Last Friday I was honored to deliver the D’var Torah (Sermon) at our synagogue, Vassar Temple. It was an opportunity for me to reflect on my children’s’ journey to independence and their journey as Jews. Here is what I wrote:
Miles and Henry love books. They have learned to walk over to their bookshelf grab a book and ask me to read it to them. After we read a book they like they will look at me with the sweetest look and say “moorrre Mama.” To be honest there are times when I get tired of reading the same story over and over again. However, when I take a moment to reflect I realize they are asking for this because it is in the repetition of storytelling that children (and all of us) learn the lessons and meanings of a story. In this week’s Torah Portion, Devarim, Moses uses this repetition of storytelling to teach and prepare the Israelites to enter into the Promised Land.
Moses and the Israelites have now made it through their 40 year journey in the desert. Moses must prepare the Israelites for the next stage of their journey while he knows he may not join them. Moses is facing one of the greatest challenges of parenthood; how do we help mold our children’s future by teaching them about our past? How can we help them make the right choices in the moments we are not there to guide them?
As I watch my sons grow, each new stage of their life brings new excitement and new fear. They are walking, running and climbing on everything! They are fascinated by how everything sounds, looks, feels, smells and tastes. Watching their excitement brings a joy I never could have never imagined before becoming a mother. With this joy comes great worry. I don’t want them to taste the wrong thing, to climb too high or to get hurt. I want to protect them from all of life’s obstacles but I can’t. What I can do is teach them the skills they need and have faith that they will use them. It is my job as a parent not to foster dependence but rather to empower my children to feel confident in themselves and to find independence.
This is easier said than done! The world can be a scary place and no matter how well I prepare my sons for the challenges ahead I cannot shield them from all the obstacles they will face. I want to keep them close and protected from it all but it’s impossible. I can tell them stories that teach them how to manage challenges, how to build resilience and how to build empathy. Moses knew that the Israelites had to understand the struggles they had faced to understand how valuable their lives and their future would be. He knew there would be challenges ahead but he saw the Israelites’ strengths in the challenges they had already faced. From slaves, to wanderers to freedom it is crucial we understand where we came from to understand where we are.
Like Moses I need to empower my children and like Moses I hope to pass down the teachings of G-d, the Torah and Judaism. My own Judaism has felt so powerful and special to me because in many ways I cultivated it on my own. My parents told me the stories; they sent me to Sunday school and suggested I join the children’s choir (no singing talent necessary). I chose to keep going, I chose to become an active member in youth group and NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth), I chose to go to camp and I chose to remain active in Judaism in my adult life. Feeling empowered to make these choices made my Judaism so much more significant. It feels like something that is uniquely mine and yet something that makes me feel a part of a community.
It was very important to Dan and I to find a community that could feel special to us and to our children. We feel blessed to have found that here at Vassar Temple. At Vassar Temple we have found a community where the storytelling is exciting and where children are empowered to ask questions and to seek out their own Jewish journey. The moms alongside me today and all of our children come together monthly for baby Shabbat. Rabbi B, (as the babies know her) sings songs, teaches about traditions and of course tells a story. The babies love it and so do we! I feel blessed to be surrounded by these women as we work together to help our children enjoy the earliest moments of their Jewish journeys.
In our home Dan and I read stories about our traditions and our history. Our sons are so blessed to spend the Jewish holidays surrounded by our families and to hear storytelling from many generations of great storytellers. Dan and I plan to make Shabbat dinners an important part of our family life where we take time to thank G-d for our amazing family. Like Moses we will tell the stories and teach the traditions. Like the Israelites it will be up to Henry and Miles how they choose to live their lives and how they choose to practice Judaism. We will continue to create a world filled with stories and pray our incredible little boys will grow up to tell their own stories one day.