On This Day: Go West Young Jew Style

I love how Facebook lets you see your "On This Day" memories. It's (mostly) good to look back and remember where you were in this season over the years. I wish blogs did the same, but looking back for bloggers is a manual chore.

Five years ago I wrote this drash/good-bye speech for the graduation Shabbat at my synagogue.
One year ago Ellie chanted and studied from the same portion (Behar) and I was her tutor.
This year I helped another family shepherd their son through Behar for his bar mitzvah.

Three points in time. Same portion. Same Torah. Much different (perhaps) me.
GoldaLeah (2017)



Original Post (June 2011)

When my office was right over there, in what is now the kitchen. I used to have a sign hanging on my wall. On it was a quote from Rabbi Mecham Mendel, about whom I know next to nothing. And I mean that – nothing is over there, and over here is what I know. But I know he spoke Truth. The quote was, simply,

“If you truly wish your children to study Torah,
study it yourself in their presence.”

That sign got lost in the move, and I never did bother to make another one, and now the time for that has passed, but that saying was always in the back of my mind – it was my guiding principle as principal.

Rabbi Mecham Mendel was a sneaky one, of course. Any parents who takes upon his or herself the study of Torah because they want their children to also study gets a double benefit – they get to study Torah, and they raise someone to study it with.

In this way, I have learned so much more than I could have ever imagined teaching in the walls of these buildings, this school, this shul.
Crop rotation patern from Behar. https://www.etsy.com/shop/DrashDesigns

Every time some pesky high school kid asked me a question that required grabbing the Chumash for an answer, I was blessed.

Every time a young child imitates a madrichim’s movements during shira, or follows them in a dance, learning is happening…twice.

Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Rabbi Mecham Mendel tells us: Be the Jew you want to see in the world. As Jewish parents and educators, this is important … much more so than the stories we tell, or even the Torah we read. You never know what a child will take from those.

A quick story:
One year, a fourth grader, Isaac, was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday School.
"Well mom," says Isaac, "our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his combat engineers build a pontoon bridge and everyone walked across safely. Then, he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters for reinforcements. They sent Seal Team Six to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved."
"Really Isaac," says his mother, "is that really what your teacher taught you?"
"Not really mom," replies Isaac, "but if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe me."

The Judaism you tell your child may be dismissed; the Judaism you live will get into them, down in the kishkes, and that stuff never leaves.


Speaking of leaving, then. This week's Torah portion, Behar, is not one that will inspire much disbelief. There are no talking snakes or donkeys; no magical splitting of the sea, just what seems like mundane advice for a future agrarian society, what I like to call the TRFF (turf) -- Torah Rules for Fair Farming.

God tells Moses, while they're having a chat on Mount Sinai that every seven years the land gets a year off, a shmitah year. No tilling, no planting, no sewing, no hoeing. It is, literally, "released" from its burden.

We are guarantors of a sacred trust -- this land, this earth -- and we must find a way to balance productivity, reset, and release.

After seven series of seven years, in the 50th year, the Jubilee year, not only does the land lie fallow, but ownership returns to the original owner. Indentured servants and slaves are freed, and everyone returns to their homes, their families.

And we rest.

And the land rests.

And we enjoy the work of our labors that we have stored up for six years...and we breathe

kol ha neshaman tehalel yah ... halleluyah ....

Punctuating the productivity of life with long pauses lends perspective and encourages us to express gratitude for our bounty, and what can be produced without our work, but with our gratitude

kol ha neshama tehalel yah ... halleluyah

And so this time in my life is a punctuation mark as well. At this point, I'm not sure if it's a comma, a period, a question mark, an exclamation point or one of those little smiley face emoticons.

I imagine many of the other graduates in the room feel the same way. It is the end, and the beginning. The path to many hellos and perhaps a few too many good-byes. Accomplishments writ on paper and your hearts, and blank pages to come before you. Change happens.

But I'm not too worried about feeling like I have a good grasp of the ways and workings of life just yet, although some of you here perhaps should be.

Between Pesach and Shavuot, in the afternoons, we are to study Pirke Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers. If any of you have seen Yentl, this is the book she and her father are studying. Who is rich? He who is happy with lot, etc.

Near the end of the book the rabbis get presumptuous and lay out the milestones of a life, by age.

At 5, a child is ready for scripture.
at 10, mishnah
at 13, an observer of the commandments
at 15, gemara
at 18, chupa
at 20, pursue a livelihood
at 30, full strength
at 40, understanding
at 50, offers counsel
at 60, attains seniority
at 70, tips old age
at 80, strength
at 90, stooped over
at 100, as if dead...

So, I am a full 7 months away from full understanding.* But to quote the great tzadik of our time, Oprah Winfrey, there is one thing I know for sure.

Delve into Torah
and delve into it again
for everything is in it
look deeply into it
grow old with it
and share all of this, as I have shared it, with your children.

Shabbat Shalom.

*I was 39 when I wrote this. Understanding didn't magically come at 40, but at 45 I do feel half-way between understanding and offering counsel. 



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