A year before we had Zachary, friends visited with a wee tyke. The cringed as she pulled up and cruised around our coffee table. “You might want to move that book,” they told me.
“Why?” I replied. “Books are meant to be used. She won’t learn to love books if we keep taking them away.”
This is a policy to which we have adhered, sometimes to our dismay as our sons ask us to read for hours on end. One of the drawbacks of all that reading is a certain verbal facility that we could sometimes do without. But, we stick to it. Books are not sacred objects – they are living, functioning items that cannot enrich our lives if we are so worried about their physical being that we cannot absorb their magic.
Unless, of course, the book is a sacred text. You know, the kind of text that you can only touch the underside and outside, and you have to touch the words with a silver pointer because it is too holy for human hands. Like the kind of text that is so revered that entire congregations stand up every time it is brought out. Like the kind of text that the truly orthodox don’t let women touch because, hey, they might be menstruating and could defile it. That kind of a sacred text.
You know, like the Torah. Then, I can understand if maybe people don’t want grubby little people getting too close with their snotty noses and their peanut butter residues and their propensity for tearing things.
Which explains my surprise last week on Yom Kippur. This was our first High Holy Days at this synagogue, and, due to the tiny new person in our house, we didn’t make it to a lot of the services. Zachary and I, however, did go to the family service on Yom Kippur, sleeping Lilah in tow. Near the end of the service, the Rabbi instructed all the families to bring their children to line one of the aisles.
What followed was like nothing I have ever seen before in all the Yom Kippur services I have attended. After stationing proctors along the human tunnel and admonishing parents to keep a close eye on their children, the rabbis, the Cantor, and the preschool director proceeded to unroll the Torah the entire length of the aisle. Yes, right through the passageway of rambunctious children.
The children seemed to understand that this was not a moment for impishness or levity. All their destructive urges had been left behind in their seats. They stood there, two-year-olds on up to ten-year-olds with serious little faces, palms upraised to support the underside of the sacred scroll. Not a single child that I saw even considered tearing, wrinkling, or running through, although the Rabbi’s wife did utter a horrified “NO!” at one point, which leads me to wonder if one of his daughters might have tried to touch the forbidden top part where all the words are.
I am not sure if the children really understood what an extraordinary experience this was. While this congregation does it every year, I have never heard of any other doing something as audacious as exposing their Torah to hundreds of germ-laden hands. Their Torahs may be a little better-protected, but you can bet our kids are the ones who will grow up believing the Torah is a text to be inhaled, understood, and lived, not just worshipped from afar.