On Faith, Trust, and Kindergarten



by Rabbi Wendi Geffen

Thank you to Rabbi Phyllis Sommer (aka @imabima) for her wonderful #BlogElul endeavor, which provides Jewish bloggers a writing theme for each day of the month of Elul. This post combines themes of days five and six – trust and faith – because to me, they are, if not one and the same, integrally and inexorably tied together.

Tomorrow, my oldest child begins kindergarten, and I’m not sure who’s more nervous. My sweet, sensitive, 95-year-old-Jewish-man-trapped–in-the-body-of-5-year-old son has expressed numerous concerns, ranging from: “What if I don’t make friends?” to “Where will the bathrooms be?” I tell him not to worry, that it won’t be so different from his cherished preschool in my synagogue (where everyone knows him, where is he most comfortable outside of our home) – but I know it will be completely new and very different. He will not have the security blanket of teachers and staff who’ve known him since he was born, his small group of friends (none of whom will be in his kindergarten) or having me just down the hall in my office. And this is where my anxieties kick in: What if he really doesn’t make friends?! What if he really can’t find the bathroom?!

Rabbi Geffen’s son on his first day of preschool

I know, I know. Every yoga class I’ve taken to every Wendy Mogel book or article I’ve  taught in a parenting group instructs what I know I need to do: Take a deep breath, and as I exhale, let it all go: trust that he will make friends and find the bathroom, have faith that if he doesn’t, he’ll figure out solutions for himself and as a result, grow in a way that nurtures his self-confidence and faith. And if the real and best desire is for my son to grow and mature with self-sufficiency and grace, then as I exhale, I will have to unclench my hand from his and then let him go through that Kindergarten classroom door without me

This is, of course, not just about kindergarten, and I hope it is not an issue limited only to me; it is yet another reminder that the sense of control to which many of us cling so tightly is nothing more than an illusion, perhaps even an idol, a false-god that ultimately only obstructs the real trust and faith we need to cultivate

There are a lot of words for trust and faith in Hebrew, but the one I like best is emunah. The root for emunah is AMN and a form of it (he’emin) is used in Torah to describe Avram’s faith and trust in God – a faith that culminates in a lengthy covenant statement. Of note is that the context of the covenant describes the promise of a great nation, but also includes the struggles that the people will go through – their significant oppression – and then their ultimate return

When we trust and believe, we are not trusting and believing that everything will go according to our preconceived plan or vision; rather, we are trusting and believing that regardless of what happens, we will be able to navigate whatever path we tread; that the bumps and potholes on the road might have the same or even a greater potential for holiness than the smooth paths along our way.

The famous Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch interpreted the word amen (derived from the same AMN root) in a most meaningful way. More than “so may it be,” Hirsch said: “Amen does not refer to the contents of the pronouncement, but to the person.”  Really amen means “So may I be.”

Tonight, while putting my son to bed, we sang Shema and V’ahavta and then, given the onset of this new occasion, we sang Shehechiyanu. As we finished the word “ha’zeh,” I closed my eyes and took that deep breath. I prayed for the trust and faith to embrace this transition in our family and my son’s life, and for the insight to walk along this next pathway with presence but trust and faith in my son’s strength as well. “So may I be,” and together we sang “amen.”

Rabbi Wendi Geffen serves North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, IL.

Originally posted at Pri HaGeffen

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