It has been a great gift to experience a full week with your children. We are all beginning to feel the rhythm of our days and of our week and we look forward to next week when we will have our full program including the Chug (“club activity”) period. Your children have begun to delve into our curriculum and we are so impressed by how much your children know and how eager many of them are to share their knowledge and experiences.
This week, I was immediately struck by the parshat ha’shavua, the weekly Torah portion, as the first sentences refer to the bikkurim, the first fruits. And since one of our two Shefa classrooms is named Bikkurim, I was eager to examine it further. The portion, Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1), begins with God commanding the Jews that when they enter the land of Israel and settle in it, they should take the first fruits of all the produce of the soil and bring it to an altar before God. What is interesting here is that rather than being told to just bring the basket and express a blessing, the Israelites are commanded to bring the basket of produce and to first recount all of their history. They are to start at the beginning, from the time of Abraham who “was a wandering Aramean,” and to continue by describing the journey to Egypt, the harsh treatment from the Egyptians, all of the afflictions that they suffered, and their journey to Israel before they reached the moment of harvest. Why? Wouldn’t it have sufficed to just say, we are so glad that we have these first fruits and thank God for the bounty?
There is a strong message in this short passage: Our past affects our present. When we have experienced hardship, the sweetness of the present is more profound. When a family struggles with infertility, that first child, whether through birth or adoption, has a particularly meaningful place in a family’s life. When there has been a loss of a loved one, a simcha is all the more poignant and appreciated. When we work hard to train for a physical challenge, or put effort into a project, the fruits of our labor are all the more sweet. The commandment for the Israelites to connect back to their prior history, their prior suffering, is designed to help deepen the meaning of their bringing their bikkurim, their first fruits.
This week’s Torah portion is filled with blessings and filled with curses. Back and forth, the text shifts between these two extremes. But blessings and curses are inextricably connected. And sometimes at the moment we may not know which one it is or how a blessing can turn to a curse, or a curse can turn into a blessing. Last year, when Yoni, Rebecca and I had the opportunity to observe our future Shefa students in their schools, we saw how they each struggled with the curse of being unable to succeed within their settings. Many of these students, your children, looked confused, looked scared, looked distracted. Is it a curse to have had these hard experiences? Perhaps. But we also saw students who showed incredible resiliency, grit, perseverance, coping strategies and so much hard work. And these experiences have made your children the gems that they are. Your chi ldren developed strengths and resources as a result of these experiences And these “curses” have made these last 10 days all the sweeter and more blessed.
We do not lose our history or our past, and we don’t need to erase it from memory. Our Jewish tradition has great wisdom – hold on to the past, the good and the bad. Use our memories to deepen our savoring of the present. Use our past experiences to enhance our appreciation, our gratitude, and our complexity of understanding of our world.
When we first chose the name Bikkurim for our older class I imagined that when, in a couple of years, these students “graduate” from Shefa they will be the Shefa School’s bikkurim, our first fruits. But I don’t think I realized that we would experience this bounty in just one week. We are feeling the blessings of our Shefa students’ mere arrival into our school each morning. Many of our parents have shared feelings of appreciation for their children arrival home feeling happy each evening. Our faculty is feeling both tired by the intensity of opening a brand new school but also energized by the fruits of their hard work. And speaking personally, welcoming your children into Shefa has been, aside from having my own three children, among the sweetest harvests that I have ever experienced from my labors.
I wish you all a Shabbat filled with abundance and gratitude, blessings and joy.
Ilana received her B.A. from Harvard College and a Master's Degree in Education from Bank Street College. She was born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and now lives there with her husband and three children.
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