The value of responsibility

Moriah is a very busy school, not just during the regular school day but often after school, at night and even on weekends.

Last week, which was a short week, I had the privilege of attending or speaking at three events. The first was the Year 11 HSC Achieving Success evening. Students and their parents were updated with important information about assessments, the HSC and how students should navigate their final year of school, balancing their workload with a healthy lifestyle and a well-planned approach to their studies.

The second was the orientation day for Year 6 students who will begin their High School journey with us as proud Year 7 students in 2020. The students participated in a whole range of activities including a series of taster lessons, sports games and campus tours.

The final event was the IST (Israel Study Tour) shabbaton, where close to 120 Year 10 students, a team of madrichim and staff members remained on campus over Shabbat to begin preparations for the Poland and Israel six-week journey of a lifetime.

It would seem that each of these events are rather unique and distinct and that there could be nothing in common between them. However, I believe that the same values can be applied to each of these events and these are the very same values that can be derived from the weekly portions – both last week and this week. The specific value I refer to is responsibility.

Responsibility or אחריות (Achrayut) in Hebrew is one of our five core values at Moriah and is often referred to in our various policies and practices. If we deconstruct the Hebrew letters of this word, we begin to appreciate the significance this value can have and the lessons we can learn from this one simple word.

The word begins with an א (alepf) representing the word אני (ani) meaning ‘me’ because it is up to me (and you) to make sure we are responsible. Adding the next letter creates the word אח (ach) meaning ‘brother’ because after I have taken responsibility for myself, I need to then take responsibility for my brother (and family). The third letter, when added, creates the word אחר (acher) meaning ‘other’. After taking responsibility for my family, I need to turn my attention to others around me – my community. The fourth letter, the yud, follows and this makes the word אחרי (acharei) meaning ‘after’. We should follow the examples of our family and community members who behave responsibly, or strive to be role models for others to follow as we become more responsible for ourselves and towards others. The second last letter, the ו (vav), creates the word אחריו (acharav) meaning ‘after Him’, referring to G-d. When we follow the examples of a Godly person, we become a follower of Hashem’s ways. The letter ת (taf) concludes the word. This letter also happens to be the final letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  אחריות begins with the first word of the aleph bet and ends with the last, representing the fact that responsibility encompasses all mitzvot in the entire Torah. Each and every mitzvah is a channel urging us to act in a responsible manner.

The Hebrew word hints at the comprehensive scope of human responsibility. Beginning with Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and ending with Taf, the final letter, Achrayut not only holds us accountable for our own actions but also calls upon us to be accountable for our families and the wider community. We have an ethical responsibility to care for one another, our community, our world and of course ourselves.

The portion of Bereishit (last week) and Noach (this week) teaches us about the importance of being responsible for ourselves and our obligation to be responsible for others. When G-d confronts Adam about why he has eaten from the forbidden fruit, Adam responds with, “It wasn’t me, it’s not my fault,” (how many times have we heard our children use this same excuse?). Eve responds in a similar way, neither of them taking responsibility for their actions. Soon after, we read the episode of Adam’s sons Kayin and Hevel (Kain and Abel). After Kain kills Abel, G-d confronts Kain asking him where his brother is and Kain responds with the now famous phrase, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”. Kain, too, takes no responsibility for his actions in killing his own brother. We learn that every human being is created in the image of G-d and has a responsibility towards each other. Noah was a little different, perhaps he learnt the lessons from his ancestors. He builds the Ark in order to save his family and all the animals. However, he still makes no effort to convince mankind to build their own arks in order to avoid destruction.

In order to achieve success in Year 12, students have to be responsible to themselves and for themselves. With support, guidance, comfort and love provided by parents and teachers, students still need to focus, concentrate, apply themselves and, dare I say it, work hard. This is their responsibility.

Entering High School in Year 7 can be a daunting experience for students. However, if they become responsible for each other and learn to look out for one another, they will thrive throughout their High School journey.

Finally, taking almost 120 students around the world is no easy feat. The IST program relies on the students taking responsibility for their own actions and for the behaviour of their peers. Moving through airports, walking through busy streets, and allowing students to have a free weekend requires all students to make sure they are always acting responsibly, looking out for themselves and for their peers.

As we grow up, we learn that if we don’t take responsibility for ourselves, no one else will, yet we also owe something to others. Hillel said it best and we are still quoting him today, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Avot 1:14). It is the balance of being responsible for yourself and then for others that is often a challenge in daily life. Hillel also said, “In a place where there are no men, be a man.” (Avot 2:5). This is often restated in many ways, but I prefer to understand it as follows, “In a place where there are no people of moral courage taking responsibility, one needs to step up.”

At Moriah, we do our best to teach and model to our students the importance of developing moral courage so that when the situation arises, our students are confident to step up and do so with pride and big smiles on their faces.

ronnengraumanAbout the author

Ronnen Grauman is the Acting Head of Jewish Life and Learning at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.

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