Children Are Our Shofars
Last week I had the privilege of giving a Dvar Torah (below) to our Jewish Early Childhood Network of Professionals at their opening meeting. This message is dedicated to all the teachers in our Jewish schools who devote their lives to education and our children.
As we prepare for the New Year of 5783, we have the opportunity to step back and reflect on its messages.
This is a time to undertake heshbon hanefesh / a taking-stock of the state of our soul and in many congregations, the prayer HaYom Harat Olam / Today is the day of the world's creation is recited during the Rosh Hashanah Musaf service.
Why do the Rabbis feel it is important to know that creation happened on Rosh Hashanah?
By linking the creation of the world in the macro sense, with our own personal stock-taking in the micro sense, we are all given the opportunity to understand our infinite potential as human beings and recreate ourselves anew year after year.
We know from the Torah that we -- and not animals -- are made "in G!D's image."
In the past we used to think that meant we were more intelligent than animals and had the capability of language. But today we know that many animals are pretty intelligent and actually understand language - their own and ours!
So what makes human beings unique?
Through our imagination, we have unlimited potential to envision and then create worlds, just like the Divine.
With their unfettered imaginations, little children help us see the enormous potential - the Tzelem Elokim -- that each one of us has.
Now, if only we believed and acted on it!
Children are our daily "shofars," calling us to hear anew what has become routine, to see with eyes of wonder and awe.
Thank you for nurturing and celebrating that quality in each child.
For centuries, Jews have asked why there are 2 Creation stories in our Torah.
In Bereisheet / Genesis Chapter 1, we read that HaAdam, the human being / humanity, was created in the image and likeness of G!D to master the earth and rule over the world of living things (Bereisheet / Genesis 1:26-28). In this chapter, male and female were created at the same time and potentially were one body— the Midrash says either attached at the back like Siamese twins or as a hermaphrodite, with both male and female sexual characteristics in the same body.
By contrast, Bereisheet / Genesis Chapter 2, G!D formed HaAdam, the human being / humanity from the dust of the adamah / earth (Bereisheet / Genesis 2:7) and placed HaAdam in the Garden of Eden to till it and tend it (Bereisheet / Genesis 2: 15).
Many rabbis have tried to explain this discrepancy between the two chapters.
The words that I want to read to you now are taken from the prominent Orthodox thinker, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s work, The Lonely Man of Faith, and taught as part of the Florence Melton School’s Purposes curriculum.
“…The two accounts deal with two Adams…two types, two representatives of humanity and it is no wonder they are not identical… Let us portray these two men [sic], Adam the first and Adam the second, in typological categories.
There is no doubt that the term “image of God” in the first account refers to man’s inner charismatic endowment as a creative being. Man’s likeness to God expresses itself in man’s striving and ability to become a creator…
Civilized man has gained limited control of nature and has become, in certain respects, her master, and with his mastery, has attained dignity…
Hence, Adam the first is aggressive, bold and victory-minded. His motto is success, triumph over the cosmic forces…”
When we look at what the parents of our children are demanding we teach, even in early childhood classrooms, we can see that most often they want us to help create Adam the first!
How soon will my child learn to read and write? When will my child learn mathematics? How will your school prepare my child to get into Harvard?
It’s about, as our anxious parents define it in this competitive world, educating the child for “success,”
Rabbi Soloveitchik contrasts this human paradigm with the other found in Chapter 2:
“Adam the second is, like Adam the first also intrigued by the cosmos…
However, while the cosmos provokes Adam the first to quest for power and control, thus making him ask the functional “how” question, Adam the second responds to the call of the cosmos by [asking]…
What is the purpose of all this? What is the message that is embedded in organic and inorganic matter…? Who is He that fills Adam with awe and bliss, humility and a sense of greatness, concurrently?...
[Adam the second] encounters the universe in all its colorfulness, splendor, and grandeur, and studies it with the naiveté, awe and admiration of the child who seeks the unusual and wonderful in every ordinary thing and event…
He looks for the image of God, not in the mathematical formula or the natural relational law but in every beam of light, in every bud and blossom, in the morning breeze and the stillness of a starlit evening…”
When we look at what we feel we should be nurturing in our children, we can see that most often we want to preserve and strengthen the aspect of Adam the second inside them!
In fact, one might argue that our children are our best teachers in how to see the world “in all its colorfulness, splendor, and grandeur” as Rabbi Soloveitchik notes.
This quality of intense spirituality — presence with and appreciation for the present moment, a deep sense of connection to others and the world — is what our littlest children can and should be teaching us!
Sukkot is an opportunity for all of us to experience this connection through the eyes of our youngest.
With their capacity for unbounded joy and giving love, little children help us see "the face of G!D." For them this world is an adventure and a gift.
They remind us that simchah / joy and hakarat hatov / gratitude is an essential component for a full and meaningful life. Thank you for nurturing and celebrating that quality in each child.
As we enter into 5783, let me give a huge "Todah Rabbah / Thank You" to each and every one of you, our valued teachers, for laying the foundation of Jewish education and identity-building for our children, in partnership with, and sometimes in opposition to, our parents.
Those of us at CAJE so appreciate your work and seek to help each of you individually and collectively as a profession to reach your infinite potential in this community.