
Student Perception Surveys
Sixth-Grade Trip
Seventh-Grade Hebrew
After-School Program
Middle School Lit Mag
Absence Notifications
Division Newsletters
Online Photo Galleries

Quick Links
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Dear Middle School Families,   

It's been a great week in the Middle School, with students from all grades attending presentations about puberty on Thursday. The programs were very valuable, and helped the students gain a greater understanding of their growth.

Please read on for a d'var Torah from Rabbi Dov Huff, a thought from the works of Rav Soloveitchik, and some highlights from the week.
Shabbat Shalom!  

Brian Cohen
Associate Principal, Middle School        

D'var Torah

by Rabbi Dov Huff

I was privileged to hear Rabbi Goldman speak to his Talmud class about striving to be like Moshe Rabbeinu. He told them how the Torah intentionally introduces Moshe's parents as "a man from the house of Levi" and "a daughter of Levi" to show us that anyone can produce a Moshe Rabbeinu. Rabbi Goldman challenged our students to believe in themselves and in their potential.
This sentiment is echoed in a piece by Rav Hirsch on a striking tangent in this week's parsha. After Moshe and Aharon's first encounter with Pharoah, as we prepare to watch them perform the spectacular miracles of Hashem, the Torah suddenly interrupts the narrative with a recounting of their geneology. Rav Hirsch explains that it is human nature to attribute superhuman qualities to those whom we see performing spectacular feats. The Torah therefore wants to emphasize that Moshe and Aharon "were subject to all failings and weaknesses, to all the limits and requirements of human beings..." They had parents, cousins, uncles, and aunts. They were not born into these prominent roles, but into a family, and they reached their tremendous heights through great effort and determination.
This lesson from Moshe Rabbeinu, as framed by Rav Hirsch and by Rabbi Goldman to his students, is one that we also find in current educational theory. The keys to achievement are effort and effective strategies. You are not born a Moshe Rabbeinu; you have  to become one.
Rav Moshe Lichtenstein in his "Tsir VaTzon" points out that the geneology starts with the children of Reuven, then continues with the children of Shimon, and ends with Moshe and Aharon, the children of Levi. Rav Moshe sees this as Hashem's search for a leader. Hashem wanted someone to step up. No one was born for the part of extracting the Jews from Mitzrayim - someone had to take initiative and make it happen. And as He went down the list, nobody came forward, until it came to the children of Levi. This interpretation, while different than Rav Hirsch's, delivers the same message - it is not what you are born with, but what you choose to do, that makes you a leader.  
This message is also liberating, in a way. We all have the potential, through hard work, to develop ourselves and reach our goals. At the same time, those goals which we do not achieve are not due to an inherent flaw. I am not a failure if I do not start on the basketball team, or if I do not get a 100 on my test. I will not label myself as inadequate. Instead, I will think about spending more time working on my shot or adjusting my study habits. I can choose where to focus my efforts and where not to.
Tom Brady, the GOAT (greatest of all time), was not good in high school and no team wanted him in the draft because he was too slow. The Patriots took him 199th because he was the best of bad options. He could have given up, labeling himself as a failure and an inherently poor football player, or he could commit his life to being the best. We have to help our students to believe in themselves - to not judge their self-worth by the grades they get or the teams they make. Instead they must see in themselves the ability to be the next Moshe Rabbeinu, Aharon Hakohen, or Miriam Hanevia - the ones who stepped up.
Questions for the Shabbos table:
1. What was your takeaway from the d'var Torah this morning?
2. What do you want to achieve?
3. How will you get there?
Thoughts of the Rav

by Rabbi Dov Huff

In the next two parshiyot we read about the hardening (vayachbed) and strengthening (vayechezak) of Pharoah's heart. The Rav explains that these verbs are describing degrees of sensitivity. When the Torah says "kaved lev Pharoah" it means that Pharoah had no conscience or sense of morality. The Rav supports this with a pasuk from Yechezkel - "and I will remove the heart of stone from you and I will give you a heart of flesh" - a hardened heart is an inhuman one. 
On the other hand, when the Torah says "vaYechezak lev Pharoah" it means that Pharoah's heart was strong. It had the capacity for sensitivity. In these moments he was fully aware of what he was doing, but was resisting "the onslaught of the moral challenge." The slavery was a calculated economic decision, at the cost of doing the right thing, and Pharoah knew it. 
For this reason, the Rav says, we see Pharoah oscillating between sentiments like "you (the Jews) are being lazy" - an entirely ethically vacant heart - and "Hashem is righteous and I and my nation are the wicked ones" - a morally aware heart which he is choosing to resist. And it is in this resistance that Pharoah has his bechira, his free will, but he fails to make the right and ethical choice.
Student Perception Surveys

by Scott Mattoon

Starting this week we were pleased to launch the first wave of a new online Student Perception Survey to grades 6-12.  After creating the instrument in collaboration with department chairs and teachers, we administered this survey as a way to learn more about what students are experiencing in some of their classes.  The surveys pose questions that span all disciplines, and also some that are specific to each discipline.

