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Hiddur Mitzvah – Enhancing a Mitzvah through Aesthetics

As our season turns to fall and we welcome the holiday of Sukkot I am reminded of the following two quotes:

“The sukkah is a sign to open one’s hearts at this season. Just as its roof opens to the sky, so too may those celebrating Sukkot be open to the stranger, the other, and the guest who they do not see every day.” -Rabbi Andrew Sacks

Beauty enhances the mitzvot by appealing to the senses. Beautiful sounds and agreeable fragrances, tastes, textures, colors, and artistry contribute to human enjoyment of religious acts, and beauty itself takes on a religious dimension. The principle of enhancing a mitzvah through aesthetics is called Hiddur Mitzvah.” From: Gates of the Seasons: A Guide to the Jewish Year

This year there is so much that will be different in terms of welcoming guests at Sukkot and yet, there is so much opportunity for Hiddur Mitzvah – enhancing the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah through attention to the aesthetic sights, sounds, and tastes of the harvest and the creation of a sukkah itself. One cannot help but connect this concept with a value held by the early childhood educators in Reggio Emilia. Well-known Italian educator and atelierista/studio teacher Vea Vechhi describes the role of aesthetics in learning as “the seeking out of beauty and loveliness.” She states that children have “the right to have a school that is beautiful and taken care of with an attitude of care so that parents, children, and teachers want to come to school every day.” Aesthetics play a role in enhancing creativity as well as elevating our sense of joy.

While the pandemic has brought many limitations to what can and cannot occur in our ECE settings, the seeking out and creation of beauty and loveliness is always within our reach. And, one need not look any further than the nature around you to find the necessary raw materials. The schools of Reggio Emilia are founded on core values which include holding a strong image of children’s capabilities. Children are capable of appreciating beauty and in fact, beauty draws our – both adults’ and children’s – attention in. Combining this attention with a focus on expressive languages promotes creativity. Aesthetic sensibility is seen as an activator of learning.

More in-depth thought on this topic can be found in the article Aesthetics of Relationships in the Early Childhood Classroom by Debi Keyte Hartland. For those interested in deepening their understanding of Reggio Inspired practice I recommend a wonderful series of podcast interviews by ECE Educational Consultant, Sandy Lanes entitled Awakened to Reggio.

May your Sukkot be enhanced by Hiddur Mitzvah and may your day be elevated through the process.