Sunday, June 27, 2010

What a relief!

Today was one of those days that I had been dreading. It was time for the end of the year program for our little Sunday School class. We don't have a big congregation, so we have a very small school. But, I am thrilled that we have the students we do have. And they really are learning quite a bit. So why should this end of the year program bother me?

Well, for one thing it was very late in the year this year. When all secular schools have been out for weeks, it is very difficult to get children to willingly attend Sunday Religious School. Also, our Rabbi, while understandably proud of what the kids have learned and accomplished this year, might have expected more than was possible for children ages 10 and under. Don't get me wrong, I think our Rabbi is an amazing man. He is smart, compassionate, and an excellent teacher. I am proud that he thinks highly enough of my skills to allow me to teach these children as well. But his goal was an impossible dream.

Rabbi wanted the children in the Torah Study class to present an essay on EVERY SEDRA we discussed all year. Well, we started the year off with Bereshith and we are now in Bamidbor. For those of you who don't know, that means that we have read and studied almost every portion in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Levitcus, and are in the process of studying the sections of Numbers. The students in the Torah class are ten, nine, and eight years old. I don't care how smart these kids are, there is no way we can expect them to present comprehensive essays on every single one of those Torah Portions. It would take DAYS! I tried to explain to the Rabbi that I thought it would be much more effective if we assigned each student three (different) sedras and asked them to develop them from the notes that they had taken throughout the year. My idea fell on deaf ears.

Until the week before the presentation. Five school days before we were scheduled to hold our program, the Rabbi began reviewing everything in earnest. When we spent the first two days of this review on Bereshith and had not reached the story of Joseph and his brothers yet, I think he realized that his dream would not be achieved this year.

Let me make sure I am clear here. I adore our Rabbi. I would do just about anything he would ask me to do when it comes to teaching these children. I think he is brilliant and I enjoy sitting in on his lectures. He takes a lot of pride in our little school and I think it is with very good reason. He works very hard to make our school the success that it is.

So, when he finally decided to let the children select three sedras from Bereshith for their presentation, I was thrilled. That would be easier to handle, I thought. And, I thought, it would be much more interesting if each child selected different sedras. Sadly, that didn't happen, but there wasn't too much overlap, so it worked out in the end. Of course, they were each to cover the part in Shemoss where salvery is discussed. That was a little redundant, but again, it all worked out in the end.

So, we spent the last two (really day and a half) practicing for the presentations. I was beyond stressed that something would go wrong. Had I prepared the children well enough for their presentations? Would the baby be a distraction as she was in practice? Did I do enough to help my co-teacher prepare for the feast to follow? (I am excellent at feeling guilty for not feeling guilty enough.)

As it happened, I didn't need to worry. The day was a huge success. We had a nice crowd of congregants. The youngest students willingly shared their knowledge of the alef-bet, and even sang a little bit of the song. The Hebrew portions were done well, and the oldest did a lovely job reading from the Torah. The presentations were well done and well received. I only had to use our secret code (a throat-clearing cough) once or twice to encourage the speakers to be louder. The picnic following the program was wonderful. We had the perfect amount of food and I still think I didn't do nearly enough to help.

Once again, I worried for nothing.

But, part of me thinks that the worry I had helped motivate the students. If I hadn't been so focused on making the day a success, maybe they wouldn't have been, either. Not that this is about me. It isn't. It is really about how well the children did. They worked hard and it showed. I am extremely proud of them.

And extremely glad it is over. Until next year.

Monday, June 21, 2010

What if...?

During our religious education class this week, we were discussing the stories of Genesis. The amount of "what if" questions one can concoct is astounding. Each of the stories of Genesis seems to show that all movements were completely dictated. And yet, there is the belief that even then, people had free choice. Suppose Adam had simply told Eve, "No. I will not eat the forbidden fruit. No matter what you say." and he stuck to his guns. Suppose Adam never ate that fruit. What would have happened? Would he still have been evicted from the Garden of Eden, or would only Eve have been asked to leave? What would have happened to the lineage that was to come from Adam and Eve?

In parsha, L'ech L'cha, Abraham was told to "go out" from his home to a land that G-d would show him. What if Abraham had decided he was happy living in Haran and did not go? What if he chose not to move his family and all of his belongings to this unknown place? What would have happened to the Jewish people?

Everything that happened in the stories of Genesis had a purpose. We learn about kindness and blind faith from Abraham. Isaac, too, when he realizes he is to be his father's sacrifice teaches us about blind faith. (Although, I admit, I think I would have liked to hear him protest just a little bit.) We learn about deception from Rebeka and Jacob, no matter what their intentions may have been. And we learn about acting spitefully from Esau, who entered into a forbidden marriage to spite and hurt his mother.  Rebeka and Isaac show us that the basis of a strong family comes from a strong marriage. They did not have a strong marriage, and ended up seeing their family torn apart. We learned from Jacob of the dangers of favoritism. Although, in Jacob's defense, he was raised in a family where favoritism played a role. Perhaps this is why he learned to favor his son, Joseph.

But, if we choose to believe that each person had and has free will, then why would they make these decisions? Could it be that they just did not see them as bad decisions? Could Rebeka really have felt that it was a good idea to deceive her husband and her older son? And to bring her younger son into the mix, as well? The Torah tells us that Rebeka and Jacob were both punished for their part in this deception. Rebeka was forced to send Jacob, her beloved and favored son, away; Esau, her older son left, and Rebeka died never seeing either of them again. Jacob was himself a victim of deception, when he met and fell in love with Rachel. He worked seven years for her hand, only to be deceived on his wedding day, and tricked into marrying Leah. Eventually, Jacob did marry Rachel, but when she deceived her father and lied about stealing the idols, she was punished with an early death. Rachel's passing hurt Jacob dearly as well.

What if Rebeka has simply talked to Isaac and explained that Jacob deserved the blessing of the firstborn? What if Jacob told Isaac that he had purchased that birthright from his brother? Would the deception have even been necessary? What if Laban had consented to Jacob's union with Rachel without tricking him into marrying Leah first? Would there still be Twelve Tribes of Israel? Would Joseph have become a favored son?

What if Joseph had not been favored? Would his brothers have felt compelled to sell him? Would we have ended up in Egypt? Would we have become slaves? And carrying the story further, what about the choices Moses made. Moses was raised by an Egyptian princess. Could he have used that power to free the slaves?

Of course, I realize that everything happens for a reason, and that perhaps free choice was involved in the decisions made by the matriarchs and patriarchs. I was once taught that we approach every situation through our own world view. Perhaps my curiousity of the actions of the patriarchs and matriarchs stems from my own world view. Perhaps, if I lived in their time, surrounded by their families, and in the midst of their situations, I would make the same choices they did. Perhaps, if they were to look into my world, through their own world view, they would questions some of the choices I have made in my life. Or if they were living in my shoes, maybe they would make the same choices.

The world of what if is an extremely interesting place.