Living texts

            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.

15 responses to “Living texts

  1. This was beautiful…I have often thought that our sacred books should be treated with more respect. How lovely that the kids instinctively knew that it was to be cherished. We frequently “dumb down” religion for our kids, which makes them lose the awe inherent in worshipping the Creator. This was a nice reminder. Thanks!

  2. Wow. I’ve never heard of anything like that before.

  3. Beautiful.

    When Asher was first beginning to talk, he pointed to a cross. I told him that it was the Cross of Jesus. It isn’t a phrase I use often, but I wanted him to give him at least the beginnings of meaning for the symbol. The result is that now, at every intersection, every cross walk, every lower case “t”, every telephone line, Asher squeals, “JESUS!”

    I love sharing my faith with my child, on whatever level he is able to comprehend it. And I loved reading how your synagogue is doing the same.

  4. Why was that such a cool and touching post? I’ve never even kippur’ed (or Yom’ed) and yet I get that this is a big deal and a wonderful experience for the children. And why can’t something be both sacred and accessible? Isn’t that life, sort of?

  5. This is fantastic. I don’t think I was aware that some “sacred” texts were not allowed to be touched, so it was eye opening to me as well – I certainly hold to the “living text” version of books.

    I have, however, been very impressed with (the little I know of) the Jewish faith for the way they make their history and beliefs tangible for kids to learn (again, that’s my limited perception, anyway) – good for your synagogue for bringing the kids up front and center.

  6. I adore this post! What a wonderful thing for the children – anything experiential for them impresses so much on their little hearts and minds. What a wonderful (if slightly nerve-wracking) tradition.

    Over my baby’s changing table is a shelf that he’s now tall enough to reach on tiptoe. The tiny gold bowl that the Bishop used to pour holy water on his head at Baptism is on the shelf, his Baptismal candle, and a tiny pale blue Bible. He reached for the Bible last night and I let him hold it while I changed him, watching very closely. He turned a few pages (looking for pictures!), and I told him it was a special book called “The Bible.” And he said “Bible”! I love that Bible counts among his first words.

  7. Wow– what a wonderful experience!

  8. My parents’ synagogue did that… I think for Simchat Torah? Is that the one where you start the Torah again from the beginning? It was amazing. My kids were in awe.

  9. That is amazing; what a moving and beautiful experience for everyone, young and old!

  10. Fascinating, inspiring, touching and fantastic all rolled into one.

  11. Fascinating – I know so little about the Jewish religion it’s shameful. But you wrote this so beautifully I could picture the scene vividly. What a wonderful experience for the children.

  12. As a Jewish Educator and past Jewish Preschool Director, I loved your post! I was crying as I read because this is such a rare expereince for children and truly brings the Torah to life for them. Looks like you’ve found the right Temple for your family.
    L’Shana Tova

  13. this was beautiful, Em.

  14. I am always interested how faith communities involve, include, invite families/children into their services. I really enjoy picturing this scene in my head.

    We’ve found it an interesting process finding a church home that meets ALL five of our needs and deciding who’s needs are most important in that decision: how kids are/aren’t included, P & my spiritual AND intellectual needs, the social justice/outreach component, etc. etc.