Last week, I read an article in the November issue Exodus Magazine by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,ע״ה, that I wanted to apply to my educational messages. The article sat on my kitchen table for over a week, waiting for me to decide where to use it. After Shabbos, when we got the saddest news that Rabbi Sacks was נפטר, I knew I had to use it immediately.
The article, The Infinite Game, is based on a book by Simon Sinek, which defines two broad categories of games: finite and infinite. Finite games have a beginning and an end; they have rules, boundaries, winners, and losers. These games are present in sports, politics, and even businesses. Infinite games, on the other hand, are enterprises with no winners or losers, no rules or boundaries. Art, music, and literature are three excellent examples of infinite games. Geniuses of the arts do not beat one another in competition; all contributions are precious and valuable.
The purpose of infinite games is the inherent worth of the activity itself. Rabbi Sacks calls them “autotelic” – they contain a purpose in and of themselves. We do them, he explains, because the activity is “inherently creative, demanding, uplifting and ennobling.”
In Chumash Devarim (6: 17-18) it says: Be sure to keep the commandments, decrees, and laws that the L-rd your G-d has enjoined upon you. Do what is good and right in the eyes of ה׳. The Ramban enlightens our understanding of what exactly doing good and right is in the eyes of ה׳. Even though there are 613 mitzvos, the Torah cannot write about every situation a person will encounter throughout their lives. So the Torah implores us to do what is good and right in ה׳’s eyes.
Everyone is different and requires different care. Can I understand when to speak and when to be silent? Can I hear the unspoken cry of my friend and feel their pain? Can I focus on the other instead of myself?
Now let’s look at education. Into which broad game category does it fall?
If you answered a, b or d, you are correct. When students take tests, they are awarded a score based on the specific questions asked on the test, something finite. As soon as we embed character development with depth and breadth of learning, we have touched the infinite. The reason why ‘d’ is the best answer is that both the finite and infinite aspects of education are important, even essential.
It is so easy to settle back and worry about test scores and mandated government exams. But, as our children/students/friends/relatives head back to academy, as much as the infinite curriculum is maybe less comfortable to justify, it is all the more relevant and necessary.
It really is not so difficult to introduce and teach those infinite qualities that the Ramban enumerates, but the time spent modeling them yourself, and teaching your students/children may be the most important takeaway from the corona era.