Sukkot is here! Z’man Simchateinu, the season of our joy! We transition from the heavy themes of the High Holy Days right into this earth-based, gratitude-filled festival.
Maybe this isn’t the year you built a sukkah, or maybe you had your sukkah up and ready to go the day after Sukkot. If I’ve learned anything about these holy day rituals over the past two years, it is that the rituals tell a story, move us through meaning, but ultimately it is up to us to connect with the spirit of the holy days.
This Shabbat, take a nature walk. Connect with the world outside. Talk about how nature is changing, and looking different. Collect leaves. Collect rocks. Collect sticks. Celebrate the natural worls and our place within it.
Children are natural filters of wonder. See the world through your children’s eyes this Sukkot, and revel in the turning of the seasons and the gifts of bounty that the Fall Harvest festival brings.
Be well, sit in joy, and be grateful for this exact moment.
There is something delightful to our young ones about playing games of a “good guys,” vs. “bad guys.” My kiddo is obsessed with this storyline. It happens again and again with every configuration of toys. There’s a “bad car” that steals dog food and needs to be chased down by a “good car,” toy boats in constant pursuit of, yet again, dog food thieves, and Paw Patrol toys forever in search of stolen Chickalettas (not dog food, surprisingly).
Scarcity and competition are built into our nature, so we must work extra hard to de-program the proverbial notion of “us v. them.” It is so easy to write people off as “bad” when we disagree with them, or when they have wronged us. It is perhaps the easiest thing to do, and yet, it leads us nowhere; nor at least, nowhere good. I find myself saying, “there are no bad people, only hurtful actions,” and using the word, “villain,” or more precisely, “thief” instead of “bad guy.” I know it’s an uphill battle, and that as soon as my kiddo returns to daycare, the work will be undone; but that, it seems, is part of the message of these High Holy Days.
We just spent the day reciting collective wrongdoings, “ashamnu,” we have gone astray. “Al chet shechatanu…” For the ways in which we have missed the mark. When it comes to Yom Kippur, there is no “us vs. them”; there is only we. We are all in this together, whether we like it (or each other) or not. May 5782 be the year we remind ourselves of that daily and spread more understanding and care outward into the world.
Tonight begins Shabbat Shuva, my favorite Shabbat of the year. Situated between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, Shabbat Shuva offers a respite from the high liturgy and ritual of Rosh HaShanah in the beautiful soft landing and familiarity of shabbat. But it’s not just any shabbat, as its name suggests it is a shabbat of turning. We translate “teshuvah,” as “repentance,” but it comes from the Hebrew verb “to turn.” Repentance, in the Jewish tradition, is about returning to our intentions, returning to ourselves, to God, and ultimately to each other.
This Shabbat, more than any other, invites us to set down our distractions and really turn towards one another. Our children want to be seen, to be delighted in, to be doted upon. Take some time this Shabbat Shuva to turn away from that which depletes and detracts and towards your little ones, and then, when they go to bed, turn toward yourself and look for delight therein as well.
Daniel Tiger’s mom, Collette Tiger* is my parenting coach. Recently we inherited a slew of potty books from a friend, including one about Daniel Tiger (thank God). In the book, she & Daniel are riding on Trolley when Daniel has to go potty. Daniel doesn’t want to go back home. Here’s where Collette’s drops the parenting mic. She says:
“What’s most important now is to listen to your body.”
This is a fundamental lesson we teach our kids that society then wears away. I did not grow up in a body-positive environment. I’m sure I was taught to listen to my body at some point, but then, as I grew and my body took on a shape of its own, I was told not to listen to it, not to trust it; to eat certain foods and dress a certain way to make my body acceptable to others. I sure wish Daniel’s mom had been around then..
Each morning we are invited to offer a prayer of gratitude for our bodies. It is called Asher Yatzar. In it, we thank God for making us exactly as we are. It also happens to be the blessing we say when we go to the bathroom (or change a diaper)! Whether your littles are potty trained, or if that milestone seems ages away, it’s never too late to start teaching body positivity.
Shabbat Sha’listen to your body Shalom!
p.s. For the full blessing of asher yatzar and other daily blessings, our friends at PJ Library have got you covered: https://pjlibrary.org/beyond-books/pjblog/august-2016/blessings-for-everyday-situations
*Yes, I had to do a web search to discover that she actually has a name.
