Posted by Rabbi Ilana Grinblat
Who goes first?
This question is central in my household nowadays, as my eight year old son and five year old daughter frequently argue over who gets the first turn at everything. They debate who gets to tell me first at dinnertime how their day was at school. To resolve this issue, I made a chart listing the days of the week with their names alternating as to who gets to recount their day first. Then they argue over a flaw in the chart. They noticed that since there are seven days of the week and two children, one child invariably gets the first turn two days in a row.
The kids also debate who gets snuggles first at bedtime. This time, thinking I was smarter, I made a chart of two weeks (since fourteen days is equally divisible by two), but then they objected that this system too was unfair, because the bedtime chart didn’t correspond to the dinner chart. The same child could end up talking first at dinner and receiving the first snuggles in the same day! As a solution, I suggested moving my daughter’s bedtime fifteen minutes earlier than my son’s so that each of them could have my snuggles “first” at their respective times. Both agreed to the plan, and familial harmony has been temporarily restored.
At bedtime, I tried to explain to my daughter that she doesn’t have to compete with her brother because I love both of them the same amount – infinity, which is bigger than any number. “No, mom,” she corrected me, “The biggest number is a hundred finity hundred finity.”
I now appreciate anew God’s genius in this week’s Torah portion. This week’s parasha begins the book of Bamidbar which recounts the Israelite’s trek through the wilderness. Like children, the Israelites were a quarrelsome bunch, and one of the questions which would have arisen was: who goes first to the Promised Land? But God had a better plan.
In this opening portion, God charts how the people should march through the desert. God arranged the people by family and tribe. But rather than any tribe walking in front of the other , God arranged them in a configuration around the ark which was placed in the center. In this way, no tribe was ahead or behind, each was equidistant from the ark and the tabernacle.
This plan was not merely a wise way to avoid arguments. The arrangement offered an orientation on life. It reminded the people not to measure themselves against one another, relative to their destination. Rather, they should see themselves as dots on a circle in which God is the center – all equally essential, connected to each other by sharing the same focal point.
How fitting then that this portion called “in the desert” is read on the week of the holiday of Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Torah. In the Mekhilta (a third century collection of interpretations on Exodus), the question is asked: why did God give the Torah in the desert?
One answer is so that there would be no disputes between the tribes, since none of them would be able to say that the Torah was received in their territory. “Therefore, the Torah was given in the desert, in a public place that belonged to no one.” The passage further explains that the Torah was given in the desert because just as it is free to all who come into the world, so too the words of Torah are free to all who come into the world.” The Mekhilta underscores the Torah portion’s message that God acts with care to make sure all God’s children feel treasured.
As I try to make my children feel equally cherished, I hope that I can convey to them the wisdom of this week’s portion – that God loves all of us equally “a hundred finity hundred finity.”
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May 13, 2012 | 6:45 pm
Posted by Rabbi Ilana Grinblat
As dance class was about to begin, I struck up a conversation with my friend Dana, who was trying the class for the first time. “You’re going to love this class,” I told her, and explained how I’ve been enjoying these classes for the past couple months. I haven’t danced frequently since college, but now I’m getting back into it.
In January, I attended a dance class by accident. Sara, the mother of a child in my daughter’s preschool, invited us to a Chanukah dance jam which I thought was for children. As it turned out, the session was for adults, and I enjoyed it so much that I ended up going to Sara’s classes regularly. On days when I take the dance class, I feel more energetic and upbeat for the rest of the day and focused when I’m with the kids. I feel a bit funny about spending time and money on myself, but dancing is so uplifting that it’s worth it.
Dana explained that she had studied piano when she was younger. She has wanted to buy a piano for years but other expenses always take precedence. She’s been thinking that since playing piano for fifteen minutes each day will relax her and make her a better mom then it might be an important priority after all. Dana explained that she noticed that around age forty a lot of women are finding or rediscovering their passions, and it’s exciting to see. Some friends are going back to school; others are changing careers or pursuing new hobbies.
Last week’s portion contains a reiteration of the famous commandment to honor our parents. A central chapter of the Torah called the Holiness Code begins with a broad proclamation of principle: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord Your God, am holy.” The very next line offers the first specific instruction on how to achieve that goal: “Each person shall respect their mother and father…”
Perhaps in addition to honoring our parents, we also need to respect what makes us better parents. This spring I’m taking that commandment more seriously.
With both my step-mother and mother-in-law living locally, Mother’s Day is normally a very busy day for our family. On Mother’s Day, I typically have lunch with my step-mother and dinner with my mother-in-law – making sure to call my grandmother in Connecticut and step-grandmother in New York between meals. Fittingly, the anniversary of my mother’s death falls on the day before mother’s day this year, so l said kaddish (the memorial prayer) for her at synagogue yesterday.
This Mother’s day, I’m made one change in the usual plan. Before heading off to pay tribute to my “mothers,” I started the day off with a dance class.
Each one of us has things that can help us be more patient with our kids and more passionate in our activities. This mother’s day, in addition to honoring our parents, let’s also honor what we need to be great parents and vivacious people.
I hope that Dana decides to get her piano soon. In the meantime, I’ll definitely be dancing.