Torah study has historically been reserved for the scholarly. Students who met the standard of learning in schools excelled, while those whose comprehension and stamina varied from the norm, were not provided with a platform to meet their learning needs. Chidon Sefer Hamitzvos aspires to include every child.
When the Rebbe launched a campaign to learn Rambam thirty-five years ago, every man, woman, and child was encouraged to join. There was a track for abilities of all types: “Shlosha Perakim L’yom” for advanced learners, “Perek Echad” for those who didn’t have as much time or concentration, and Sefer Hamitzvos for women and children.
“As Chidon Sefer Hamitzvos continued to grow, we wanted to think of a way to include every child,” says Rabbi Shimmy Weinbaum, director of Chayolei Tzivos Hashem.
But Chidon was never meant for the average kid. The qualifying tests are not easy, and they rule out all but the most determined students. “We challenged ourselves with the question: does every child have the self-discipline to spend hours learning in their free time…for months? Are all students capable of retaining so much information?” says Weinbaum. In other words, could Chidon ever truly be for everyone?
Educators at Bnos Menachem were the first to address this need. With help from Chidon HQ, they introduced a modified track for students who are not up to the Chidon challenge—but still want to learn. “Chidon is transformative,” says Mrs. Shaindy Schapiro, Judaic Studies Principal. “We wanted to get more students involved.” Schoolwide participation jumped from 25% to 80% in just one year.
“Mitzvah Maven” allows students to learn the 613 mitzvos at their own pace. With flexible knowledge requirements, helpful studying aids, and modified tests, more students feel confident about getting high enough scores to qualify for the Mitzvah Maven incentives, trips and prizes set up by each schools for their students. The result? “The entire school culture changes” Mrs. Shapiro says, “there is a ‘koch’ and a ‘bren’ in loving the Mitzvos.”
Parents and students are thrilled with the new project. “We are happy that our children are excited to learn” shared a parent, “and that they feel they truly belong, irrespective of their individual academic ability”.
The Mitzvah Maven track serves as a stepping stone for students to eventually grow into the mainstream Chidon Limmud. Students involved have been seen to gain confidence in their learning ability, acknowledging that they are capable of learning and mastering more than they give themselves credit for. Mrs. Shapiro highlighted one student in particular whose entire relationship with academia shifted as she discovered within herself new strengths she previously did not know existed. This student gained the courage and confidence to push forward, eventually joining Chidon itself.
Rabbi Weinbaum thinks that the opportunities created by Mitzvah Maven embody the Rebbe’s vision for Rambam. “The Torah is not reserved for those with advanced learning abilities,” he explains. “Torah is the inheritance of every Yid.”
As Mrs. Shapiro finishes, “It is all tangible and attainable. Our students simply need to be given the right tools with which to reach it”. The Rebbe has taught us that no Jew will be left behind. That begins now.