Summer is (nearly) officially here! It is strange to see so many people out at restaurants, together in groups, or just walking down the street without a mask. It is lovely to get to smile at passersby again, to engage a bit more with the humanity around us, and it can be deeply uncomfortable. The threat to unvaccinated children is still very real. Nearly weekly I am reminded of the fact that my child is still susceptible to this virus. Yesterday, my child said, “We can play together when the pandemic is over. The pandemic is over!” It broke my heart that this little person knows the word “pandemic,” and that his short life has been so deeply shaped by it. I want to tell him that we can play together with anyone he wants to, but our family is still being cautious.
This week’s parsha, Chukkat, in the book of Numbers describes the purification ritual by which an individual must cleanse themselves of ritual impurity before interacting with the community. The text sounds very familiar: separation from community, quarantining for a specific number of days, ensuring that it is safe for the individual to return to their families and communities. While it sounds like the governor will lift the mask mandate now that we’ve reached the vaccination benchmark, we each must make the right choices for our families. As summer gatherings approach, let us remember that the value of saving a life, pikuach nefesh, is more important than any other in our tradition. We must nurture our souls with connections to friends and family, but we must also take care of those precious souls who have been entrusted to our care. Our tradition has always been keenly aware of how our choices affect those around us; and so too should we.
Recently there’s been a shift in the Covid-related-talk away from vaccines and side effects to the more lasting impact it has had on our social skills. We joke that we can’t withstand interaction that last more than an hour, or that we have forgotten how to meet new people and treat others, but it’s really no joke. In my neighborhood I’ve noticed a dramatic lack of patience between strangers. Most of my examples are traffic related: we’re quick to honk, to tailgate, to cut people off. Perhaps it’s all the isolation, or a year of only seeing people’s eyes, but our patience for one another has gone out the window.
Patience has two sides: the patience that is endurance and the patience that is love. When we tell ourselves or our children to “be patient,” we typically mean, “waiting is hard but we have to do it.” We endure in the hopes that an end will come, but we keep ourselves uncomfortable for the duration. A patience of love suggests that the waiting itself can be compassionate. When we are patient for something (or someone) with love, we shift our focus from something hard, to something soft. We can feel it in our bodies, too. Endurance activates our sympathetic nervous system, our “fight or flight,” response, which drains our energy and makes it hard to be kind. Love, however, activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which restores the body to a calm and more compassionate state of mind.
When your child is taking what feels like a million years to finish their meal, or drawing out their bedtime routine, shift your focus to how much you love this little person and what beauty they have brought to your life. Deep breaths help too. Try this with strangers as well. f you are a horn-honker, try taking a deep breath and sending love to the person who is holding up traffic. Yes, they could just be texting (which is dangerous and annoying) or, they could be lost in thought about a loved one who is ill. We never know a stranger’s experience, but we do know that being human is a tough job, and patience is a virtue; so let’s do it all with more love.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role that fear plays in our lives. I try not to live in fear, but there’s no shortage of it at any given moment. At present, I’m fearful of (and frustrated by) the antisemitic rhetoric and violence of recent weeks. I do not believe that anti-Zionist sentiments are automatically antisemitic, but the conflict in Israel and Palestine has once again opened the door to these latent sentiments within many. Additionally, I’m fearful about returning to large, in-person events. While I, myself, am vaccinated, my 2.5-year-old cannot yet be, and even the slightest risk of him contracting the virus frightens me to my core.
One of the early Chasidic Masters, Rebbe Nachman of Bretslov, offers us some fortifying advice on the matter. He said, “kol haolam kulo, gesher tzar m’od, v’haikar lo l’fached klal” which has widely been translated as: “the whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important part is not to be afraid.” That is courageous advice, indeed, but it’s not always possible, nor is it always right. The verse can be interpreted a different way, though, one that is more true, more possible: “the whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important part is not to be entirely afraid.”
When our children are afraid of something, like riding the big slide, it might be our instinct to say, “Don’t be scared!” But the truth is, they are. What if, instead, we climbed up there with them, told them it’s ok to be scared, that you are afraid of things too, and that when they’re ready, you’ll help them do the scary thing. Perhaps it’s good advice for parenting our inner child, too.
