This week Akiba participated in a tremendous act of chesed. All of our students from K'Ton Ton to 8th grade mixed, kneaded, punched, shaped and packaged close to 400 challot for Jewish Family Service's Rosh Hashanah meal program for people in need. The photographs tell much of the story. Students up to their elbows in dough, faces and uniforms dusted with flour, older students partnering with younger students, and parent and grandparent volunteers guiding every step of the process: These images project the joy and excitement with which our students engaged in this important mitzvah. This parasha includes joy as a significant theme. The commandment to offer the first fruit, the bikkurim, fills the opening of the parashah. Following the description for how to present the bikkurim in Jerusalem, the Israelites were instructed, "Then, you shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household..." (Devarim 26:11). Later in the parashah, Bnei Yisrael is admonished that if they do not serve God with happiness and good-heartedness, then a range of horrifying curses would befall them. Certainly, the message from the parasha resonates: we must serve Hashem with absolute joy that emanates from recognizing the gifts God has given us and appreciating the wondrous world in which we live.
Challah provides another insight into the happiness with which we should practice our Judaism. When we bake challah, we gather the material blessings bestowed on us and shape them into something that sustains us. Hashem provides us the raw materials and we craft with them, effectively partnering with Hashem in the creative process. That creativity and partnership imbue us with a sense of accomplishment and purpose-a mission to be God's ambassadors in this world-a lofty, and joyful goal.
At Akiba, our students have the opportunity to perform mitzvot, learn Torah, engage with each other and the partner with the community in joy. Whether it is baking challot for JFS, singing for residents at the Legacy, analyzing text with a study partner, dancing at a bar or bat mitzvah celebration, or welcoming a guest with a smile, our students are learning that the best way to partner with God and improve the world through their mitzvoth is with joy.