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Theories of education have evolved drastically over the last several decades. One example is the shift from a results-based approach to an effort-based approach, from focusing on the product to focusing on the process. We know now that it is healthier and more beneficial to focus on a child’s work and effort (process), rather than to fixate on their grades or the result of their work (product). 


One of the groundbreaking studies on the importance of encouraging effort was led by cognitive psychologist Carol Dweck. Working with a group of middle school students, Dweck and her team researched the impact on learning and motivation when students were praised for working hard versus being praised for their intelligence.


The results were astounding. Students who were praised for being smart tended to take fewer risks, were easily frustrated with challenges, and even considered cheating. Those who were praised for working hard, however, persevered during challenges and were more likely to reflect on improvements they could make in the future.


Focusing on process and valuing effort is a big part of the culture and ethos of CMCH. Teachers convey this value to our students through direction, conversations, and celebrations of effort and hard work. Students regularly hear that their hard work is the success, and that their ability to persevere—even in the face of setbacks—is the goal. 


This is not just an important educational principle. It is an important life value, one championed in Torah. And it is expressed powerfully in this week’s parsha.


In Parshas Vayeitzei we are introduced to our matriarchs Leah and Rochel. The Torah describes them as follows: “Leah's eyes were weak, but Rochel was beautiful in form and appearance.” More than simply a physical description, on a deeper level, this is describing two distinct characters and personas.


Rochel represents the embodiment of perfection. Her personality is serene, charismatic, achieving, beautiful inside and out. “Rochel” is the same gematria (numerical value) as “vayehi ohr—and there was light” (238). Her life exudes light, magnetism, accomplishment, and perfection.


Leah, by contrast, represents a more complex individual, one whose life is filled with struggle. Her name means “tired or weary”; Rashi explains that she was weary from constantly weeping in prayer that she not have to marry Esav. Her life is marked by inner conflict and challenge. 


Rachel personifies seamless perfection. Leah personifies depth born of struggle. Both are beautiful in their own way. But Leah, forged by unrelenting challenge and adversity, becomes the primary matriarch of our people. It is through Leah that the majority of the tribes are born, and in turn, it is she that has the greatest power and influence.


Rochel is the metaphor for a life of accomplishment, the perfect product. Leah symbolizes a life of effort—an often inglorious and imperfect process. We all have occasional  “Rochel moments” of inner peace and perfection, but most of our days are filled with  “Leah moments,” when we experience challenges, struggles, and complications. 


And while it might appear on the surface that it’s the accomplishment that counts, in Hashem’s eyes it's the effort that is most precious. 


At CMCH, success is not getting the highest grade or being on the winning team. Success is effort, hard work, growth, and improvement.  


Because in school, as in life, the battle is the victory.

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