This morning, I attended my children's Jewish Day School for a special "Chagigat Chumash" ceremony - a one-hour long ceremony to celebrate the receiving of a new Chumash (Five Books of Moses) by every third grade student. I watched with interest and pride as my eight year old son participated in a moving and well scripted ceremony that culminated with one of the school's senior administrators giving him his new Chumash. I am proud of my son's achievements. I am equally pleased with our efforts as his parents and the tremendous effort and talent that permeates the school. The confluence of these endeavors resulted in a poignant moment for my son, one that I hope will remain with him for a long time.
Though it was not mentioned during the morning's proceedings, nor should it have been, today being Inauguration Day was on my mind. Running not quite parallel to the Chumash ceremony was the moment during the inauguration when the President elect places his hand on a Bible. For significant reason a Bible is used, and often deeper significance is explicated about the Bible that is chosen for this meaningful moment. And I am thinking about my role as a parent who cares deeply for the words within the Torah and the manner in which both of my children currently and will in the future regard the words of their tradition.
I am also keenly aware of the difference between how the Chumash was used at the Chagigat Chumash and the Bible at the Inauguration. Whereas the president elect merely places a hand on the Bible, my son held his Chumash against his chest almost hugging it. There were, in fact, a couple of close calls during the Chumash ceremony when a student nearly dropped her Chumash only to catch it, pull it closer, and smile. While the recovery may have been filled with a bit of embarrassment, I would like to interpret a degree of love and safeguarding as well. When we love something and want a moment to last, we hold it close. Additionally, from a very young age, we are instructed to kiss a sacred book when it falls and we pick it up.
Despite the nerves that I knew to be present by my own child, and I imagine others, their faces were filled with happiness and eagerness, the latter likely because that which awaited them was a room of celebratory desserts. The delight is also, I hope, from receiving a book that he knows has been important to so many others before him and one that he will use time and time again. Expressed among the words that he practiced for the past couple of weeks is the idea that his receiving his Chumash marks his engagement with the chain of tradition.
Being a link in the chain of tradition means there are others - generations of Jewish people - on both sides of us with whom we are interconnected. That connection is likely never be broken and is therefore up to us to transmit the values and vocabulary that are at the core of our tradition to those next in line. Having a good grip on the chain and deep knowledge of what makes up the Torah also means that, when ready, my son can go off script and recover with the confidence and pride in his Jewish identity. And I am confident that his hand will go from the top outside cover of the book to the innermost contents carefully scripted within.
Parent, Partner, Teacher and Coffee Enthusiast, Rabbi Rafi Cohen enjoys helping individual students and families find Jewish meaning in their lives. Rabbi Cohen is the director of admissions for the Rabbinical & Cantorial Schools at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.