Before the first surveys began, we met with students to discuss the survey's intention and the importance of the process  -  most notably that we respect their perspective, and so they should respect the survey by offering their most thoughtful and sincere responses.  Their teachers are, to be sure, the academic and pedagogical experts in their learning process; but only the students have firsthand experience in that learning process that is an essential complement to the learning relationship between teacher and student.  Knowing what they perceive about their experiences is vital to our broader efforts to connect our lessons to them in effective ways.  Our teachers, as a natural part of their ongoing professional practice, will engage in thoughtful reflection on the survey results as they consider their approach to their classes in the remainder of the year.

We value the excellence among our faculty; it takes trained and nimble intellects, instinctive and compassionate hearts, and open minds for our faculty to be successful at Maimonides.  Through this survey, and our iterative reflection process, we also value understanding the student experience as a key to leveraging all that our faculty have to offer. 

Sixth-Grade Field Trip

by Katie Smith

On Tuesday the sixth grade visited the Christa McAuliffe Center at Framingham State University! It was a fun-filled day. The students had an opportunity to visit a 30-foot-high planetarium and take a look at the night sky and  constellations. Afterward, they watched two shows based on the composition of planets and the work of NASA's engineers.

The other half of the day was spent in the simulation center, participating in a Mars voyage. The students wore astronaut vests, completed jobs and tasks, and worked together to complete the two missions assigned. 


Seventh-Grade Hebrew
by Dana Bar-Or

Hebrew 7a has been using its Hebrew skills to read up on science! They read an article about how brains can focus on two activities at once if, and only if, they use different parts of the brain. They then discussed the article and created experiments testing the study's findings. Is it possible to jump and sing at the same time? How about type and sing?


by Dr. Mor-li Hartman

A few weeks ago, Hebrew 7b started using book 2 of Bishvil HaIvrit (For the Sake of Hebrew). We've been learning about life in Tel Aviv, a city by the sea with major centers of entertainment, culture, and art. Currently we are working on using  יכול (can) in four different forms, as well as with its infinitive. Soon we will have a class discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of life in a big city, and about the ecological problems cities can have.

This week and next week, the students are finishing their final project from our previous unit, The Family, in the first Bishvil HaIvrit book.

by Barak Cerf

Hebrew 7c has just started the sixth unit in the first Neta book. This unit, יום-יום ועוד יום, is all about our daily schedules.

In this unit, we will learn how to: 
  • Describe good days and not-so-good days during the week, discussing which day is our favorite and why
  • Compare weekends in Israel to weekends in the U.S.
  • Plan, discuss, and review a birthday party
  • Write thank-you notes
  • Read the first perek of Bereishit and talk about what happened on each day of creation
Maimonides School Activities Program

The after-school MSAP (Maimonides School Activities Program)
Fall into Winter semester ends the week of February 6 (with Tuesday programs ending next week, on January 31).

The brochure for our Winter into Spring semester was sent home in your child's backpack. Registration closes on February 9; Early Bird registration closes next Thursday, February 2. Many courses have limits on their numbers, so hurry and send in your registration!

Please contact Dr. Deborah Mehl, dmehl@maimonides.org, if you have any questions.

Lit Mag Submissions Now Open!
Your Magazine, our Middle School showcase of students' artwork and writing, is now accepting submissions for its annual publication! Please encourage your child to submit his or her favorite creative work to the Middle School office.

Absences and Tardy Notifications

We wish that none of our students ever felt ill -- we'd love to have 100% attendance every day -- but we know that germs don't always listen to our desires!

However, we do need to know where our students are.

If your child needs to miss a day of school,

or will be tardy or leave early, please be certain to inform Sharona Vedol in the Middle School office

by email: svedol@maimonides.org

Please remember:

We are not using the absence hotline this year!

All absence notifications must come in via email. 

We ask that you e-mail the office for safety reasons -- it allows for far more efficient accounting of student absences.

Division Newsletters

Lots of wonderful things are happening at Maimonides School!

If you'd like to take a peek at the other divisions' newsletters, please click here.

If you would like to contact a specific school office, please use these emails:

On behalf of the entire Middle School:

Shabbat Shalom!


Brian Cohen



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