Today, as we were cleaning the bathroom, Mariel told me, “An elephant can fit in God’s ear.”
“Is that so?” I replied. “I didn’t know God has an ear.”
“Yes,” she continued. “Because God is everywhere. A thousand elephants can fit in God’s ear! And the universe never ends.”
I have always loved how small children will spontaneously talk about God and unselfconsciously mix cosmology with theology (and of course, it’s especially fun now that I have small children of my own).
We tend to lose that talent as we grow up. We lose a lot of spontaneity and God knows we lose our unselfconsciousness, but we also all too often lose our sense of curiosity and wonder about the world, the parts of it we can see and the parts of it we can’t. Artists and scientists manage to hold onto it, or perhaps sometimes they are retrained into it. For the most part, though, we human beings can get used to anything—however strange or beautiful or awful—in fairly short order, so unless we practice noticing and questioning the universe on a regular basis, we fall right out of the habit.
One of my favorite parts of being a rabbi is getting to ask people questions about this part of our lives that too often in our busy, business-like, goal-oriented, no-nonsense western society gets lost: the noticing, questioning part; the life of the spirit.
When a community helps one of its own celebrate a life-cycle event, whether it be a Bar or Bat Mitzvah or baby naming, a wedding or a funeral, this is what happens: we remember to notice things like love and loss and growth and the emotions that go with them. We remember to ask questions, like: “What is this one life we get to live all about, really? How much attention am I giving to the things I say are most important to me?”
The experience is most intense for the family or individual celebrating this special moment, this punctuation mark in the story of our lives; but these occasions of celebration or lament, of just noticing the universe as it would like to be noticed, to borrow a thought from a character in John Green’s brilliant novel The Fault In Our Stars, impact the whole community.
For the first time since I began serving this congregation, this month Temple Or Hadash will celebrate not just one but two young people becoming B’nai Mitzvah, full “adult” members of our covenanted Jewish community, with all of the ritual and ethical rights and responsibilities appertaining thereto. David and Johnnie will not yet be adults in all ways—we humans enjoy (for better and for worse) a long adolescence, especially at this point in the twenty-first century. But they will have arrived at a new stage of their lives: Jewishly, and otherwise.
On May 31st, they will to stand up in front of the community and affirm their Jewish identity. They will make a commitment to life-long Jewish study and gemilut hasadim, righteous deeds. Their parents will have a chance to reflect on the quick passage of thirteen years, and on the sweet fruits that have been born thus far of their often arduous labors in the enchanted field—sometimes a paradise, but almost always an inescapable cell (for better and for worse!)—of childrearing in general, and Jewish childrearing in particular.
But every single one of us will have a rare opportunity to notice, and reflect: What are we, as a Jewish community, teaching our children, and why? What is it all about, what’s most important to us, as individual Jews, as a congregation, and are we spending our resources accordingly?
Too many congregations see the Bar Mitzvah service as a private matter. Far from it. It is an opportunity for each one of us to take our spiritual pulse, to consider where or what or how God is for us, and to reflect on whether we live, together and alone, according to our most deeply held beliefs. I look forward to seeing you there.