I’ve been thinking a lot about aging – not my own (although also my own), but my child’s. Thanks to photo-remembering-apps, I am bombarded each day with images of my child from years past. When the pandemic began, my kiddo had just learned to walk. He would tolerate our early morning stroller walks primarily because he didn’t know there were other options, and I would snap a selfie of us after each one, hoping to document his incremental growth. Now, this child runs everywhere, barreling past me even on steep inclines. Now that he knows he can play instead of being bundled up in a stroller, those early morning walks are a thing of the past. But when I look at his 2.5 year old face, I see the baby that he was, and now, with the passage of time, I find I’m starting to catch glimpses of the adult he will become.
In her (amazing) novel, Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng describes this phenomenon perfectly:
"To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person; your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once. You could see it every time you looked at her: layered in her face was the baby she’d been and the child she’d become and the adult she would grow up to be, and you saw them all simultaneously, like a 3-D image. It made your head spin. It was a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get in. and each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that place again."
As a new parent, I bucked at the adage, “the days are long but the years are short.” That first year felt long, but now that my child has rounded the corner on year three, it feels as though I’m getting closer and closer to the firehose of time as its waters rush past.
I suppose there’s no moral this week, no lesson, only the invitation to hit the pause button and experience this 3-D image of your little one(s).
Our seven weeks of counting up from Pesach to Shavuot are nearly at an end. Shavuot, the holiday upon which our Israelite ancestors received Torah at Sinai will arrive at sundown on Sunday, May 16th. One of the practices of the holiday is to stay up all night studying Torah, in preparation for the holiday. Our Israelite ancestors went through rigorous preparations before the thunderous light show of revelation at Sinai; so, too, are we invited to step outside of our usual patterns in preparation.
If you are reading this you are likely the parent of a small child, and staying up all night to study Torah, or even to do something more categorically fun, probably sounds like the worst thing ever.
Torah, as a concept, is far broader than the Five Books of Moses. Torah shares the same root letters as the verb L’hora, to teach. We teach our own Torah, our own lessons, our own insights, when we tell our stories. Just like the maggid (story telling) section of the Pesach seder, this holiday invites us to open up our repositories of learning. Have you shared your oldest memories with your children? Stories of how you learned big lessons, or small ones? Tales of adventure, or sorrow? Shavuot is an invitation to do just that and more. Maybe your family creates a “scroll,” of what this year has looked like and felt like. Or perhaps you recreate moments of your lives together in your imaginative play time.
Torah is yours, and nobody knows your children like you do, so there is no wrong way to do this. Share stories that you think will resonate. Let the spirit of revelation, that which is revealed, encourage your creativity in teaching your children about their roots; the ones they cannot see, and reminding them of the ones which they can.
Often, in the course of my conversations with parents of young children, there comes a moment when one of them sheepishly says, “we try to do shabbat, but it doesn’t always happen.” They usually mean that they don’t light candles on Friday night, and that Saturday is just a herculean effort to keep their kids busy. So I ask, “what would make it feel more like Shabbat?” Answers range of course, but the great majority of them fall into something along the lines of, “more rest.”
Before the pandemic, many of our weekends were full of playdates, social and family engagements, leaving us very little time to actually rest. On weekends, we often feel as though we have to do everything as a family, especially if that concentrated family time isn’t possible during the week. What if, instead of doing everything together for those 48 hours, we build in time for each parent to have a break? I have one friend who does this quite well. Each weekend they figure out a half a day that she can take for herself and another for her husband. It narrowed the windows of time to be together with friends, but it kept them both feeling taken care of. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it is that I love my friends and family, but I need to love myself first and foremost, or I’ll have nothing left to give.
This week in the counting of the Omer we turn our attentions to the divine attribute of foundation, yesod. If our foundations are worn, then structures we build will fall. Shabbat rest is a radical act of self-love, but also a practical matter of keeping our foundations strong. Shabbat rolls in on Friday night and exits slowly on Saturday, but if that timeframe doesn’t work for you and your family – find another one that does! There is power in living by the Jewish calendar, but toddlers and infants rarely care about calendars (nor can they even conceptualize time!) so do what you can with what you have and create pockets of rest, moments of Shabbat, for yourself and those you love wherever possible.